Gavilan College removed 17 out-of-state football players—all but one of them African American—from the team and campus last week, claiming the athletes had received prohibited transportation, housing and food benefits and were improperly recruited.
They all lived in the same three-bedroom house in Hollister, rent-free for the month of August, on the condition that they would buy school and housing supplies and start paying rent in September. Two assistant coaches were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, and one of them resigned.
The students contend the college removed them out of racial bias and believe that the administration simply found an excuse to throw them out of school. They said the school treated them like “thugs” and “criminals,” including calling seven cars from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office and Gilroy Police Department to the school on the day they were told they were to be removed from the team.
The players said they were forced to hand over their phones to the administration and to give the administration access to text messages and emails. They say they were denied access to attorneys to defend themselves.
Many were given plane tickets home, although the administration said they were offered a chance to stay in school, but not remain on the team. The players denied that.
“We didn’t do anything, so why are we getting kicked out of school?” asked Meek Jones, who was among five athletes who spoke to the Gilroy Dispatch.
Jones is from Virginia, along with Josh Riley from Chicago, Devyn Edward from Oregon, and Terrance Cherry from Baltimore.
The players said all they wanted to do was to play football and have a chance. They were excited about the season.
“We all had starting spots and to have this happen is just crazy,” Riley said.
Gavilan played a game at San Jose City College on Sept. 2. There are nearly 66 players still on the team.
Cherry said they even put up with living in an overpacked three-bedroom house because that was how badly they wanted to play.
“We were willing to stay in a house with 17 teammates, and I was willing to go broke too and do whatever we have to do to play football,” Cherry said.
Gavilan College denies the dismissal was racially motivated and that it was following California Community College Athletic Association guidelines after it says it found evidence that the students were in violation of rules by taking free housing and food. The school hired an outside investigator to look into the claims.
Gavilan’s investigation found there to be “evidence of irregularities in recruiting and subsidizing student athletes in violation of the California Community College Athletics Association (CCCAA) rules,” according to Director of Public Information Jan Bernstein-Chargin.
“The investigator interviewed all parties involved, and found evidence of violations ranged from subsidizing student-athletes with free or discounted housing; receipt of meals without payment; arranging housing for student-athletes; acting as an agent on behalf of Gavilan College; and providing transportation outside of Gavilan College’s recruiting area,” she said.
“As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time. Gavilan College Campus Security, which now includes a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputy, was alerted and they did a stand-by with backup,” Bernstein-Chargin added. “It is hard to say what the standard procedure is in cases like this, because it not something that happens often (not in the 16 plus years I have been here).”
Bernstein Chargin flatly denied the students were targeted based on their race.
When asked to elaborate why they felt the school was discriminating against them, the athletes said it was how the administration, mainly Athletic Director Ron Hannon, looked and spoke to them.
“It was the looks, and you can just get a vibe,” Riley said.
Gavilan President Kathleen Rose defended her staff saying there was not a concerted effort to remove the players from the team.
“The players were notified that they were no longer eligible to play on our team due to violations. Those students could still stay here and be students at Gavilan College,” Rose said. “They were not evicted or chased out or run out on a rail, of the college. They could still attend Gavilan College but they were deemed ineligible to play football.”
The students said they had gathered by the athletic director’s office as each was called in one by one to receive the news.
Bernstein-Chargin said in an email the students had the option to remain at Gavilan or transfer to another school and appeal the ruling to maintain eligibility.
“As per the CCCAA Constitution, once having accepted impermissible benefits, a student is rendered ineligible to play in the State of California.” Bernstein-Chargin said in an email. “These students now have the option of continuing at Gavilan as students but not student-athletes, seeking admission to football programs in other states or enrolling at a California college other than Gavilan in order to appeal eligibility.”
How it got started
According to Bernstein-Chargin, College Superintendent/President Dr. Kathleen Rose received a phone call from a mother of a freshman player “who had concerns about her son’s living arrangements.”
The call prompted an internal investigation that discovered the players were living in a three-bedroom house on Paul Drive in Hollister.
The athletes said they moved into the house in the second week of August. The owner of the house said the athletes weren’t keeping the house clean enough and told them they would have to reconsider living arrangements if her concerns weren’t met, according to the five athletes reached by the Dispatch.
The players said that is when the freshman’s mother had called the college.
The athletes deny the charges stating they did not know their arrangement constituted a violation of state rules nor were they given a chance to rectify the mistake since everything was found in the same month they are accused of not paying rent.
They also deny the meals were for free. They said their landlord cooked meals for herself and offered some to the players who were home.
Gavilan found the players were recruited improperly by the assistant coaches based on prohibitions of recruiting out-of-state players except by written approval.
The five players reached for comment deny the coaches recruited them. They said they were the ones to reach out to the school, which they found out about from friends, family or social media.
Haden Gore said he was all set to go to Los Angeles Valley College until a friend let him know about Gavilan.
“It sounded like a good fit,” Gore said. “It sounded like a better fit than LA. And the price to live there was just too much.”
One man affiliated with the Gavilan football team, who asked his name not be used because he worried about future job prospects, said the recruiting coaches had connections out of state, who helped reach the students.
The source who asked not to be identified said the investigation was done by former Cabrillo College Athletic Director Dale Murray.
Bernstein-Chargin acknowledged there was an outside investigator but did not name him in her email.
The source said he was disturbed by the way the investigation was being handled and voiced his frustrations.
“It was complete crap from start in my opinion,” he said. “I said everything is fine; you’re not going to find anything. But to bring these kids in one by one without representation and go through their records, there’s no way I’m going to let you do that.”
He said he has now left the college ahead of being terminated from his position, he said.
He said the students were made out to be something they aren’t and he couldn’t stick around and be a part of that.
“They’re just treating these kids like thugs. I don’t stand for that,” he said. “I can’t believe it. I’m shocked. It’s 2017.”
One player, Gore, was sent home to Houston as the city digs out from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Gore said he received the equivalent of a plane ticket in gas money because no flights were going to Houston. He said he was driving to San Antonio to be with his family until it was safe to return to Houston.
He said his mother’s house was spared from the flooding, but members of his extended family in the Houston area were not so lucky.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Gore said. “I’m always looking at bright side things. I ain’t giving up on football. It just came down to an athletic director who did not want us there. All the power was in his hands.”
The students were all given plane tickets home.
Edward, Cherry, Riley and Jones all had plane tickets home early on Aug. 31.
Gore said he was leaving on Sept. 5. When he was reached by phone on Aug. 31, Gore said six players had not yet left, but all had tickets to leave between Sept. 2 and Sept. 5.
As a result of the investigation, Bernstein-Chargin said the college self-reported the violations to the CCCAA.
She said the college was awaiting word if the self-imposed sanctions—which includes the deeming of 17 players ineligible and the suspension of two coaches—would be satisfactory or if further action is needed.
But the investigation is still ongoing, she said.
“Two Gavilan College staff members have been placed on administrative leave pending investigation of recruiting and benefits violations,” Bernstein Chargin said. “Appropriate personnel actions will be taken as warranted, up to and including termination of employment.”
She said the college will impose changes to help ensure future compliance.
“Each coach will be required to be re-certified with the CCCAA prior to any additional recruiting activities,” she said. “This includes an in-service meeting and an online exam. Head coaches for all sports will meet bi-monthly with Hannon to discuss recruiting practices and activities.”
Edward said he made drove 10-plus hours from Oregon to come play with $800 to his name.
“I went broke,” Edward said. “Even when we lost the place we were staying at, there was nobody who asked us if we had any place to go. The AD definitely didn’t.”
However, the students affected are left feeling like they shouldn’t have come to Gavilan in the first place.
“Most of us were from Florida. I’m from Texas. I came across the country for this,” Gore said. “My mom gave me every last dime she had.”
Dispatch staff writer Bryce Stoepfel contributed to this report.