COLUMBIA -- South Carolina punished itself Wednesday for major violations of NCAA rules. Now, the school must wait two months before the NCAA determines if it wants to hit the Gamecocks even harder.
In its response to the notice of allegations the NCAA sent in September, USC wrote that it "acknowledges that major violations occurred in its football program in 2009 and 2010" and that it "does not contest the allegations," though it did offer a defense to the most serious accusation -- the "failure to monitor" charge.
As part of an investigation that began in summer 2010, the NCAA had charged the school with three major infractions: athletes receiving impermissibly discounted rates at a Columbia hotel, two USC graduates giving athletes and recruits improper benefits, and USC failing to monitor both situations, which resulted in athletes receiving $55,000 of improper benefits.
The most significant of USC's self-imposed penalties involved eliminating football scholarships. The team is usually allowed to carry 85 scholarship players. That number will be reduced to 84 next season, 82 in 2013 and 83 in 2014. More important, USC said it will eliminate three scholarships from the incoming freshman classes of 2013 and 2014, whose size the NCAA already limits to 25 players.
At this point, USC is imposing no scholarship reductions for the incoming freshman class because coach Steve Spurrier "already had some (scholarship) offers to the incoming class, and we didn't want to renege commitments we made to that class," said USC spokeswoman Luanne Lawrence.
Football is normally allowed 56 official recruiting visits per school year. But for 2012-13, that number will be 30. The track and field program, which was also involved in the violations, will be limited to 50 official visits in 2012-13. There is normally no limit for that sport.
USC put itself on three years of NCAA probation and will pay the NCAA a fine of $18,500 because four football players competed while ineligible in 2009. The school also stopped recruiting athletes associated with the Delaware-based Student-Athlete Mentoring Foundation, which is run by USC graduates Steve Gordon and Kevin Lahn, who provided impermissible benefits through the foundation.
Three USC coaches were involved to at least some degree with Gordon and/or Lahn but did not immediately report their actions to USC's compliance office: assistant men's basketball coach Mike Boynton, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and head track and field coach Curtis Frye. All three received official reprimands from USC athletic director Eric Hyman.
Additionally, Boynton can't recruit off campus this month and Mangus won't get any bonuses next school year or a raise the following year. Frye is prohibited from attending the 2012 Penn Relays (a major event) and will get no bonuses this school year and no raise next year.
Frye and members of his team went on a dinner cruise paid for by Lahn, which resulted in extra benefits received by the athletes and Frye having impermissible contact with a recruit. Lahn was a member of the Gamecock Club, USC's booster organization, before USC officially cut ties with him and Gordon because of the NCAA investigation. The SAM Foundation provided $8,000 in impermissible benefits to athletes and recruits, the NCAA said.
On Tuesday, USC confirmed the demotion of compliance director Jennifer Stiles, who incorrectly approved the reduced rate at The Whitney Hotel, which contributed to 10 football players and two women's track and field athletes receiving $47,000 in extra benefits, according to the NCAA. USC has disassociated itself with Whitney general manager Jamie Blevins.
USC representatives will appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Los Angeles on Feb. 17-18. At that point, the NCAA will have final say on USC's punishment. USC's contingent will include the aforementioned coaches, Stiles, school president Harris Pastides, athletic director Eric Hyman and head football coach Steve Spurrier, who was not named in the notice of allegations.
The "failure to monitor" charge from the NCAA is a serious one, especially for USC, which faces repeat violator status as a result of major violations committed under Spurrier's predecessor, Lou Holtz. The probation period stemming from those violations ended in 2008, for a case decided in November 2005.
In regard to failing to monitor Gordon and Lahn, USC wrote: "The university agrees that there were several points at which its coaches and (compliance office) should have raised questions about whether the representatives' involvement with prospects was impermissible under NCAA legislation."
However, USC believes that with the discounted housing violation, "the facts do not present a typical failure to monitor scenario." USC wrote that Stiles' office "made a good faith error in judgment when it approved the lease terms in August 2009" at the hotel. Stiles' office believed at the time that the hotel's rates complied with NCAA rules, according to USC.
But because the hotel was a member of the Gamecock Club when at least some of the violations occurred, the violations are treated as extra benefits.
Still, USC wrote that it believes it did not "fall short in monitoring the student-athletes' housing" and that no employee "knowingly disregarded NCAA legislation to gain a significant recruiting or competitive advantage."