Rob Bennett, an all-American tight end at West Virginia University in 1984, has told The Pittsburgh Press that several boosters gave him money and extra benefits worth more than $20,000 when he played football for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia officials learned of these accusations three years ago, investigated and inaccurately concluded that only one NCAA rule had been broken. Athletic director Fred Schaus and assistant Roger Jeffries reported that finding. Mysteriously, the report is missing from NCAA headquarters in Mission, Kansas.A four-month investigation by The Pittsburgh Press shows that Schaus and Jeffries ignored evidence and witnesses. They reported incorrect and incomplete information, and delayed reporting for four months.
The investigation confirmed many of Bennett's accusations and discovered that several violations of NCAA rules were committed.
A booster paid a $2,870 debt Bennett owed the Social Security Administration. One or more boosters gave Bennett a used car. Someone helped Bennett pay $5,900 in bank loans. A booster loaned Bennett a car and $140. Another booster allowed Bennett to buy clothing and charge gasoline to the booster's account.
Assistant athletic director Jeffries paid $400 bail to get Bennett out of jail.
In addition to the violations substantiated, Bennett said he received a $100 monthly allowance and other cash gifts, free use of rental cars on two occasions, free legal service for a divorce, free tires and various merchant discounts.
NCAA representative Bob Minnix said incidents of these types, except payment of bail, are usually considered major violations. They are prohibited by the extra benefit rule, which bans university employees or representatives from giving athletes special privileges.
Schools are required to investigate and report themselves when they become aware of possible violations. West Virginia never has been found in violation of a major rule.
It has been four years since Bennett, of Buckhannon, W.Va., left school and two and a half years since West Virginia reported to the NCAA. Four of the five boosters who were investigated still contribute to the program. The football team is 11-0, ranked No. 4 in the nation and headed for the Fiesta Bowl to play Notre Dame.
In May 1985, Bennett's mother, Hope Mills, unknowingly triggered an investigation by sending a 10-page, single-spaced typewritten letter to her son's agent, Gary Kovacs. Mrs. Mills said she was thinking about suing the university and wanted Kovacs' help. Kovacs sent a copy of her letter to Don Nehlen, West Virginia football coach. He promptly turned it over to Schaus, who asked Jeffries to investigate.
Two months ago, Schaus gave The Pittsburgh Press a copy of West Virginia's report to the NCAA but refused to turn over a copy of Mrs. Mills' letter. The Press obtained a copy of the letter, investigated her charges and discovered several omissions and inaccuracies in West Virginia's report.
Booster Bill Morton paid the Social Security Administration $2,870 that Bennett owed.
West Virginia's report to the NCAA noted that Bennett worked for Morton during the school year. Athletes on full scholarship are not permitted to work during the school year, and that is the one, technical NCAA violation West Virginia cited.