Updated Nov. 14 at 12:00 p.m.
An investigative report conducted by Rachel George and published Tuesday by USA Today uncovered that Florida Gators junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was adopted in Dec. 2011 by the family of the man that provided him with what the NCAA determined were improper benefits back in 2009.
Floyd, who had been cared for by his great grandmother and had to raise money via a high school bake sale just to attend the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Game, was suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season after revealing to Florida that money he used to go on recruiting trips may have been in violation of NCAA policy.
That money was provided by Kevin Lahn, a South Carolina graduate and former booster who is also a wealthy vice president of a commercial real estate company. “They met in summer of 2009 through the Student Athlete Mentoring (S.A.M.) Foundation, a Delaware-based non-profit group whose stated mission is to help high school athletes with SAT and ACT preparation and organize visits to colleges and camps,” George notes.
The Gators reported the potential violation to the NCAA, which declared him temporarily ineligible until he donated a similar amount of money to charity. Three months after Floyd’s clearance by the NCAA and return to the field last September, Lahn adopted the promising student-athlete and has been supporting him ever since.
“Basically, the NCAA was telling Kevin for the next three years he could no longer be a part of Sharrif’s life,” said Steve Gordon, described by George as “a close friend” of both Floyd and Lahn. “At that point, it was like taking your son away from you and saying he can’t be your son for three years, you can rekindle the friendship or the father-son relationship after that. And Kevin said, ‘No, that’s not acceptable.'”
Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Lahn, explaining his reasons for adopting Floyd, told George that it “was not something we planned, but it’s been a natural fit,” adding that he and Floyd both “made sure that his great-grandmother was on board and she indicated to us she was. We also notified the University of Florida compliance and coaching staff.”
According to the report, Floyd has since received the same help that some college students get from their parents – money for an apartment, a car and a credit card to pay for food and incidentals. However, he has also benefited from his new family’s wealth, notably by having a 21th birthday celebration that included staying at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, FL and being chartered on a “80-foot, $3 million yacht.”
Floyd reportedly brought two current Gators teammates – classmates Buck linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive end Dominqiue Easley – along for the celebration.
Aside from the question of whether or not Lahn’s decision to adopt Floyd was purely motivated by love and compassion, his providing access to the yacht to student-athletes for which he is not a guardian is also a cause for concern for Florida.
From the USA Today report:
Florida senior associate athletics director Jamie McCloskey says Powell and Easley “were already in South Florida. They joined Sharrif and his family for an evening.”
When asked by e-mail who paid for the Floyd’s teammates to be on the trip, Lahn replied: “Sharrif drove down by himself. Sharrif’s friends came down in their car to Miami for the Hip Hop Festival in Miami that weekend. Sharrif stayed in the hotel room I paid for.”
According to NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199, athletes and their family and friends can receive benefits as long as they are generally available to other students at the school and their family and friends. Generally, athletes would be allowed to receive benefits from the parent of a friend.
If Lahn paid for the other players on the trip, it could be a violation under bylaw 188.8.131.52 if Lahn is considered a representative of Florida’s athletic interests. McCloskey says Lahn has not been given that distinction and declined to say whether the school has checked with the NCAA.
So, how does all of this affect the Gators? Florida has obviously been aware of Floyd’s adoption for nearly a year now and undoubtedly made sure there were no issues or head coach Will Muschamp would not have allowed him to step foot on the field this season. UF must also feel confident in the fact that neither Powell nor Easley did anything wrong by joining their friend on the yacht for his birthday in May or else Easley would not have been playing either.
“I knew everything. Absolutely not ever worried about any eligibility issues. Sharrif’s a fine young man,” Muschamp said Wednesday while participating in the SEC’s weekly teleconference. “Everything is above board that the University of Florida has handled with Sharrif and Kevin Lahn. What is wrong with someone caring about someone else? What is so bad about that, is my question. The young man has done nothing wrong. My statements speak for themselves in what I said a year ago, and I stand by it today.”
It is also doubtful that Florida would give Lahn the distinction of being a booster, especially considering the school was well aware of the 2009 incident and South Carolina went so far as to separate itself from him immediately after it was reported.
The question that George raises in the report is much larger than any potential issues that the Gators might face. How does a governing body like the NCAA determine if an adoption is for legitimate reasons or rather a loophole in its impermissible benefits rules? Imagine the complications in determining how and why something as intricate as an adoption took place and being forced to figure out whether or not it was due to a warm feeling like love or compassion or something as cold as cash.