COLUMBIA, S.C. — University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides is calling his trip to face the NCAA infractions committee "surreal," adding that he was grateful the agency accepted the school's self-imposed penalties.
The NCAA placed South Carolina on three years of probation and charged it with failure to monitor its athletic programs, among other penalties, after it found that nearly two dozen Gamecocks received more than $59,000 in improper benefits and inducements for extended stays at a hotel for reduced rates and for involvement with a mentoring group from Delaware.
The NCAA, in releasing its decision, said South Carolina's cooperation went "beyond standard expectations."
Pastides told The Associated Press on Monday that school leaders learned Thursday the NCAA's documented decision would arrive on campus the next morning.
"That was a very restless night," Pastides said.
Instead, Pastides was relieved to learn the governing body accepted the penalties South Carolina had proposed to the NCAA in response to the allegations last December.
There was no forfeiture of games or bowl bans attached to the penalties. South Carolina 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 2012-13 academic year.
South Carolina was placed on probation for three years, ending April 26, 2015.
It was a welcome end, Pastides said, to an ordeal that began in the summer of 2010 when NCAA investigators spoke to tight end Weslye Saunders about his attendance at a party in Miami and about his living in the Whitney Hotel. Several other South Carolina athletes were found to be staying in two-bedroom hotels suites paying less than $15 a night each.
South Carolina was also cited for its involvement with the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, which gave school athletes and prospects more than $8,000 in recruiting benefits.
Right from the start, Pastides strove for transparency with the investigation.
"We told the truth," he said. "When we found something we thought (the NCAA) might want to know, not even knowing whether they knew or would find out, we put it on the table."
Pastides remembers the restless feelings that cropped up during the process, none more unsettling than the trip to Los Angeles in February as he led a delegation of school officials and coaches before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
"It was surreal," he said. "You fly across the country for a consequential hearing. You know in your heart you have a good story to tell but you're faced with hard questions."
Pastides said those involved prepared very hard for the hearing, not to give answers designed to save face.
"No, you prepare to tell the truth," he said.
Athletic director Eric Hyman credited the school's senior associate director of athletics, Judy Van Horn, with taking the point on South Carolina's defense. He said he gave her a big hug Friday after finding out the school would not be penalized more than they already were.
"We did have some people who made some mistakes. South Carolina has learned from what's gone on," he said. "I think (the NCAA) recognizes that we are committed to doing things the right way. A lot of people at South Carolina can rest assured that their athletics program will reflect the values of the university."
Pastides cautioned while the NCAA could've been harsher with South Carolina, "this was not a partying moment."
Besides Van Horn's arrival in 2010, South Carolina hired Chris Rogers of Ohio State earlier this year as its compliance director. The two are key parts of making sure the school keeps a clean, rules-abiding program, Hyman and Pastides said.
"The compliance function is so important," Pastides said. "We can't afford to not continue to build the best compliance program around. This is hard work right now."