SYRACUSE, FEB. 11 -- The NCAA rules violations for which seven Syracuse basketball players were briefly suspended Friday ranged from playing in a pickup game, to staying rent-free with a booster, to failing to pay for auto repairs, according to sources close to the team.
The suspended players stayed on campus when the team left for South Bend, Ind., Friday for a Saturday game against Notre Dame. Hours later, when informed by the NCAA that their eligibility was restored and that the NCAA was satisfied with Syracuse's handling of the infractions, the players flew to South Bend and joined their teammates for the game, which they won, 70-69.
The violations were uncovered by attorneys hired by the school in response to a special report published last December by the Syracuse Post-Standard. In a lengthy two-part series, the newspaper detailed allegations by former Syracuse basketball players who said they had received cash payments from boosters, including Basketball Hall of Fame guard Dave Bing, as well as discount use of cars. One former player said a grade was changed so he could play in a game.
Some players may have to take out student loans to pay for the benefits they received.
Syracuse lawyers found that starter Billy Owens played a pickup game with student-athletes before his freshman year and that starting guard Michael Edwards failed to pay a local car dealer $500 for vehicle repairs, according to two sources involved in the basketball program, who asked not to be identified.
A spokesman for the university declined to comment on these specifics.
The other violations relate to Chaundu Carey's employment at Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim's summer basketball camp; David Johnson and Michael Hopkins living rent-free with a booster club family; and David Siock living rent-free the summer before his freshman year with a former player in an on-campus apartment.
The suspension of center LeRon Ellis, a transfer two years ago from the University of Kentucky, centers on a visit to Syracuse in which he spent one week with a local resident, an apparent violation even though Ellis paid rent, according to a source with the basketball program.
The NCAA rules prohibit athletes from receiving extra benefits from boosters, specifically barring relationships between players and sponsor families. The rules also prohibit players from working at their coach's summer basketball camp and prohibit prospects from working at college summer basketball camps. Prospects also are restricted from participating in basketball workouts with student-athletes and from receiving any special arrangements, including living quarters.
The university is asking players who owe money, including nearly $1,000 Johnson reportedly owes to a booster club family, to obtain student loans to finance repayment, according to the sources.
The university, which launched its inquiry last month, notified the NCAA of the alleged violations and suspensions in a phone call last Thursday, according to David Berst, the NCAA's assistant director for enforcement.
On Friday the NCAA received written descriptions of the violations and a request from the university for an "expedited decision" regarding the players' eligibility, Berst said.
"If an eligibility rule is found to be violated, the university has a duty to apply it immediately and declare the individual ineligible," Berst said. "That happens about half a dozen times a day."
Berst said if the institution feels the violation is not serious enough to warrant continued suspension it can ask for the expedited decision to return the player to eligibility.
That is what happened Friday, Berst said. The NCAA notified Syracuse at 6:30 p.m. Friday that the players were reinstated for the Notre Dame game. Berst said the university's only obligation is to continue to report alleged violations when they are discovered.
Syracuse's actions followed several days of intense questioning of the players by the lawyers, according to sources familiar with the program. Boeheim acknowledged yesterday that his players have faced questioning by investigators.
It is not clear whether the NCAA is conducting its own investigation while the university pursues its inquiry. The institution would learn of an NCAA investigation by letter, and neither Syracuse nor the NCAA is saying whether a letter has been sent.
"We'll reserve our comment until our investigation is complete," said Robert Hill, university vice president for public relations. Hill said he expects the probe to be completed by late April or early May.
Johnson and Hopkins will be required to pay several hundred dollars each because they lived at the home of Joseph Giannuzzi, according to sources. Sources said Edwards owes approximately $500 in vehicle repairs to a local booster who also is a car dealer. Johnson, 20, also has been disciplined for his relationship with a then 14-year-old girl two years ago, according to the university. He had sex with the girl while staying at Giannuzzi's home, police records show. The junior forward, averaging more than 20 points per game, was given probation for a year, ordered to undergo counseling and to perform community service as well as write an apology letter to the girl, according to a university spokesman.
Hill confirmed a New York Times report that the university has sent Giannuzzi a letter informing him that he no longer is president of the Hardwood Club, a booster organization for the team.
"He was asked to resign because of information we uncovered," Hill said, adding that the letter was effective immediately. "He's no longer associated with our intercollegiate athletic interests."