Gamecocks dismiss Saunders

Already involved in an NCAA investigation, Weslye Saunders, who ends his USC career with 718 yards and six touchdowns, was accused of lying to coach Steve Spurrier and was dismissed from the team on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA -- The Saunders saga at South Carolina is over.

A day after coach Steve Spurrier said there was no update about tight end Weslye Saunders, the school announced Wednesday he had been dismissed from the football team.

"Weslye Saunders is not a member of our team anymore," Spurrier said. "That's about all we need to say about it. We wish him the best in whatever he does after here. That's a fact. That's the way it is."

The news was confirmed Wednesday afternoon by a release from athletic director Eric Hyman's desk. Spurrier declined to comment when asked if that meant it was his or Hyman's ultimate decision.

"I'm not going into the specifics," Spurrier said.

One university source said Friday that this move was coming after the Georgia game, despite Saunders telling people -- even a reporter -- on Facebook and Twitter that he had been reinstated to the team.

Someone let Saunders into the halftime locker room Saturday, another source said, potentially making Saunders believe he was back on the team.

Spurrier confirmed Wednesday that the senior from Durham, N.C., will be allowed to finish his education, on scholarship, so long as he "does right."

Now made virtually moot, Saunders was awaiting a ruling from the NCAA about the possibility of improper contact with agents. He was first investigated by the NCAA in mid-July for allegedly taking a spring break trip to Miami that was funded by agents.

Saunders was also embroiled in the NCAA's probe into several Gamecocks staying at The Whitney Hotel. Saunders has been at the hotel, a source has said, since May 2009.

Of the 10 scrutinized players, only offensive tackle Jarriel King was forced to sit out a game. That was after the NCAA determined the North Charleston native hadn't adequately paid what he owed the hotel in rent.

King was cleared Friday and played Saturday against Georgia.

Despite being "encouraged" by Spurrier to move out, which the other nine Gamecocks did, Saunders has remained at The Whitney Hotel. A source told The Post and Courier last week that Saunders had taken out a loan to pay for his rent at the hotel through the fall.

The loan -- taken out against Saunders' draft status, which has no doubt been hurt by all of this -- also covered the $5,000-plus he owed the hotel in overdue rent.

Players were staying at the hotel for a negotiated $450 a month -- a rate approved by the school's compliance office -- but Saunders was the only player not sharing a room with a teammate, doubling his monthly rate.

Saunders had been suspended from the team since Aug. 23 after he lied to Spurrier about why he was late to a practice. He told Spurrier he was meeting with the NCAA, but Spurrier checked with the school's compliance office and figured out that wasn't true.

Saunders then tried to cover that with another lie, telling coaches he was speaking with the NCAA by phone. Saunders was told the NCAA doesn't conduct investigations by phone.

In a career that never quite reached potential, Saunders had 60 catches for 718 yards and six touchdowns.

He'd had very limited contact with the team since his August suspension.

"We've played the last two games without Weslye," said senior captain Pat DiMarco, who moved to tight end in the spring. "We're all sad he can't be back with us, he's definitely an asset to the team, but I guess we have to move on. We'll work hard to try and replace him."

Saunders had really committed himself in the weight room in 2010. From all accounts, even from Spurrier, Saunders was primed for an excellent senior season -- until the NCAA came calling.

He was a first-rounder, according to some draft analysts.

"He definitely took the extra step and busted his butt," DiMarco said. "He was in the weight room an extra two or three days (a week), just on his own to lose some weight and get where he needed to get. It's kind of disappointing for him, to do all that work and then not be able to play this year."

Often in and out of Spurrier's doghouse, Saunders was gently urged to go pro by the team. More attitude issues caused him to be suspended in January, but he was reinstated a week later, after a team vote.

Saunders' career at South Carolina might be over, but his impact could linger.

The NCAA sent a letter of inquiry to the school last week, letting USC know it would be investigating the program for the foreseeable future.

As part of that, the NCAA will certainly look into its control and knowledge of Saunders' alleged misdeeds.

Team sources have said they're not concerned about the NCAA's peek into the program, but there's no way to know what will happen until the inquiry is complete.