Posted by Adam Jacobi
USC fans wondering why former assistant Willie Mack Garza resigned so abruptly two days before the start of this season now have an answer -- and that answer has a paper trail. According to a report by Yahoo Sports, Willie Lyles informed NCAA investigators that Garza had wired him $1,500 in 2009 to get coveted tailback Lache Seastrunk onto the Tennessee campus for an unofficial visit; Garza had been an assistant of Lane Kiffin at UT at that point, before Kiffin brought Garza with him to USC's staff in 2010.
On unofficial visits, recruits and their families are responsible for all costs incurred, so if Garza supplied that money to Lyles for the purposes of getting Seastrunk to campus, that's a serious violation of NCAA rules. Whether Garza gave money to Lyles is not in question, though; Yahoo Sports has a copy of the Moneygram record of that transaction, and sure enough, there's $1,500 going from Garza to Lyles. Being that Lyles himself told the NCAA that the money was to pay for Seastrunk's plane tickets, which totaled $1,446.80 in a purchase two weeks prior to the Moneygram transaction, there doesn't appear to be much wiggle room for Garza.
CBSSports.com first reported that Garza's departure from USC was related to an NCAA probe of Tennessee's recruiting practices on the day that Garza resigned, on September 1. That report has now been proven accurate by this Yahoo story.
For Garza's efforts above and beyond the NCAA guidelines, Tennessee didn't get much; not only did Seastrunk not commit to the Volunteers, of course, he didn't even take an official visit to Knoxville once it was time to make those choices. Seastrunk famously chose Oregon over Auburn in a recruiting process that still leaves a sour taste in Tigers fans' mouths to this day, and once the reports surfaced of Lyles maintaining close relationship with recruits even while getting paid large sums of money by the schools recruiting them, Seastrunk ended up transferring to Baylor.
For as bad as this report makes Garza look in the eyes of the NCAA, however, the real entity in danger here is Tennessee; that athletic department was hit with a failure to monitor charge in August among various major infractions perpetrated by then-head basketball coach Bruce Pearl, and the program is nowhere near completing its two years of probation handed down by the NCAA. If the NCAA finds this to be another egregious flouting of recruiting regulations, Tennessee is liable to be considered a "repeat offender" by the Committee on Infractions, and that easily could mean serious, long-lasting consequences for the entire athletic department.