NCAA shows teeth in USC ruling
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This was the return of the lion. This was the NCAA Committee on Infractions hot tub time machining back to the mid-1990s, before Jerry Tarkanian beat the organization out of $2.5 million in a due process case.
Since then, the NCAA’s various penalties had been mostly weak; a series of proportional wrist slaps that scared no one. The Association rarely appeared confident in its ability to discipline.
Then, out of the blue, out of the past, here came a hammer drop on Southern California for a series of major violations surrounding Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush.
The Trojans will be docked 30 scholarships in football, 10 each year over a three-year period, the highest total in 15 years.
The NCAA issued a two-year bowl ban, which is extra significant because it allows current juniors and seniors to transfer to another school without sitting out a season. The pain of any personnel losses would be compounded by the scholarship limits that make replacing them difficult.
It deemed Bush ineligible starting with the 2004 Orange Bowl, where the Trojans won the BCS national title. That means USC will vacate that victory as well as all results in 2005. The separate Bowl Championship Series will determine if it will strip USC of its title. The Heisman Trust in New York will do the same concerning Bush’s Heisman Trophy.
There was more too: four years probation, sanctions on the men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs, the returning of some postseason money and other recruiting restrictions.
The penalties were spelled out in a lengthy, detailed and strongly worded report released Thursday afternoon.
“These were reactions to what the committee saw as a very serious case,” said Paul Dee, the committee chair and former athletic director at Miami.
The scope of the penalties stunned college athletics. It’s not because they are without precedent – Dee chuckled when noting that in 1995, when he was at Miami, the Hurricanes lost 31 scholarships. It’s just been so long since anything similar had been handed down.
In 2002, Alabama was hit for having a booster supply extra benefits to a recruit and lost just 21 scholarships. That appeared more significant than USC since it was a school booster doling out the cash, not the multiple marketing agencies in the SC case (even though the NCAA said one assistant knew of the situation).
The Committee on Infractions saw it differently and its reasoning may signify a new/old era in compliance. This was a report in length and scolding language right out of the days when president Walter Byers ran the NCAA with an iron fist and didn’t hesitate to crush certain programs.
Gone was the specious argument about not punishing the innocent players at the university. This is an always popular plea for leniency that works because it often takes years for the NCAA to rule. In this case both revenue sport coaches – Pete Carroll and Tim Floyd – and both players – Bush and O.J. Mayo – are long gone.
The Committee on Infractions saw it differently. Yes no current Trojans are involved, yet most chose to go to USC while the school was being investigated. More importantly, Dee said the committee noted the real world way that recruiting works.
When Reggie Bush is driving around campus in a tricked-out car purchased, in part, by marketing agents, it doesn’t scare away the next round of recruits. It draws them in.
If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand recruiting.
” [The extra benefits] enhanced recruiting which led to their ability to recruit other athletes,” Dee said when explaining why the significant loss of scholarships. In essence, this wasn’t just about Reggie Bush. This was about the values of USC football.
As for the two-year postseason ban, Dee noted that’s the same number of bowl games that Bush played in after compromising his amateur status. Fair is fair, he was saying.
You can rail against the NCAA and its rules. You can point out the hypocrisy of having Paul Dee, boss of those infamous Miami Hurricanes, doling out justice. You’ll have plenty of material.
Here’s the thing: If the NCAA is going to have these rules, then it ought to enforce them. A commitment to some level of compliance is the centerpiece to college sports enjoying tax-free status and avoiding paying billions to federal, state and local governments.
For the first time in a long time, the NCAA acted like this still meant something, not siding with the cries of the guilty but with the thoughts of the innocent.
“We have to protect those institutions [that follow the rules],” Dee said.
USC announced it will appeal these sanctions – it fought the NCAA hard on the facts of this case originally. It may be able to get a reduction in the penalties, but it’ll only help so much.
The school’s statement Thursday was preposterous.
“There is a systemic problem facing college athletes today: unscrupulous sports agents and sports marketers,” Todd Dickey, USC’s senior vice president for administration, said in a statement. “The question is how do we identify them and keep them away from our student-athletes?”
Considering that one of the market agents central to the case, Michael Ornstein, employed Reggie Bush as a summer intern prior to his junior season, it doesn’t seem like USC was too concerned about keeping anything away from its student athletes. Did USC know about Ornstein?
“We went through SC, went through the compliance office,” Ornstein told Yahoo! Sports in 2006. “We are allowed to pay the guy for 20 hours a week, $8 an hour. All of the paperwork is filed. It was just something we wanted to do to help Pete Carroll because they always are looking for summer jobs.”
USC may need a new defense.
The embarrassment of the vacated victories and perhaps losing the BCS title will fade (Pete Carroll could officially become “No Pete,” the winner of zero BCS championships). The pain of the scholarship limitations will linger though.
It’s not just that USC can sign only 15 players in the next three recruiting classes – which means the Trojans can’t afford to have any players fail to live up to projections. It’s that those other 10 highly recruited stars will go somewhere else – most likely in the Pac-10 and most likely from there at crosstown rival UCLA.
USC dominated in the 2000s because it was able to stockpile All-American talent. That’s gone for now. New coach Lane Kiffin won’t just be playing with less talent, he’ll be playing against more of it.
Then there is the likelihood the Pac-10 gets significantly tougher in 2012 if the rumors of Texas and Oklahoma, among others, joining the league play out.
It would take an exceptional coach – someone such as Carroll – to weather this storm. Carroll is in the NFL though and the jury on Kiffin’s actual coaching acumen is still out. He may prove to be a prodigy. If so he’ll be doing it the hard way – with limited talent, stalled momentum and a heightened sense of compliance that won’t make recruiting any easier.
It’s all the result of the old NCAA rising up and slapping the Trojans around for what the organization saw as an out-of-control culture in L.A.
Out of nowhere, out of the early 1990s, the lion returned on Thursday.