Steve Gordon, president of the SAM (Student-Athlete Mentoring) Foundation, said the money came from his organization, from a check written by the nonprofit's treasurer. Gordon coached 28 years of South Jersey high school football, mostly as an assistant at a number of Burlington County schools.
Gordon insists that this is a case of punishment for a good deed, that the money didn't go for "partying on South Beach" but for living expenses after Floyd had a "nonrefundable" ticket that put him in Florida a week before he could get into his dormitory last year.
"All we try to do is provide a service to kids from the inner city who, because of their situations, aren't afforded the opportunities that a lot of kids from affluent families are," Gordon said. "You've got a kid like Sharrif Floyd who doesn't have two nickels to rub together."
The NCAA cut the penalty from four games to two because of "the totality of Floyd's circumstances, including his personal hardship that led to the impermissible benefits being provided to the student-athlete by someone other than a legal guardian or family member."
Gordon is up-front about how the foundation's activities have included paying the expenses of some high school athletes going to summer camps and on unofficial visits to college campuses. This reached the attention of the NCAA, which contacted Gordon in February, he said.
"They wanted specifics with regards to one of our kids, who had committed to South Carolina," Gordon said Thursday, and eventually they got around to asking about Floyd.
"We're an ancillary in regards to helping the kids with their specific needs," Gordon said. "They have certain things they need help [with], whether it's exposure to get schools to secure a scholarship. . . . All our activities are geared toward getting kids in college. Some, we get them in SAT prep. One has an immigration problem we're trying to straighten out. We do a lot of stuff. One family was under threat because of an incident that had happened on the street. We actually moved the entire family."
The foundation began when Floyd was a junior at George Washington, Gordon said, explaining that he was standing by the beach in Wildwood and struck up a conversation with the father of Tauheed Smith, a former Frankford player, now a student at Bloomsburg, currently not playing football. Gordon told him about his background. At Smith's father's request, Gordon mentored Smith a little bit.
"He asked if I'd be interested in helping out his cousin, Sharrif Floyd," Gordon said. "I started mentoring him."
Around that time, Gordon said, "I first contacted the NCAA, seeking guidelines, even a contact person, to be a liaison with my organization. I never got a phone call. . . . They're punitive, they're not proactive."
Gordon said he had established the foundation with private funding. One obvious question is whether this kind of foundation is steering players toward specific programs. Gordon said the evidence should make it clear that isn't the case.
The foundation's website lists 16 college players who have worked with the foundation, and they attend 14 schools.
One player brought the NCAA attention, Gordon acknowledged. The fact that Gordon is a University of South Carolina graduate and that one of the players affiliated with the foundation, Damiere Byrd, plays there became an issue. The freshman wide receiver from Sicklerville, a Timber Creek High graduate, also sat out his team's opening game. Like Floyd, his eligibility status remains unclear. The school is hoping it is cleared up this week.
Byrd's relationship to the SAM foundation is different from other players'.
Byrd's father, Adrian, is vice president of the foundation. Gordon said he himself has never been a South Carolina booster. However, the Palm Beach Post reported that the SAM Foundation's treasurer, Kevin Lahn, is the president of South Carolina's Philadelphia alumni association. Lahn couldn't be reached for comment. "He's not available," Gordon said.
Byrd is the only player at South Carolina. Only two are playing at the same Division I school, Deion Barnes and Adrian Amos of Penn State. Gordon said there have been no questions of him from the NCAA or Penn State regarding those two players, or from other schools, including the Naval Academy, Delaware, and Iowa.
He did receive calls from the compliance staffs at both South Carolina and Florida, Gordon said.
"They really don't want to know about their specific kid, they just want to protect their university," Gordon said.
Has Gordon read the NCAA rules?
"It's 700 pages," Gordon said. "You got free time? Most of it doesn't make sense. For instance, they are saying our providing these trips at no cost to these kids could be a violation, or moving these kids to a private school can be a violation, yet when they go to a Catholic school at no cost it isn't. It's all open to interpretation."
Asked whether money ever was given directly to anybody but Floyd, Gordon said, "No." He doesn't believe anything was done wrong with Floyd.
"I can walk away tomorrow," Gordon said. "They have no legal recourse toward me. What gets me, they're messing with our kids, the foundation's kids, and they're just jeopardizing their future, and they're being bullies about it. Sharrif is a fantastic young man. It's ridiculous what he's going through right now."
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.