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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Will USC's sanctions strategy work?

By Eamonn Brennan

It's been a day or so since the USC-suspending-itself-from-postseason-play story arrived on our doorstep, and among college basketball writers, a singular consensus has emerged: USC sacrificed its basketball team to save football. But whether or not that sacrifice will work is a different story altogether.

CBS' Gary Parrish weighed in on the topic almost immediately, and he was none too pleased:

So yeah, Southern California absolutely hammered itself Sunday by announcing self-imposed sanctions that'll put a ceiling on what Kevin O'Neill's first team can accomplish. And if you're one of those -- like Tim Floyd, for instance -- who always thought USC would sacrifice the basketball program in an attempt to protect the football program, well, you now have your proof, which is why it's difficult to applaud athletic director Mike Garrett, who released a statement Sunday that included the following phrase: "When we've done something wrong, we have an obligation to do something about it, and that is exactly what we are doing here."

Really?

Then when will USC do something about Reggie Bush?

That's the same argument as Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy, who wrote that it was "almost convenient for USC football that O.J. Mayo played hoops at the school":

So it does not take a particular genius for business, perhaps not even an expert on collegiate sports, to understand what is happening here. In their most recent game, the basketball Trojans faced Pac-10 opponent Arizona State before a Saturday night crowd of 5,917. The football Trojans finished their home season against Arizona in front of 83,753. The difference between those two gates is measured in the millions.

[...] This is like watching a rerun of Parks and Recreation -- a bad sitcom about incompetent bureaucrats. Yep, that fits. No one with any degree of wisdom is going to pretend Mayo was innocent, or even an amateur, during his time at USC. But once again basketball players with no particular connection to any alleged rules violations are being asked to bear the punishment.

DeCourcy's argument is hurt by his labeling of "Parks And Recreation" as "bad" -- "Parks And Rec" is one of the best new shows on television, co-written and produced by a former sports blogger who used to swing a bat at bad baseball writing with the same ferocity as Eli Roth in "Inglourious Basterds." That sports blogger has now given us Tom Haverford and Ron Swanson. Sorry, but that show is awesome.

Still, I digress. As you can see, this is the general consensus, repeated elsewhere for good measure in the past few days to the point where it seems to be becoming accepted wisdom. Which makes sense, because the strategy makes sense. Tim Floyd's alleged carelessness has given USC the perfect opportunity to punish itself without touching the very program that makes the entire USC athletics department possible: football. Wouldn't you do the same thing? And if you're a USC fan, aren't you, at least on some level, OK with this strategy? Sure, you're probably a bit sad for USC's seniors -- especially Mike Gerrity, who is playing like a Pac-10 player of the year after finally regaining his eligibility -- but most USC fans can swallow a little basketball sorrow if it means the football program stays the way it is. Win forever, indeed.

The problem is ... well, do the Trojans really think the NCAA is this dumb? Or, more accurately: Is the NCAA actually this dumb? If everyone sees through your obviously transparent switcharoo strategy -- football? what? but look what we did to the basketball team! -- won't the NCAA see through it, too? And doesn't the potential severity of the allegations related to Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight, which involve words like "$100,000" and "improperly leased luxury vehicle" sort of obviate USC's ability to just brush its football program's problems under the table?

You would think so. If everyone recognizes USC's double-secret probation strategy, then it's not much of a double-secret probation strategy. Then again, this is the NCAA. When the NCAA is involved, you never really know what to think.