CLINTON, S.C. — The NCAA has accused South Carolina athletes of receiving $55,000 worth of impermissible benefits and recruiting inducements for getting reduced hotel rates and for their involvement with a Delaware-based mentoring organization.
The NCAA sent university President Harris Pastides the letter of allegations Monday and requested the school's response by Dec. 14.
Football coach Steve Spurrier was among those asked to meet with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Los Angeles on Feb. 17-18. Track coach Curtis Frye was also asked to attend the hearing.
Pastides said the university would review the allegations and cooperate with the NCAA.
"I assure you that we will continue to take all aspects of this investigation very seriously," Pastides said in a statement. "We are prepared to continue to work with the NCAA to resolve any issues."
Spurrier did not take questions after practice Monday night.
The NCAA began its investigation at South Carolina in the summer of 2010, talking to former tight end Weslye Saunders about potential contact with agents during a trip to Miami. Instead, the NCAA found Saunders was among several athletes who lived at the Whitney Hotel for a reduced rate.
The NCAA said 10 football players stayed at the hotel at a rate of $14.59 a day. It found two members of the women's track team lived there at a rate of $14.16 per day. It said those rates were not available to the general public and gave athletes extra benefits worth $47,000.
In documents obtained from the school last October through a Freedom of Information Act request, its athletic compliance office had signed off on the rate of $450 per player for a two-bedroom hotel suite. The NCAA had deemed the rate should've been $57 per day for a total of $1,710 per month.
Last summer when Spurrier said he learned about the arrangements, he told his players to pay their bills and find acceptable places to live.
The NCAA's allegations also included dealings with the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, its president Steve Gordon and its treasurer Kevin Lahn — both South Carolina graduates.
Earlier this month, the NCAA suspended freshman receiver Damiere Byrd four games and ordered him to repay $2,700 in impermissible benefits before he can play for the Gamecocks. Byrd's father, Adrian, is a vice president with the foundation.
Byrd has missed No. 12 South Carolina's first three games and will sit out Saturday's contest with Vanderbilt. He is expected to make his college debut Oct. 1.
The NCAA said Gordon and Lahn contacted South Carolina staffers in football, basketball and track about prospective student athletes and funded unofficial visits to campus for those prospects.
The NCAA also said Lahn paid $3,350 for a dinner cruise on Lake Murray about 10 miles away from campus for SAM members visiting for football camps in June 2010. Along with those prospects, 16 members of the men's and women's track team, along with Frye, attended the dinner cruise.
The benefits from Gordon and Lahn totaled $8,000, the NCAA said.
The NCAA also alleged that South Carolina failed to monitor either the hotel or the SAM situations.
South Carolina has disassociated itself from both Lahn and Gordon as university boosters, school spokeswoman Luanne Lawrence said.
Gordon has said the NCAA's practices, as well as its suspensions of Byrd and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd — also part of SAM — are unfair.
The NCAA "can blackball me forever," Gordon said Monday by phone. "I'm trying to get inner-city kids to college."
Others the NCAA asked to attend the February hearing include athletic director Eric Hyman, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and assistant men's basketball coach Michael Boynton.
Hyman said his staff would continue cooperating with the NCAA with the goal of making South Carolina's compliance efforts second to none.
"Any pertinent information from the NCAA that can help us strengthen our athletics program will be used as an opportunity to make positive change," Hyman said.
TAR HEELS MUST FORFEIT 16 FOOTBALL WINS: North Carolina will vacate all 16 football victories from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and reduce scholarships as part of self-imposed penalties following an NCAA investigation into the program.
The school also put the football program on two years of probation as a result of the probe into athletes accepting improper benefits and academic misconduct.
In Monday's response to the NCAA's notice of allegations outlining nine violations, the school said it will cut three scholarships for each of the next three academic years. The school will also pay a $50,000 fine, though it isn't imposing a postseason ban.
The response calls the punishments "difficult but necessary steps."
The school still must appear before the NCAA infractions committee on Oct. 28 and await word whether the university will face additional penalties from the NCAA. Athletic director Dick Baddour said the school reviewed similar cases from the past decade before deciding on the penalties.
"I can say that we were very serious in our approach and we didn't look at it from the standpoint of trying to figure out what (the NCAA) might do," Baddour said in a teleconference with reporters. "It was only about what we felt like we should do."
Fourteen players missed at least one game and seven were forced to sit all last season, with four of those either dismissed from the team or ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA.
The scandal that has hovered over the school for 14 months included an assistant coach receiving personal loans from an NFL agent, players receiving jewelry and other gifts from people outside the program, and a tutor providing improper help to players on term papers.
"We have acknowledged our violations and we've responded in the way you would expect of this university," chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement. "We think that the sanctions we have proposed accept responsibility and, at the same time, give our current and future student-athletes and coaches every opportunity for success."
Gone are head coach Butch Davis and assistant John Blake.
Thorp fired Davis a week before training camp, citing the cumulative damage to the university's reputation by the probe. The Tar Heels went 8-5 under Davis in both 2008 and 2009, losing each time in the Meineke Bowl. Davis has never been tied directly to or cited for any violation in the probe.
Blake resigned as associate head coach after last year's opening loss to LSU, during which the Tar Heels played without 13 players due to the NCAA probe. His close friendship with late NFL agent Gary Wichard became a focus of the investigation, including more than $31,000 in money transferred from Wichard to Blake that Blake's attorneys have characterized as loans from one friend to another during financial trouble.
The NCAA's notice of allegations, sent to the school in June, reported seven players received more than $27,000 in improper benefits in 2009 and 2010. It also alleged unethical conduct by former tutor Jennifer Wiley for refusing to cooperate with the investigation and providing about $3,500 worth of extra benefits in travel, parking expenses and free tutoring to players.
In its response, the school largely agreed with the NCAA's findings except for allegations that it failed to adequately monitor the social media activity of players. North Carolina noted that the NCAA rules "are silent with respect to any alleged institutional obligation" for daily monitoring of players' activity on sites like Facebook or Twitter.
The school also defended itself against the allegation that it should've better monitored the activity of former player Chris Hawkins, regarded as a prospective agent by the NCAA. It said there were "no red flags" about Hawkins' presence on campus in recent years for workouts with friend and former Tar Heel Willie Parker, adding that former school athletes are often welcomed back to campus.
The response also said school officials didn't know Hawkins had "impermissibly socialized" with current players away from campus. The school has since told Hawkins to stay away.
The school said it has updated policies for former players to use campus football facilities, including creating an attendance log. It will also add a staffer to its compliance department and is revising its academic support program to better oversee tutors, among other changes.