COLUMBIA, S.C. – The NCAA has ruled that South Carolina failed to monitor its athletic program that resulted in various rules violations and has accepted the school's proposed sanctions to cut six football scholarships and slash its official recruiting visits by more than half in the coming year.
There were no forfeiture of games or bowl ban attached to the penalties, which stemmed from athletes receiving $59,000 in impermissible benefits. The NCAA said South Carolina's cooperation went "beyond standard expectations."
NCAA committee on infractions chairman Britton Banowsky said it was obvious early on that South Carolina wanted to get at the truth and in some instances did more than was required during the enforcement process.
"They took the interview process and discovery process to a higher level," Banowsky said.
The school will also pay a fine of $18,500. The football team will lose three of its 85 scholarships in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. It will also cut official visits for football recruiting to 30 from 56 during the 20012-13 academic year.
The NCAA's final report revised up the total of impermissible benefits by $4,000 to $59,000.
South Carolina was placed on probation for three years, ending April 26, 2015.
South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman pledged from the start his department would cooperate fully with the NCAA
"The university regrets the past actions and decisions by individuals that resulted in violations of NCAA legislation," Hyman said in a statement released after the NCAA ruling. "We are pleased, however, that the Committee on Infractions found the corrective actions we have taken and the penalties we have self-imposed reflect the university's commitment to full compliance with NCAA rules."
The case involved athletes staying at a local hotel near campus at a reduced rate and its connection to a mentoring group based in Delaware.
South Carolina President Harris Pastides said the university appreciated the NCAA's "thoughtful consideration of our case."
"While it is most unfortunate that we stumbled, we have certainly had a teachable moment from this experience which will strengthen our resolve to ensure that our athletics and our university operate in full compliance with NCAA legislation," Pastides said.
The NCAA found the Whitney Hotel charged a rate of $14.95 per athlete for two-bedroom suites. The NCAA said the rate should've been more than $57 per night for each athlete. One football player who spent more than year at the hotel, the NCAA said, received an extra benefit worth $19,280.
Former South Carolina compliance director Jennifer Stiles had said the hotel rate was comparable to other available off-campus housing. The NCAA called her assessment "flawed" in correspondence from 2010 and said the school should have compared the rate to the price for others who stayed at the Whitney long term.
"Had this good faith error in judgment not occurred, the university believes the violations in allegation one would have been minimized," South Carolina said in its NCAA response.
The NCAA also alleged that South Carolina received $8,000 in improper benefits from the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation.
SAMF president Steve Gordon and treasurer Kevin Lahn were found to have paid for several unofficial visits by Gamecocks freshman receiver Damiere Byrd. Both Gordon and Lahn are South Carolina graduates.
Byrd was suspended for South Carolina's first four games and had to pay back $2,700.
Lahn also paid for a $3,350 dinner cruise on nearby Lake Murray for several prospects that was also attended by track coach Curtis Frye and 16 members of his program.
Football coach Steve Spurrier was not named in the violations.
The NCAA committee said "at least four athletic department employees did not recognize the potential violations."
South Carolina said it would pay a fine of $18,500 for four athletes who competed in 2009 and 2010 while ineligible because of these violations.
The university has disassociated itself from three boosters; Gordon Lahn, and Whitney general manager Jamie Blevins.
Stiles was demoted and her salary cut by 15 percent. She is still employed in the compliance office.
Other penalties included suspending Frye from coaching his team during this weekend's Penn Relays, limiting official visits to 50 for the men's and women's track team and already completed recruiting bans for basketball assistant Michael Boynton and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus.
Boynton was part of former coach Darrin Horn's staff and was not retained by replacement Frank Martin.
The penalties could've been much more severe. Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA, said South Carolina chose not to manage information and protect itself from NCAA investigators as other schools have done when faced with allegations of rule breaking.
"They wanted to ask all the hard questions of all the right people," Banowsky said. "Even went beyond what the NCAA staff was doing. We see that less likely than we see the other approach and the report reflects how pleased the committee was with their diligence."