COLUMBIA -- Seven South Carolina football players had a total of 20 meals impermissibly paid for this summer, according to correspondence between the school and the NCAA.
No player received more than $100 in total, although one player accepted five different meals. The buyer wasn't considered a booster, per se, but he does regularly attend Gamecocks football games.
By definition, he was not deemed a "representative of the institution's athletics interests," or a booster, because he never attended USC and had never purchased season tickets or given money to the school.
The information surfaced Wednesday morning after the university released about 200 pages of documents to The Post and Courier and other media outlets as part of the Freedom of Information Act.
About half of the information pertained to the meals accepted, and the other half related to the insurance policy senior defensive back Chris Culliver took out to protect his draft status.
Specifically, the NCAA showed concern about third-party involvement in the policy and who was paying for the loan to cover the policy's premium.
Culliver sat out the Sept. 2 opener against Southern Miss while the matter was sorted out, but he returned the following week without further penalty.
The Garner, N.C., native's name was redacted by the university, but The Post and Courier reported Sept. 2 that Culliver was the player involved in the insurance policy.
Similarly, as required by student protection laws, the school redacted the names of the players related to the free meals.
The Post and Courier reported then that South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, who has gone on to great early success, was a player who had accepted a meal. At the time, that meal was described by a source as something akin to "a McDonald's hamburger."
As it turns out, the extra benefits went a bit deeper than that, though none of the offenses was enough for players to miss games. Lattimore and the others were allowed to play once they repaid the money, donating the funds to the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes program.
Player One received five meals totaling $79.78. Player Two received four meals totaling $76.09. Player Three received four meals for $57.42. Player Four received three meals totaling $44.17. Player Five received two meals totaling $47.30.
Player Six received one meal totaling $14.23. Player Seven received one meal totaling $11.02.
NCAA rules say there is a certain level at which extra benefits force game suspensions, and those figures fall beneath that ceiling.
The cover sheet of the document says the university was asking for reinstatement of six of those seven players. The only player USC never asked to be reinstated, sources have said, was tight end Weslye Saunders.
Saunders was suspended from the team at the time of the correspondence with the NCAA, and he since been dismissed.
On more than one occasion, the documents say one player would invite a teammate or teammates to join him for a meal. It's unclear whether the other players knew they would have their meal purchased for them.
The documents indicate the players were taken to the following Columbia-area restaurants: California Dreaming, Blue Marlin, Outback Steakhouse and Grilled Teriyaki.
More than the actual figures and facts, the alarming part of the documents is the proximity of booster-type fans to the players. The documents indicate one fan befriended a player in high school, and then that friendship branched out to other players once the player arrived at USC.
Other encounters in the documents include players stopping by a fan's stadium-area condo for a tailgate party. The school, taking the precaution, had the players reimburse $20 to account for water, sodas and chips taken during those visits.
Typical in these cases, the student-athletes write letters to the NCAA explaining what happened and apologizing for committing the violation.
In each letter, the student-athlete characterizes the encounters as relatively innocent. In several instances, the fan is described by the players as "a good, Christian man."
The school has said it goes to great lengths to educate players about the risks of being around fans, much less accepting anything from them.
"I understood the rules about not taking things from boosters, but I was not thinking of dinner in that way," one player wrote. "Now I know not to go any place or accept anything from someone I do not know or have not known for a long time."
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