Utah standout basketball guard Brandon Jessie, one of many college athletes with ties to Oxnard sports agent Robert Troy Caron, was suspended Tuesday for seven games by the NCAA, a ruling school officials decried as unjust.
"I'm shocked and upset with the NCAA ruling," Athletic Director Chris Hill said. "We don't feel this is at all fair to Brandon."
Utah officials will file an appeal this week with the NCAA's Eligibility Committee, but the case probably will not be heard until after Thanksgiving. Jessie, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior, had already been held out of two exhibition games.
Jessie, the youngest son of former Ram receiver Ron Jessie, allegedly received a pager, a trip to the Mexican resort Cancun, and other benefits from Caron when he played at Ventura College, a community college.
He will regain his eligibility when eighth-ranked Utah plays at No. 11 Wake Forest on Dec. 21. The Utes open the season against second-ranked Kansas at Kansas City, Kan., on Saturday.
"I feel bad for Brandon because this isn't his fault," Utah Coach Rick Majerus said. "He's got this obstacle that none of us know how to deal with."
Jessie said he was hurt by the decision.
"I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "I'm trying to stay cool, but it's really hard. I just want to get back on the court."
Jessie came under scrutiny when it was discovered that a pager he used is owned by Caron, a personal injury lawyer who recently opened Pro Manage sports agency.
Caron received national attention when USC football players Errick Herrin, Israel Ifeanyi and Shawn Walters were suspended Sept. 28 for their ties to him. UCLA football player Donnie Edwards also was suspended for his dealings with Caron.
The eligibility of Edwards, Herrin and Ifeanyi was restored. The NCAA announced last week that Walters' eligibility would not be restored.
Caron met Jessie, a two-sport standout in basketball and football at Huntington Beach Edison High, through former Ventura College basketball Coach Philip Mathews. Utah officials and Jessie maintain that Caron is a family friend and did not act as an agent for the player.
"[Caron] is a good friend of mine," Jessie said. "That's all there is to it."
Utah officials admit they expected Jessie to serve a suspension.
"I anticipated he would miss some games, but not this number," Hill said. "This is more than he deserved."
Hill hopes for better luck with the Eligibility Committee.
"We're upset about it, but we have to try to move forward as best we can," he said. "We're going to do everything we can."