LSU's Fournette remains in the lineup as probe continues

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 4:50 PM
LSU's Fournette remains in the lineup as probe continues

If all goes right for Leonard Fournette this weekend, he will turn attention back to his Heisman Trophy candidacy and away from embarrassing revelations that LSU is reviewing whether one of his family's business ventures violated NCAA rules.

The encouraging news for LSU's star running back is that he is expected to play Saturday night against Arkansas, which would not be the case if university compliance officials had found evidence of a likely violation, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no one has publicly discussed details of the ongoing review, said LSU compliance officials adhere to a practice of proactively banning athletes from play any time there are serious concerns about a possible violation, even if coaches protest.

In Fournette's case, LSU already had looked into matter once before in 2014, after the short-lived launch of the family's online store, which was designed to sell "BUGA Nation" products, the person said.

The university determined in its initial probe that no violations had occurred, the person said, adding that the current review was launched out of due diligence to make sure nothing was missed the first time because Fournette is a high-profile player.

The NCAA has declined to comment on the matter. When asked about it this week, coach Les Miles said only that he knew "very little."

"What I do know is positive. That's all I can say," Miles added. Beyond that, LSU officials have declined further comment.

Fournette has rushed for 1,383 yards and 16 touchdowns for No. 9 LSU (7-1). But the past week has been among the worst in Fournette's college career.

In a 30-16 loss to Alabama last Saturday, Fournette gained just 31 yards on 19 carries — his worst game this season by more than 100 yards.

Meanwhile, Baton Rouge attorney Bob Barton, who serves as LSU's legal counsel, has been interviewing people involved in setting up the BUGA Nation website. BUGA is an acronym standing for, "Being United Generates Attitude." The phrase was the brainchild of Fournette, who made the expression popular on social media while starring in high school.

The website, which was meant to sell T-shirts, hats and similar merchandise, was shut down less than a day after launching in 2014 and no sales were completed, said Joe McFerrin, owner of the Baton Rouge-based internet commerce company IWD, which built the BUGA Nation website.

"It started getting some traffic and few sales, but payments never captured and orders never fulfilled," McFerrin said, adding that he was told by the Fournettes' business associate, Paul Price, that LSU instructed the Fournettes to shut the site down.

However, the owners of some of the businesses contracted to help launch the Fournette family enterprise have said they gave Price discounts on up-front services in light of potential profits they envisioned in the long run.

USA Today first reported that LSU, at the behest of the NCAA, was looking into the circumstances behind the discounts and whether they potentially violated NCAA rules against athletes — or their families — profiting from their name or likeness.

IWD has maintained a mock-up of the site's home page at www.iwdagency.com/buga-nation . McFerrin said he initially offered Price a discount in exchange for having IWD's logo on the site. But before it launched, Price wanted the logo removed and McFerrin retracted the discount. In any event, Price hasn't paid about $14,000 in bills, McFerrin said.

Price did not respond to an email from The Associated Press.

McFerrin said Barton has interviewed him on behalf of LSU in the past few days, but that he was instructed to keep what they discussed confidential.

Chris Hanely, owner of the Dallas design firm Hanley Creative, said he offered Price discounts on website graphics and designs printed on BUGA Nation merchandise.

"I typically do that with clients who have a small budget, so I can build a long-lasting relationship," Hanley said, noting that Price was his client and never spoke with the Fournettes. He said Price has paid him about $850, much less than the $5,000 to $10,000 he'd normally charge for the type of work he did for Price.

Records show Fournette's mother, Lory, applied for trade mark rights to "BUGA Nation" earlier this month. She had filed similar applications twice before in 2013 and 2014. The request she filed last week is still live. Reached by phone by The Associated Press, Lory Fournette said she did not want to speak about the matter at this time.

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AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Jacksonville, Mississippi, contributed to this report.