South Carolina’s last chance this season to play under the 2017 Final Four banner that hangs at Colonial Life Arena comes Wednesday night against LSU. Of course, returning USC players will have a similar opportunity in November when the Gamecocks begin the 2018-19 campaign.
At least that’s how one prominent sports attorney sees the immediate future for Frank Martin’s program.
Don Jackson heads The Sports Group, a law firm based in Montgomery, Alabama. A former pitcher at Alabama State University, Jackson has a long history of representing college players – including Mississippi State basketball players Mario Austin and Renardo Sidney – and coaches – including Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall and Binghampton’s Kevin Broadus – in NCAA-related matters
He, too, read Friday’s Yahoo Sports report that listed former USC player P.J. Dozier and current Gamecock Brian Bowen among those who allegedly received financial benefits from the ASM Sports agency.
According to the report, Dozier, a star guard who helped Carolina’s run to the national semifinals, “received at least $6,115 while in school.” If true, such news could lead to serious NCAA violations against USC, including vacating wins and banner removal.
Jackson, however, is skeptical.
“I disagree with that,” Jackson said when presented with the notion that the banner could disappear from the arena. “First of all, any financial transaction between someone in sports – someone in basketball, agent, former agent, financial planner or the president of the local bank – every financial transaction with a family member of a student-athlete, it’s sexy-looking and it attracts attention to imply that that’s an NCAA violation. It’s not.”
The element of unknown is key in this situation, Jackson said. The Yahoo Sports report has an attached document of an expense report filed by ASM’s Christian Dawkins.
“The thing that would have to be established first is if there was actually a transfer of money,” Jackson said. “Simply having a ledger that said I gave you $6,500 means nothing. That doesn’t mean that I gave you $6,500. That simply means that I wrote something down and said that I gave you $6,500.
“So there’s a lot more that’s going to have to be established in order for us to be at a point where we’re talking about a declaration of ineligibility for these student-athletes.”
Attempts by The State newspaper to reach Perry Dozier, P.J.’s father, were not successful. Dozier, averaging 13.9 points per game, was USC’s second-leading scorer last season. He declared early for the NBA draft and was eventually signed by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Primarily a G League player, Dozier debuted for the Thunder on Feb. 8.
“So, was it really an inducement to try to get (Dozier) to sign?” Jackson said of ASM. “For all know, the guy (Dawkins) might have loaned players $7,500 in exchange for getting $10,000 back. We don’t know. And unfortunately that article threw all these things out there to allow people to draw all of these wild conclusions that may not be true. And that’s the troubling part about it.”
The Yahoo report featured more than 20 college basketball programs, including Louisville. The Cardinals signed Bowen, a former McDonald’s All-American, last June. He spent the fall semester at U of L, but was ruled ineligible to play in wake of the FBI probe that led to coach Rick Pitino’s ouster.
Bowen came to South Carolina last month and is redshirting this season while the school tries for his reinstatement. Friday’s report mentioned Bowen’s family receiving “at least $7,000 in benefits.” This, perhaps, further muddies the waters on Bowen ever wearing a USC uniform.
“The FBI said that he was cleared, they merely cleared him from a criminal standpoint,” Jackson said, “simply from that fact that there were no criminal issues relating to him. That doesn’t mean that there may still not be NCAA violations.
“But his lack of knowledge in this kind of financial involvement between the shoe company and the family member, that would be a mitigating factor that could warrant him not being subject to any kind of withholding as far as games.”
Jackson emphasized the college programs, coaches and third-parties are the targets of this investigation. Not the student-athletes – prospective, current or former. In the case of Bowen, Louisville and South Carolina, the NCAA could grant Bowen limited immunity.
“One of the issues that could lead towards him getting immediately eligible at South Carolina would be providing adverse information against the University of Louisville,” Jackson said. “Essentially, being a cooperating witness.”
South Carolina has responded to Friday’s report only through a statement from athletics director Ray Tanner.
“My gut feeling is this will look worse today than it will 10 months from now,” Jackson said. “The existence of smoke doesn’t necessarily portend the existence of an inferno.”