COLUMBIA -- The NCAA is investigating the living arrangements of several South Carolina football players at a Columbia hotel, according to two sources close to the situation.
Investigators in town this week have questioned players about staying at the Whitney Hotel, a seven-story property along the Devine Street shopping corridor in the Shandon area.
Tight end Weslye Saunders, who has been the focus of the NCAA's investigation of USC, is one of at least three players with rooms at the Whitney, The State confirmed.
Offensive tackle Jarriel King, who played at North Charleston High School, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson also have rooms in their names at the hotel. Calls to the three players' rooms were not answered.
The players have been living in the Whitney for several months, according to two sources. If the NCAA determines they received a rate lower than what is available to the general public, it could be ruled an extra benefit.
According to the hotel website, nightly rates range from $93 to $154 for a two-bedroom suite. A hotel employee said extended-stay rates are available, including a $57-a-night rate for one- or two-bedroom reservations of three months or longer.
The $57 rate would equate to a monthly bill of about $1,710, or $855 if split between two people.
Division I-A scholarship athletes who live off campus receive a housing allowance at a rate determined by their school. USC's off-campus stipend is approximately $500 a month, media relations director Steve Fink said.
A number of USC coaches have stayed at the Whitney at various times because of its proximity to campus. Football coach Steve Spurrier lived there for a couple of months after he was hired before the 2005 season, while baseball coach Ray Tanner and his family stayed at the Whitney while their in-town home was being renovated.
The hotel's website features a page on USC, which includes an action photo of an unidentified Gamecocks football player.
The NCAA has been investigating whether Saunders, a senior from Durham, N.C., engaged in illegal activities with an agent. NCAA officials visited Columbia last month to speak with Saunders and returned this week.
Investigators want to examine the incoming and outgoing text messages from Saunders' cell phone, according to a source familiar with the investigation. Saunders continues to practice with the Gamecocks while the investigation is ongoing, but his status for this season remains uncertain.
Saunders is friends with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who is at the center of the NCAA's probe of the Tar Heels' program.
A couple of USC players said they have tried to maintain a normal routine this week, even as players have been excused from meetings and other team activities to meet with investigators.
"Whoever the NCAA calls, we'll let the NCAA talk to those players and let those players deal with that," said offensive lineman Terrence Campbell, adding that he has not talked to investigators. "We don't ask questions. We're here to practice. We're here to get better."
Campbell voiced his support for Saunders, the team's third-leading receiver in 2009 with 32 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns.
"We got his back. We just ask him how he's doing and what are (investigators) saying," Campbell said. "We try to ask him what's going on. He don't know nothing right now. So we're all just waiting for the results."
Tight end Patrick DiMarco, one of two returning captains, is hopeful Saunders will be cleared.
"It's an individual's fault. It's not the team's fault. So we're just kind of going as it goes," DiMarco said. "If the person we're all talking about can't play, then I guess one of the rest of us will have to step up and take his spot. I think it will all work out for him. He's being honest with them and telling them everything he knows."