A Cal State Northridge football coach has acknowledged he advanced money to an athlete to help him move his family to the San Fernando Valley this year. A representative of the NCAA said that such an action is a violation of that organization's rules.
Loans totaling $358.94 were made by Rich Lopez, Northridge's offensive coordinator, to Eric Staggs in January so he and his wife Tammy could afford to move from their apartment in Folsom, Calif., to one in Northridge.
Staggs, a transfer from Sierra Community College in Rocklin, Calif., received a $300 check for a truck rental deposit as well as a substantial discount on the truck rented for him by Lopez and Jerry Campbell, an offensive line assistant. Lopez also paid a $58.94 motel bill for Staggs in January while he and his wife looked for an apartment.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Rick Evrard, director of NCAA legislative services, quoted provision 3-1-(g)-(5) of the NCAA constitution, which says college employees or representatives are prohibited from offering "special benefits" to student-athletes that are not generally available to other students.
These "special benefits" include "a special discount, payment arrangement or credit card on a purchase or service" and "a loan of money," according to the NCAA manual.
Given hypothetical circumstances identical to Lopez's loans to Staggs, Evrard concluded that the school would be in violation of NCAA rules.
Northridge President James W. Cleary said Friday afternoon that he considered any possible infraction a serious matter. Bob Hiegert, CSUN's athletic director, would interview the involved coaches next week and report back to him, Cleary said. Among those who will be interviewed is head Coach Bob Burt, who said Northridge may have broken NCAA regulations but that the coaches had good intentions.
"If trying to help a kid is illegal, than what we did was illegal," he said. "What we tried to do was help a kid with a wife and two little kids, but I'm through with that.
"Mr. Nice Guy," Burt added, referring to Lopez, "is through, too. If a kid doesn't have the money, he can sleep on the street."
Said Cleary, who is a member of the NCAA's Presidents Commission: "If there has been an infraction, we will take appropriate action and report our findings to the NCAA." He said the school will take "disciplinary action" against coaches involved.
Lopez, a Northridge assistant for the past six years, said in a telephone interview Thursday night that a $300 check of his was left at the truck rental company as a deposit because Staggs didn't have enough money with him and had no checking account. The rental bill, Lopez said, was to be repaid by Staggs when he returned the truck.
He also loaned the couple money for a stay at a Reseda motel the night before they looked for an apartment and rented the truck, Lopez said. The money was to be repaid within a few weeks, Lopez said, when Staggs received the second payment of his scholarship money.
Staggs, a 6-7, 280-pound all-state offensive tackle, has since moved back to the Sacramento area. He said during an interview at his Lincoln, Calif., home last week that the money Lopez spent on the truck rental and hotel room was not a loan and repayment was never discussed after he gave Campbell a partial payment of $110 for the truck. Campbell had signed for the truck in his own name with Staggs as the driver.
The cost of the rental was $306.01, substantially less than the price of $476.02 quoted to a reporter over the phone this week for the same trip. Staggs said a special rate was arranged by Campbell, who told Staggs he knew someone at the rental company who could arrange a discount.
Campbell did not acknowledge the truck rental until informed that The Times had obtained a receipt. He said he did not know that securing a discount for a player was an NCAA infraction.
Said Charlie Robinson, district manager for Ryder Truck Rentals: "We did give him a discount. He got a good rate."
Staggs, 20, said he first was contacted by Northridge coaches in December. He took his official NCAA, school-paid, visit to Northridge just before Christmas. It was during his initial trip to the campus, Staggs said, that Lopez and Burt promised to help his family move.
"They told me, 'Don't worry about the move. We'll help,' " Staggs said. Both coaches deny making such a statement.
Burt said he was aware "one of the guys" had written a check for the truck rental deposit. He said he did not know Lopez had charged the hotel room on a VISA card. The Times has obtained a copy of the hotel bill and credit card receipt bearing Lopez's signature. Cost for the night's stay was $58.94.
The Staggs family lived in a Northridge apartment for two months before returning to the Sacramento area in late March because they could not afford the next month's rent.
Staggs said he received his scholarship money but did not receive other financial aid for which he had applied.