Gavilan College faces charges of racial bias and violating Community College Athletic Association guidelines, after 17 out-of-state football players—all but one of them African American—were removed from the team last week.
The athletes received improper transportation, housing and food to violate eligibility rules, according to officials at the Gilroy junior college. But the treatment of the student-athletes has raised concerns that the dismissals may have been racially motivated.
All of the players lived in a 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—Austin Reville and Carlos Woods, according to sources—were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation and one of them resigned.
The students claim the college removed them out of racial bias, treating them like “thugs” and “criminals,” when seven cruisers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and Gilroy Police Department were called to the school to inform them of their removal from the team. Players said they were forced to hand over their phones to the administration, as well as provide access to text messages and emails. Meanwhile, they were apparently not informed of their right to an attorney.
Many of the players were given plane tickets home, although administrators said they were offered a chance to stay in school, just not on the team. The players denied this claim.
“We didn’t do anything, so why are we getting kicked out of school?” said Meek Jones, one of five athletes to speak about the situation.
Terrance Cherry, from Baltimore, said the student-athletes put up with overpacked living conditions because of 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,” he said.
Gavilan officials said they hired an outside investigator after receiving information about players receiving free housing and food.
“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,” spokeswoman Jan Bernstein-Chargin said.
Gavilan President Kathleen Rose defended her staff, saying there was never 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."
One player, Hayden 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.
“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.”
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,” said Josh Riley, from Chicago.
Gavilan played a game at San Jose City College on Sept. 2. There are nearly 66 players still on the team.
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 spokeswoman 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.”
Bernstein Chargin 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.
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.”
The incident came to light when Rose received a phone call from a mother of a freshman player “who had concerns about her son's living arrangements,” Bernstein-Chargin said.
The call prompted an 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 it clean enough and told them they would have to reconsider living arrangements if her concerns weren’t met, according to five athletes.
This is when the freshman’s mother had called the college, the players said.
The athletes say they did not know their arrangement constituted a violation of rules, nor were they given a chance to rectify the mistake since everything was found in the same month they were accused of not paying rent. They also deny receiving free meals. 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, however, deny the coaches recruited them. They said they were the ones to reach out to the school, which they learned out about from friends, family and social media.
One man affiliated with the Gavilan football team, who asked not to be named because of concern for future job prospects, said the coaches who recruited the players had connections out of state. The source added that the investigation was done by former Cabrillo College athletic director Dale Murray. The source said he was disturbed by the way the investigation was being handled and voiced his frustrations.
“It was complete crap from the 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.
“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, drove 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 many of his extended family in the Houston area weren’t 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.”
As a result of the investigation, Bernstein-Chargin said the college self-reported the violations to the CCCAA. She added that the college is awaiting word on whether 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 remains 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.”
A previous version of this story first appeared in the Gilroy Dispatch. Staff writer Bryce Stoepfel contributed to this report.