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Gamecocks' response to NCAA allegations delayed because of coronavirus

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Ray Tanner

South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner addressed USC's fan base in a letter last week. File/USC

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations it received in February was due on May 1, but the process has been delayed because of the coronavirus shutdown.

“It’s about time the response is due in and we will certainly abide by that and get that back in in short time,” athletics director Ray Tanner said during a radio interview on Wednesday.

Tanner didn’t say when the response was due, but because of COVID-19, the NCAA in March suspended all investigations through at least May 31. That strengthens the possibility that USC’s next basketball season could be complete before the case is resolved.

USC was served the NOA for violations tied to former men’s basketball assistant coach Lamont Evans. Evans, ensnared in the federal law enforcement probe that swept college basketball in September 2017, was charged with accepting a $5,856 bribe from Christian Dawkins to entice former USC point guard P.J. Dozier to sign with Dawkins’ agency, ASM Sports.

Evans pleaded guilty to accepting $22,000 in bribes and in June 2019 was sentenced to three months in prison. A native of the Bahamas, Evans also faces deportation from the U.S.

The NCAA’s NOA suggests Evans could be served with a show-cause order for his role in the scandal, meaning any school wishing to hire him would have to appear before the NCAA to explain why. Considering his sentence, it’s highly unlikely Evans will ever coach college basketball again whether or not a show-cause is issued.

Yet USC and Oklahoma State, where Evans coached after his stint at USC, are left to clean up his mess.

USC’s role seems to be a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dozier is not charged with anything in the NOA, nor is head coach Frank Martin. The school is not charged with a lack of institutional control or any failure to monitor Evans or the basketball program.

The school’s only connection to the scandal is that Evans once worked at USC.

Those omissions mean that Dozier’s career with the Gamecocks, most notably as the point guard for the 2017 Final Four team, isn’t in danger of being stricken from the record books for being an ineligible player. That also means that the Final Four banner in Colonial Life Arena should never have to be removed.

“We know what occurred, internally. Based on the knowledge that I have and the internal research that we did, I would not (expect any forfeiture of wins),” Tanner said after a Board of Trustees meeting in February. “I’ll reiterate that I will very passionately and actively defend our program and our institution in this process with the NCAA.”

Yet USC is still charged with a Level I violation, the most serious the NCAA can bring. That could mean a postseason ban and/or scholarship reductions.

The timeline for cases such as this gives a school 90 days to respond to the NOA, upon which the NCAA enforcement committee has 60 days to reply to that. A hearing before the Committee on Infractions is then scheduled, and after that hearing (which could take several months to occur), the COI may take another few months to issue a ruling.

With USC’s response delayed due to COVID-19, a resolution to the case could not be known until the middle of the 2020-21 basketball season, and probably not until well after its conclusion. The numerous other schools involved in the scandal – Kansas, N.C. State, Southern Cal, Oklahoma State, TCU and Louisville have received NOAs while Auburn, Arizona, Alabama and LSU are being investigated – also have to go through the process.

Tanner and Martin have been forthcoming since Evans was arrested over two years ago. They insist USC has done nothing wrong.

“I’m at peace. We’ll have our moment,” Martin said in February. “You think I’d be answering questions today if we felt that we were condoning cheating in any way, shape or form or if any players were involved in all this? P.J.’s got nothing to do with anything. This is a Lamont Evans situation, not a P.J. Dozier situation.”

The NCAA has a new Independent Resolution Panel, which schools can choose to partake in to limit the waiting of a regular NCAA infractions case. If a school’s request is accepted, the IRP can rule on the case, but with a catch: There will be no appeal after the decision.

Memphis (in a case not related to the scandal), N.C. State and Kansas are either in or applying to the IRP. It seems doubtful that USC would lobby for that option when it has vigorously insisted its innocence in the matter.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

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