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Foster’s UCLA Career Ends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As UCLA prepared Friday for the rivalry game against USC, it became clear the more immediate enemy is within.

The NCAA ruled that senior tailback DeShaun Foster’s suspension is for the duration of the season, and UCLA officials scrambled to determine if quarterback Cory Paus was forthright in explaining his June drunk-driving arrest.

Coach Bob Toledo said Paus will play today when the Bruins (6-3, 3-3 in Pacific 10 Conference play) try to end a three-game losing streak against the Trojans (5-5, 4-3), who have won three in a row and need a victory in their regular-season finale to become bowl eligible.

But concerns about USC, which has won the last two games in this series, rank a distant third in Westwood.

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Foster was a Heisman Trophy candidate before being declared ineligible Nov. 7 after admitting he drove a 2002 Ford Expedition leased by Hollywood actor-director Eric Laneuville. He did not play in the Bruins’ 21-20 loss to Oregon last Saturday and UCLA responded to the NCAA findings three days ago, requesting that Foster be reinstated.

Instead, the NCAA determined that the value of the benefit merited a penalty of more than four games. UCLA completes its 11-game regular season at home against Arizona State on Dec. 1 and is certain to play in a bowl game, all without Foster.

The lease payment was calculated at about $600 a month, plus insurance, which was paid by Laneuville. Foster drove the vehicle for six weeks, making the improper benefit in excess of $900. NCAA guidelines stipulate that an athlete is penalized a minimum of 30% of a season if a benefit is more than $500.

NCAA officials would not comment, but a UCLA spokesman said the NCAA made no connection between Foster’s use of the vehicle and a sports agent.

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Foster, who leads the Pac-10 in rushing and ranks third on UCLA’s all-time yardage list, is expected to be a first-round NFL pick in April. On Wednesday he retained Robert C. Berry, a longtime sports law expert and Boston College professor, to represent him in dealing with the NCAA.

“I am very disappointed in the ruling,” Foster said in a statement. “Obviously, I believe the penalty imposed is too great and overly severe. My family and I will have to assess the consequences of this ruling and what our options are.

“I emphasize that any complaints we have about these actions are [with] the NCAA and its procedures and not with UCLA.

“I wish my teammates success. I have had a rewarding experience playing for UCLA, and I will be cheering for their success the rest of the year and in the future.”

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Neither Berry nor Foster received a copy of the report, which will be mailed to UCLA on Monday. Berry said he would not rule out a lawsuit.

“I can assure you that if I thought it was going to damage his position [in the NFL draft], I would be thinking very seriously, are their grounds for going after appropriate parties on this?” Berry said. “I’m not going to rule that out. I think [the NCAA] reacted pretty harshly.”

Paus, on the other hand, has not been suspended despite the fact that he did not tell Toledo about his two arrests for alcohol-related driving offenses. The coach was informed Thursday night by a reporter.

On Friday, Paus told Athletic Director Pete Dalis and Coach Bob Toledo that his attorney, David Kestenbaum of Van Nuys, informed him in September that his case regarding the second arrest, June 9 in Los Angeles, would be continued until the end of football season.

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However, court documents indicate Paus, 21, pleaded no contest to a drunk-driving charge Aug. 31 and must serve four days in L.A. County jail. He has a court date Jan. 15 to determine when the sentence will be served.

Kestenbaum entered the plea while Paus was on the road with the team for the season opener at Alabama. Paus made a court appearance with the attorney one week earlier.

Kestenbaum is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Despite the discrepancy and the fact that Paus kept the arrests quiet, Toledo believes a suspension is too harsh.

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“This is a 21-year-old guy who thought he could handle it himself,” Toledo said. “He didn’t want to disrupt the team and he was scared.

“I’m not going to suspend him for this. He thought he could handle it. He wasn’t lying to me. There’s a difference.”

Paus’ first offense occurred near Mammoth Lakes in March, 2000. His car was stuck in a snow drift and a police officer who stopped to help him smelled alcohol. Paus pleaded guilty to a wet reckless, a lesser charge that counts as a prior DUI if there is another conviction within seven years.

No one was injured and no vehicle was damaged in either incident.

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Toledo said UCLA will consider each episode a substance-abuse violation. The athletic department’s drug education and testing policy does not mandate a suspension until a third positive test. Players testing positive for the first or second time undergo counseling.

“He didn’t hurt anyone and there were no NCAA violations,” Toledo said. “When we have time after the football game to sit down, he and I will hash this out.”

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Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this story.

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