At least one player leaving Whitney Hotel

jperson@thestate.comAugust 14, 2010 

The NCAA interviewed South Carolina football players last week about their residency at a Columbia hotel — an arrangement that apparently will end soon.

At least three players have been staying at Whitney Hotel in the Shandon area for several months, and NCAA investigators are trying to determine whether they received a cheaper rate than what is available to the general public. If so, that could constitute an extra benefit.

Tight end Weslye Saunders, who remains at the center of an NCAA investigation into potentially illegal contact with an agent, is one of three known players with rooms at the Whitney. Offensive tackle Jarriel King and defensive tackle Travian Robertson are the others.

An athletics department official told at least one of the players to move out of the hotel, according to a source close to the situation.

USC coach Steve Spurrier said Saturday he did not ask players to leave but indicated some might be checking out of the hotel.

“Maybe some (left), maybe not,” Spurrier said. “Some stayed, some go.”

After he was named the coach at USC and before he and his wife bought a home in the area, Spurrier spent a couple of months at the Whitney, where long-term room rates go for $57 a night.

“As long as the guys pay their bills, they’re OK,” Spurrier said. “But obviously they can’t live there for free.”

Jamie Blevins, general manager of the Whitney, referred questions to the NCAA “due to the ongoing nature of the situation.”

Stacy Osburn, an NCAA spokesperson, said the organization was “working cooperatively” with USC but provided no other details about the investigation.

Spurrier is one of several USC coaches who have stayed at the Whitney. But university officials said there are no formal contracts between the hotel and the athletics department.

USC athletics director Eric Hyman declined to comment on the investigation Saturday, referring a reporter to his two earlier statements that were released through the school. In those statements, Hyman said USC would continue to cooperate with the NCAA inquiry.

The NCAA is investigating whether Saunders, a senior from Durham, N.C., accepted gifts or money from an agent. NCAA officials have requested copies of text messages from Saunders’ cell phone.

Saunders continues to practice with the Gamecocks, although his status for the Sept. 2 opener against Southern Miss and other games remains in question.

Spurrier was not concerned about what the NCAA might have turned up during three days of interviews with players and coaches.

“Anyone can poke around our program. We don’t have anything to hide. Poke on everything — the hours we practice and train,” Spurrier said. “They can poke on everything we do. And our compliance people poke, too.”

USC is one of several schools that are part of the NCAA’s wide-ranging probe into possible illegal agent activity. Investigators also have visited North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Clemson.

Saunders is friends with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who is the focus of the Tar Heels’ investigation. According to published reports, the NCAA is investigating trips Austin took to Florida and California.

Former UNC player Cam Thomas told The (Raleigh) News & Observer last week that ex-Tar Heel player Kentwan Balmer paid for Austin and Thomas’ 2009 trip to California.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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