Pac-12: Michael Michaels
The photo apparently shows USC running backs coach Todd McNair and his actor friend, Faizon Love, posing at a nightclub with would-be agents, Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, who were providing money and gifts to former Trojans running back Reggie Bush, which is a violation of NCAA rules against extra benefits.
McNair contended throughout the investigation that he doesn't know Lloyd Lake and therefore didn't know about his relationship with Bush. The NCAA ruled that it didn't believe McNair was being truthful, and the photo was one of the reasons why.
In its original response to NCAA allegations, USC questioned the photo's authenticity, or at least that it was cropped in a misleading way.
From the story:
USCFootball.com contacted an independent photography expert, who asked not to be identified, to examine the photo.
"I would not say it's been doctored significantly using something like Photoshop," the expert said. "The uniform darkening in the background is one thing that gives me pause because there is nothing in the background to line the people up with. As far as cropping the photo, that is a definite possibility, but I couldn't say for sure unless I saw the actual file. The pixel size of the photo is not typical, no camera has that as an original size. That is the first sign that the image was re-sized and possibly cropped."
And there's this, which asks, "So what?" about the photo.
In their Response to the NCAA Allegations, USC also noted the "absurdity" of the Committee's reasoning that because McNair and Lake were in a photograph together, they spoke about the sports agency and improper benefits to Bush and his family. As one way to dispel the Committee's stance, USC provided a photo that made national news to illustrate the point.
That photo was of Vice President Joe Biden posing for a photo with a couple that notoriously crashed a state dinner at the White House.
What's -- again -- interesting about USC's response to the NCAA allegations is that USC administrators make no effort to hide how flabbergasted they are over the flimsy nature of the evidence the NCAA was using to make its case over a McNair-Lake connection. While that outrage is understandable -- the evidence is flimsy -- it also speaks to USC's attitude during its defense: combative.
And combative can come off as arrogant and unrepentant. That doesn't wash well with the NCAA, which prefers meek and mild and apologetic.
If you don't think that's a significant part of the reason USC got smacked with a two-year bowl ban and got docked 30 scholarships over the next three years, you don't understand how the NCAA works.
Does any of this mean USC is going to win its appeal? No. But it is undeniably interesting.
After talking to many sources familiar with the investigation, it's clear that USC representatives believe the infractions committee didn't treat the program fairly -- not an unusual response from a sanctioned program, by the way -- and the university will take its issues to the Infractions Appeal Committee.
USC has two central contentions: 1. There's only tenuous evidence that connects running backs coach Todd McNair to the would-be sports agents, Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, who courted Reggie Bush with cash and lavish gifts; 2. That marketing representative Mike Ornstein was falsely named as a representative of USC athletic interests.
From USC's response to the NCAA:
In football, the NCAA Staff has attempted to establish a direct link between USC and the issues surrounding student-athlete 1 in two ways: (l) by pursuing unethical conduct charges against the assistant football coach for allegedly knowing about the benefits and failing to disclose them (Allegations I and 3); and (2) by pursuing a novel and flawed theory that a sports marketing agent became a representative of USC's athletics interests solely as a result of employing three USC student-athletes (including student-athlete l) in the summer of 2005. These allegations against the assistant football coach and USC are not supported by the evidence and should be rejected.
Suffice it to say, USC's defense isn't passive. One might, in fact, call it a bit combative with NCAA investigators.
USC believes the [NCAA] has pursued these weak institutional allegations in football because it recognizes that without a direct institutional link, the allegations surrounding Student-Athlete I involve only amateurism issues with no institutional violation. After 3 1/2 years of intensive public and media scrutiny, including repeated public questions as to why USC football has not yet been "brought to justice" by the NCAA, the pressure to accuse USC of having had actual knowledge of and a direct connection to the alleged impermissible benefits is very real.
In other words, USC believes the NCAA is kowtowing to pressure to make an example out of the school.
USC risks prolonging the controversy with an appeal, and it's unclear which portions of the NCAA's argument it will challenge. An appeal likely wouldn't be resolved until the spring of 2011 -- at the earliest -- so there is a risk in merely pushing the sanctions into the future.
Yahoo cited an anonymous source and terms of the settlement weren't revealed.
If Bush had been deposed, the NCAA would have been able to review the material, which potentially could have supplemented its investigation into the USC football program. Now Bush, who denied wrongdoing in a 2009 meeting with the NCAA investigators, won't have to speak in detail about the cash and gifts he allegedly received from would-be agents while playing with the Trojans.
For USC, this means Bush won't be in position to potentially describe whether or not coaches or administrators had knowledge of his relationship Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, men who allegedly lavished him with cash and gifts in order to convince Bush to allow them and their now-defunct company to represent him once the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner entered the NFL draft.
The NCAA infractions committee and USC met for three days in late-February, though Bush didn't appear. The infractions committee's ruling, which could include sanctions against the football and basketball programs, could be made public at any time over the next few weeks.
Bush losing his attempt to force confidential arbitration to settle a lawsuit filed by a would-be sports agent means that testimony -- if it happens -- will be documented and made public.
That means Bush and other deposed witnesses could be compelled to make on-the-record statements under oath about their knowledge of whether the running back received cash and gifts while playing for the Trojans.
Lloyd Lake is suing Bush, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints, and his parents to recoup nearly $300,000 in cash and gifts they allegedly accepted during Bush's sophomore and junior seasons at USC in 2004 and 2005.
Potential witnesses include Michael Michaels, Lake’s former partner and the owner of the house where Bush’s family lived in 2005. Michaels and Bush settled out of court in 2007, with Michaels agreeing to a confidentiality clause.
But the issue for USC is the NCAA.
The biggest reason that the NCAA's long-running investigation has been, well, so long-running is that it lacks subpoena power. It can't compel Bush, his family or other associates -- such as Michaels -- to talk about what happened because they are no longer under NCAA jurisdiction. The Pac-10 and NCAA have talked to Lake, coach Pete Carroll and other folks at USC but they haven't been able to question Bush and his family.
Lake's lawyer now, apparently, will get to do that. And that will be material the NCAA can use in its investigation of the USC athletic program.
This is what the NCAA has been waiting for: The court case to move forward (though Bush's lawyer told reporters he plans to ask that the case be dismissed on summary judgment).
There are two key issues here.
- Can it be proven that USC coaches were aware that Bush was receiving money and gifts?
- Or, even if it can't be proven, does the evidence suggest that USC should have known and didn't "know" because it lacked sufficient oversight?
At this point, the evidence is slim to nonexistent -- at least evidence that has been reported -- that USC coaches were aware of Bush's dealings with Lake. The testimony Lake's lawyers might collect, however, could augment the Bush and other NCAA investigations at USC.
The NCAA also is investigating alleged improper cash and gifts provided to former Trojans basketball player O.J. Mayo. Moreover, running back Joe McKnight was forced to sit out the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 26 because of allegations he was using an SUV that was registered to a local businessman that employed his girlfriend.
The totality of these investigations -- so much smoke, there's got to be fire -- could lead to the dreaded general finding of a lack of institutional control. That could mean major sanctions.
Or it might not.
Still, the court ruling seems to be doing something that hasn't been done in months with the Bush case: Taking a step toward an endgame.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
First, lots of feedback on my restaurant recommendations for the ultimate Pac-10 road trip.
I tried to go for diversity: seafood, Italian, Pan-Asian, French, steaks, cheap, pricey, frou frou, local institutions, etc.
Some of you took real offense to certain choices ... ouch!
As for those who don't like Adam's Place in Eugene, Ore., are you aware that it's the headquarters of the Eugene Martini Association!
I'm not going to just sit here and listen to you badmouth the home of the Eugene Martini Association, an organization that does so much good in the world, trying to help as many people as possible get the martinis they need!
To your letters.
Cam from Albany, Ore., wrote: When comparing the spring production of Oregon against the tangible talent at USC, which school is deeper at QB for 2009?
Ted Miller: Interesting question.
USC has three quarterbacks who are more physically talented -- in terms of NFL possibilities, at least -- than any Oregon quarterback.
None of USC's three quarterbacks -- Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain or Matt Barkley -- owns significant experience running a Pac-10 offense. (Mustain's experience as a true freshman at Arkansas doesn't count for much; see his struggles with USC's pro-style offense.)
Oregon's third and perhaps fourth options are Darron Thomas and Nate Costa, if he's healthy. Hopes were high for Costa last year before he suffered another serious knee injury, and Thomas is the quarterback of the future.
Seems to me both schools are fairly set at the position. But heading into 2008, I'd take Masoli over anyone else in the conference.
Daniel from Cypress, Calif., writes: What are you hearing about the new PAC-10 commish, about making decisions that will promote viewing of PAC-10 football nationally and what do you see him doing about contributing to changing the BCS?
Ted Miller: You don't need to wait to hear from Larry Scott. Outgoing commissioner Tom Hansen told the Orange County Register this week that there have been discussions about starting a "Pac-10 network," similar to what the Big Ten has already done.
Way -- WAY -- preliminary. But it shows that the Pac-10 is finally, due to revenue woes, looking to get creative in the ways the league markets itself.
As for Scott, it's too early to know how he might change things. He's been laying low, and truth is he probably has no idea what he's going to do. Bottom line is he serves the will of the school presidents, most of whom seem dead-set against change.
And I think the Pac-10 is a long way from joining the revolt against the BCS.
Brian from Parts Unknown writes: With the recent news about Floyd at USC possibly giving Mayo's handler $1000 and the NCAA combining the basketball and football probes of USC, I am starting to believe USC will get more than a slap on the wrist. What do you make of this? What penalties would you guess will be coming if the latest allegations are true?
Ted Miller: What has been reported on the basketball side of things is significantly different than what has been reported on the football side.
This is a football blog, so I'm going to leave the Tim Floyd-O.J. Mayo mess to other folks to sort out.
As for football, as I have previously stated: It will come down to whether the NCAA finds that USC knew -- or should have known -- about Reggie Bush's relationship with a pair of would-be agents who were allegedly giving him money and gifts.
The evidence to support the notion that any USC coach had direct knowledge is scant. It basically amounts to an allegation that running backs coach Todd McNair socialized with Bush one night in San Diego when the would-be agents were around and claims by the would-be agents that they were allowed in the USC locker room after games.
Having been in the USC locker room many times, I can only say ... who isn't inside the freaking USC locker room after a game?
And, by the way, both Lloyd Lake's and Michael Michaels' lawyers said early in the case that they had no direct evidence that USC knew what was going on, according to the book, "Tarnished Heisman."
Where USC football, however, might be found most culpable is lax oversight.
Will that, combined with the basketball allegations, amount to the dreaded "lack of institutional control"? We shall see. The odds it will are certainly better than they were a few months ago.
Ryan from Austin writes: I really enjoy the blog. It is a nice dose of reality as a Trojan fan in Austin, TX. And for those wondering, coming back to Austin after flying out to Pasadena for the 2006 Rose Bowl was absolutely brutal. Vince Young SI cover everywhere for what seemed like months...wait, it was months. I digress but do have a question... Can USC get to the BCS championship game with one loss? I know there are numerous factors outside their control, but I'm curious if you think an early season loss to Cal or Ohio State ends their title game chances.
Ted Miller: Sure. As you say, a lot factors in -- other one-loss teams, USC's ranking when it loses and who it loses to, the Pac-10's top-to-bottom strength, etc.
What the Trojans need if they lose once is for the teams on their schedule to do well, the Pac-10 as well as Ohio State and Notre Dame. And it would help if the Trojans lone loss comes before November, or even mid-October.
If the Pac-10 makes a strong showing against another difficult slate off nonconference games and seven teams earn bowl eligibility, then USC probably would have a strong case with one loss.
Nate from Pleasanton, Calif., writes: If Stanford's Toby Gerhart does declare for the MLB draft who would you expect to step up for the Cardinal and how well do you think they would perform to keep the standards for rushing that were set with last years rushing attack?
Ted Miller: The good news for Stanford fans is it's starting to look like Gerhart will be back.
If Gerhart does bolt, however, Jeremy Stewart would be first in line, with a trio of incoming freshmen -- Tyler Gaffney, Usua Amanam and Stepfan Taylor -- finding themselves in the midst of an outstanding opportunity.
Moreover, coach Jim Harbaugh couldn't stop gushing about Alex Debniak this spring. He's going to double as a lineba
cker and running back.
As big an issue for the running game is filling some holes on the offensive line.
Van from Pahrump, Nev., writes: For context, I'm a rabid USC fan. I fully agree that Tim Tebow is already an all-time college great, possessed of justifiably admired awesome football skills and charismatic leadership abilities. But I really don't get the degree of unmitigated fawning over him that seems to universally anoint him as the "best ever." May I be so bold as to ask what ever happened to Vince Young? You know, that Texas QB who apparently played- and only modestly at that- many, many decades ago. I do not think any player in college history ever had an incredible performance like Vince did in the vs. Michigan Rose Bowl- and THEN came his even better performance against USC!
Ted Miller: If you've come expecting me to tweak Tim Tebow, you, my friend, are in the wrong place.
Two national championships. A Heisman Trophy and a third-place finish.
And another year in which Florida is expected to at least play for another championship.
Vince Young was wonderful in a pair of Rose Bowls. In fact, I'm not sure if his twin performances weren't the best bowl performance combination in college football history.
But Tebow has a chance, if he wins a third national title, to instantly become one of college football's all-time greats.
And, you know, he seems like a heck of a guy to me.
Manny from Scottsdale writes: Ted, Where do you hear [Arizona State quarterback Danny] Sullivan is a heavy favorite? He was horrible Spring Game and can't move. When I read ESPN I expect to hear good evaluation. Who are you getting that info from? ASU needs anything but Sullivan and we all saw it but you I guess?
Ted Miller: Dennis Erickson. Where did you hear differently?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
I wish my friend in the diamond business were a Gecko.
- Oregon State is out of the blocks, and there are issues on the offensive line, particularly with guard Jeremy Perry's health. With Perry, the Beavers offensive line is above average. Without him? Things get dicey. And what about the rebuilding defense -- or is it merely reloading?
- It's all about the QBs at Stanford, the Beavers opening day opponent, who also have begun camp. Coach Jim Harbaugh has said he wants to pick a No. 1 guy before camp is 10 days old. Other big news for the Cardinal: Tackle Allen Smith has been cleared for rehab work that should get him ready to play at some point this season.
- John Moredich has Five Questions for Arizona. Best of all: He has answers, too. What's coach Mike Stoops got to say? "We are going to move the football. I promise you that."
- Some Duck notes from Rob Moseley, including a list of the formal QB pecking order and an injury report. Another report says the Ducks have added a "big-time" linebacker.
- Hey, Jeff Tedford... can I borrow $5. Or $5,000. Here's a report on California's highest plaid state employee. Note: USC is a private school.
- Arizona State receiver Chris McGaha is not only clutch... he's a a family man.
- And here's a Sun Devils preview to consider.
- The WSU Football Blog looks at the big guys on the offensive side of the ball.
- UCLA TB Kahlil Bell back is healthy again... and hungry.
- The LA Times looks at the guy with a tautological name who's hiding backstage in the Reggie Bush case: Michael Michaels.
- Who are the USC newcomers to watch? Bet at least a couple of guys on this list make names for themselves this season.
- Washington's seemingly endless hunt for a new athletic director doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.