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December 14, 2011

USC responds to NCAA allegations



(For the complete letter of allegations and South Carolina's response to it, visit www.sc.edu/ncaaresponse)

South Carolina responded to the NCAA letter of allegations it received on Sept. 19 on Wednesday, offering an apology, contrition and evidence of steps being taken to correct lax procedures.

In response to the three major violations the NCAA alleged, USC is offering to sacrifice six football scholarships over the next three years (in a one-three-two surrender); cutting down official recruiting visits in football and track & field for a year, pay an $18,500 fine and also enforce a three-year period of probation.

Letters of reprimand and other punishments were levied to assistant football coach G.A. Mangus, assistant basketball coach Mike Boynton, track & field coach Curtis Frye and former director of compliance Jennifer Stiles. USC has presented everything in a 100-page-plus document to the NCAA, and the governing body will read over it and determine if punishments are too severe or not severe enough.

USC will send a committee including President Harris Pastides, athletic director Eric Hyman, football coach Steve Spurrier, faculty athletics representative Zach Kelehear and the four who were reprimanded to a meeting of the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Feb. 17-18 in Los Angeles. After that meeting, the NCAA can impose more penalties, lessen USC's self-imposed penalties and most importantly, decide if USC is a repeat violator.

Since USC's last NCAA investigation ended on Nov. 16, 2005, and this investigation began in 2010, USC falls in the five-year window of repeat violator status. If the NCAA passes judgment that USC is indeed a repeat violator, it could be subject to much harsher sanctions.

"We continue to work in full cooperation with the NCAA on this very serious matter," Pastides said in a statement. "As an institution, we established self-imposed penalties and implemented corrective actions."

Proposed punishments

USC does not dispute that the allegations are true, but is satisfied that no employee or individual involved in the investigation knowingly broke NCAA rules. That being said, it is offering its own punishments.

Loss of football scholarships -- A total of six over the next three years. USC can carry 84 players in 2012, 82 in 2013 and 83 in 2014. USC will lose three scholarships in 2013 and 2014. No recruit currently offered a scholarship will have it rescinded. USC currently has 20 verbal commitments for the class of 2012, with a maximum of 25.

Reduction of official visits -- In football and track & field. The maximum number allowed in football is 56; USC is offering to stop them at 30 for the 2012-13 academic year. Track & field visits will be reduced to 50.

$18,500 fine -- As a result of The Whitney investigation, USC learned that four student-athletes competed during the 2009 season while ineligible. It is offering the fine to placate the NCAA (as opposed to, presumably, vacating wins).

Three years of probation -- For football and track & field.

Delivered punishments

USC has already done or is undertaking the following:

Review of student-athlete housing -- An overhaul of setting up and monitoring student-athlete housing, particularly in off-campus settings. The university has implemented a compliance software system (Assistant Coach Systems) that is designed to eliminate human error and be able to analyze every angle of a student-athlete living arrangement. There is also a much closer eye on landlords, rent agreements and leases.

Enhanced rules education -- A compliance component has been added to the athletic department's monthly all-staff meeting. Boosters are given a "Rules of the Game" brochure at every home sporting event. All athletes are made aware that any question at all regarding compliance has several people who can answer it.

Compliance monitoring -- Director of Player Development Terry Cousin has been added to the department staff and is in charge of instructing athletes about accepting extra benefits and knowing the rules of being a student-athlete. Guest speakers from the NCAA office are also periodically brought in to educate student-athletes.

Compliance office restructuring -- As GamecockCentral.com first reported, Stiles has been removed from her position and replaced by interim director Judy Van Horn. Stiles is still employed by USC as an assistant athletic director within the compliance department, but is no longer overseeing the staff.

Disassociation from S.A.M. and The Whitney -- Steve Gordon and Kevin Lahn, each graduates of USC, have been disassociated from USC athletics. Jamie Blevins, general manager at The Whitney, has been disassociated as well. Lahn, who hosted a track & field event and a freshman send-off event for college students coming to USC from the Philadelphia area, is now prohibited from hosting those events.

Letters of reprimand -- Boynton, for his recruitment of a S.A.M. athlete (who never attended USC), is prohibited from recruiting from Dec. 1-31 and is required to attend the 2012 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar. Frye, for his recruitment of S.A.M. athletes, is prohibited from coaching USC's track & field team during the 2012 Penn Relays, may not receive any salary bonuses for the 2011-12 academic year, may not receive any salary increase for the 2012-13 academic year and is required to attend the 2013 NCAA Regional Rules Seminars. Mangus, for his recruitment of a S.A.M. athlete, is prohibited from recruiting from Jan. 1-31, may not receive any salary bonuses for the 2012-13 academic year, may not receive any salary increase for the 2013-14 academic year and is required to attend the 2012 NCAA Regional Rules Seminars. Stiles, for her mistakes in allowing The Whitney violations, will attend the NCAA Regional Rules Seminars and SEC compliance educational meetings.

Answering the charges

USC has admitted that mistakes were made. Stiles, who signed off on student-athletes living at The Whitney, had her actions deemed as "flawed" in the document. While Stiles did discover that the rates at The Whitney were in line for what a normal off-campus student-athlete apartment would cost, she did not inquire about rates for other short-term guests or what the hotel had charged other USC officials to stay when they had first taken their positions at USC.

In addition, after Stiles approved The Whitney for two student-athletes, nine more moved into hotel and did not submit copies of their leases. There was no knowledge, USC says, that this was going on until the NCAA began its investigation, upon which USC ordered all players to leave the hotel and settle their debts.

Four student-athletes (names redacted) were proven to have stayed in the hotel during the 2009 season and were ineligible due to the charges. USC is offering the $18,500 fine to make up for that offense.

As for the S.A.M. Foundation, USC has already addressed that one player (name redacted) was suspended four games of the 2011 season for accepting $2,700 worth of recruiting inducements. That player has been proven to be freshman receiver Damiere Byrd. Byrd was introduced to Frye and Mangus by Lahn, although Spurrier has publicly defended Mangus as doing nothing wrong in his recruitment of Byrd.

Lahn also paid for a dinner boat cruise worth $3,350 during a summer 7-on-7 tournament in 2010, which had 49 football players on campus.

The NCAA looked at all of that and decided that there were multiple chances to stop The Whitney and S.A.M. activities, but USC did not. That led to the third, most serious charge - failure to monitor.

USC is battling the failure to monitor charge, at least in The Whitney case, by noting that the Office of Compliance Services made a "good-faith error in judgment" when approving the leases. The university is also arguing that monitoring where a student-athlete lives off-campus does not include whether or not the student-athlete is paying rent on time every month.

USC stipulates that the conduct of Lahn and Gordon were intended to help USC recruit prospects, but only one prospect from the foundation ever attended USC (Byrd). USC says that it never asked Lahn and Gordon to provide benefits; the two did that through their foundation and acted on their own accord.

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