Defensive end Israel Ifeanyi of USC called for improved relations between the NCAA and college athletes, saying the organization has failed those it is supposed to serve.
Speaking late Thursday night after the NCAA eligibility committee had upheld a decision to suspend him for two games, Ifeanyi said:
"Hopefully what happened to me will [help] bridge the gap. Everybody seems to punish [the athletes] every time something goes wrong. I'm not saying we're always right, but I think we should look at the cases and not try to put everybody in a group and say, 'This is how they act.' "
Ifeanyi, 24, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound transfer from Orange Coast College, has missed three games and will sit out one more, today's against Washington, because of alleged transgressions.
He was suspended for two games for his involvement with Robert Troy Caron, an Oxnard sports agent. He also was suspended for two games for receiving money from fellow Nigerians living in Los Angeles.
The second issue was hotly contested because Ifeanyi claimed members of his Igbo tribe were practicing their customs by contributing to his support.
"I don't think there is any court in this world who would find me guilty, based on the circumstances that happened," he said. "These are people who were my support system even before I walked on the football field.
"There was a time I was homeless in Orange County. Auntie Grace [Apiafi, a Pasadena City College professor] was somebody really helping me. I couldn't eat. I was sleeping from friends' houses to friends' houses. She came in a time of need."
He said other Nigerian students who are not athletes receive similar assistance.
Ifeanyi, a senior, said he accepts his mistakes with Caron. But he said the situation was unfairly portrayed by the NCAA.
"Most of the things that I said in my statement were misrepresented . . . turned around, twisted. That's one of the things that makes you wonder."
Ifeanyi said he was accused of taking a trip to Las Vegas with Caron, but in fact went with teammates Shawn Walters and Errick Herrin, who also were suspended for their links to the agent.
Ifeanyi said the larger issue is finding a way to stop the agents from having access to the players.
"How can all those questions be addressed [when] all those questions have been ignored?" he asked. "People are depending strictly on the rules to eradicate that. It is a bigger issue, particularly with the economic background of most of the student athletes."
Ifeanyi, who came to the United States in 1990, got a court order allowing him to play against Notre Dame last weekend, his only game since he was suspended Sept. 28. He is expected to return next weekend against Stanford.
Although he practiced regularly, Ifeanyi said it was tough playing at South Bend, Ind.
"It's kind of funny, but it was strange being out there for the first time," he said. "It was such an emotional thing. I felt, 'Oh, this is actually happening.' Under the circumstances that it happened, I didn't like it."