At some point USC and Lane Kiffin will get to focus on the football part of football. But not yet.
Kiffin still has his own dirty laundry -- all of it bright orange -- to tend to: He's in Indianapolis this weekend discussing the alleged transgressions that occurred while he Tennessee's head coach with the 10-member NCAA Committee on Infractions.
Kiffin will try to defend himself against the NCAA and Tennessee, which is trying to heap the entire mess on Kiffin's and, by association, USC's doorstep.
Kiffin was cited with a failure "to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the football program and failed to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant football coaches" as well as two specific violations:
The NCAA alleges between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 of 2010 Kiffin or his assistant coaches made 16 "impermissible recruiting telephone calls" to three prospects.
The NCAA alleges Kiffin allowed a recruiting intern, Steve Rubio, "to make in-person, off-campus contacts with high school administrators during a recruiting trip" to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In both of the alleged violations, Kiffin was told in advance by Tennessee not to do what he ended up doing, according to the NCAA. That's good for the Volunteers, not so good for Kiffin. (You can read the complete Notice of Allegations here if you so desire.)
Said the NCAA of the calls: "These calls were placed subsequent to the football staff's receipt of information in December of 2009 from the institution's compliance staff that such telephone calls were impermissible."
Said the NCAA of the trip: "This trip and these contacts occurred after David Blackburn, the institution's director of football operations, informed both Kiffin and Rubio ... that Rubio was not permitted to enter a high school's property while accompanying a football coach on a recruiting trip."
So what's going to happen? The short answer is "heck if I know."
Using logic, reason and a sense of fairness last June, I predicted, using Alabama's 2002 pay-for-play case as a precedent, that USC would get hit hard but not hammered by NCAA sanctions. The NCAA opted instead to be unfair and arbitrary and pounded the Trojans with a loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year postseason ban.
There was no way to justify what the NCAA did -- good luck coming up with a more severe penalty against Ohio State -- but the organization tried on its new enforcement web page: "Each case is unique, and applying case precedent is difficult (if not impossible) because all cases are different. Each case has its own aggravating and mitigating factors, and the committee considers both sides in assessing penalties."
If applying precedent is "impossible," then your enforcement arm can do anything it wants. Imagine if the police and courts operated this way.
Judge: You shot him for jaywalking?
Judge: Isn't that little harsh?
Police: He was wearing a Reggie Bush jersey.
Judge: A USC Reggie Bush jersey or a New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush jersey?
Judge: Oh, aggravating and mitigating factors. Well, then. Good job.
Know this: Kiffin is going to suffer some sort of sanction specific to himself, likely one that limits him in recruiting. While the NCAA doesn't want us to pay attention to precedent, I covered a strikingly similar case in 2002, when then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel was grounded for eight months for violations he committed while coaching at Colorado.
The interesting difference is the NCAA ruled Colorado failed to properly monitor Neuheisel's activity. It appears the COI -- with the overwhelming support of Tennessee -- has the option here of ruling Kiffin went rogue versus his compliance department. That might cast Kiffin's transgressions in a harsher light.
On the plus side for Kiffin, he's kept his nose clean at USC, which athletic director Pat Haden noted in a statement last February when the notice of allegations was published: "Since his return to USC last year as our head football coach, Lane has been vigilant in making sure he and the football program follow the NCAA's rules and compete the right way. Lane has my support as our head football coach."
USC's exposure here will likely be nothing more than collateral damage resulting from sanctions against its head coach, which might be substantial. Kiffin is an outstanding recruiter -- see his top-five 2011 class, despite the NCAA sanctions shadow -- so removing him from the equation for a period of time will further hurt the Trojans efforts to remain competitive.
Of course, after Kiffin and the NCAA chat this weekend, it will be weeks before the COI publishes its findings.
So -- Fight On!... and on and on -- USC fans can look forward to more embarrassing headlines generated from behind the closed doors of conference rooms.