Sources: Players received reduced rates

Some owed the Whitney several thousand dollars; Spurrier says game suspensions are possible

jperson@thestate.comAugust 25, 2010 

Some South Carolina football players owed the Whitney Hotel several thousand dollars after receiving reduced room rates during extended stays at the hotel that have come under NCAA scrutiny, a source close to the situation told The State on Wednesday.

Multiple sources said some players had been living at the Whitney since the spring while paying a rate of $450 per month. But officials determined players should have been paying about $1,200 a month, and players were told by school officials to pay the difference to the hotel.

For at least two players who had not made any payments, the resolution meant they owed the hotel close to $5,000, according to one of the sources.

USC coach Steve Spurrier would not comment Wednesday when asked about players owing thousands to the hotel, located in the Devine Street shopping district. Jamie Blevins, general manager of the Whitney, has referred all questions to the NCAA.

Last week Spurrier said he had encouraged players to pay their bills and move out of the Whitney.

Most complied with Spurrier’s request, although tight end Weslye Saunders had a room at the Whitney as of Wednesday night, The State confirmed. Saunders is one of at least 10 players who lived at the Whitney during the summer, sources said.

Not all carried large balances.

The father of Gamecocks linebacker Rodney Paulk said Paulk paid his bill and moved out of the hotel after living there for less than a month.“(Rodney) said he was paying his bill on time,” Leonard Paulk said. “But the coach advised the kids to move out of the Whitney because (of) the NCAA investigation.”

Leonard Paulk said his son moved into an apartment off Garners Ferry Road with defensive tackle Travian Robertson, who also was a Whitney resident.

The athletic department’s compliance office is trying to sort through the Whitney details. A day after defensive backs Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock missed practice to meet with university officials about the situation, the two were late for Wednesday’s practice while dealing with the same issue.

Offensive tackle Jarriel King, who has been identified as one of the players who lived at the hotel, also arrived late for practice.

Other than making restitution to the hotel and moving out, players have been asked to write a letter to the NCAA expressing their regret. But Spurrier said players might be ruled ineligible for a couple of games. “Historically, guys who’ve maybe received some extra benefit, according to the NCAA, they have to miss a game or two along the way,” Spurrier said. “If that happens, we’ll accept it and move on. It may not happen. We don’t know.”

There are six projected starters among the players who have been linked to the Whitney: Saunders, Paulk, Robertson, Auguste, King and defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye. Whitlock is a second-team cornerback.

Spurrier said last week he knew players were living at the hotel but did not know the details of their lease agreements.

A representative of the Whitney said the hotel’s extended-stay rates included a $57-a-night rate for reservations of three months or longer. The $450 monthly rate sources said players received equates to a rate of $15 a night.

Scholarship athletes at USC receive an off-campus housing stipend of $500 per month.

NCAA investigators also are looking into whether Saunders engaged in illegal dealings with agents.

Saunders, a senior from Durham, N.C., was questioned twice by the NCAA about his relationship with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin and a May trip to Washington, D.C., Saunders’ father told the (Raleigh) News & Observer. NCAA officials want to know whether agents paid for Saunders’ trip, Spurrier told the Columbia Touchdown Club on Wednesday.

Spurrier said he expects the NCAA to rule on Saunders, who is suspended indefinitely for an unrelated incident, “in the next week or so.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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