Pac-12: Steve Rubio

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.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy KingUSC coach Lane Kiffin is set to face the NCAA Committee on Infractions this weekend.
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?

Police: Yes.

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?

Police: USC.

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.

NCAA: Kiffin not compliant at Tennessee

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
12:36
PM ET
Pause for a moment and recall the worst relationship of your life. It's probably hard to remember why you came together -- the attraction was superficial, right? -- because the toxic outcome ended up redacting any fleeting, happy moments.

Speaking of redacting, USC received a notice of allegations today from the NCAA regarding Lane Kiffin's tenure as coach at Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThe NCAA alleges that Lane Kiffin, while at Tennessee, "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance."
And speaking of bad relationships, how many proved as toxic -- and lingeringly so -- as Kiffin and Tennessee?

Here's the short analysis of the 26-page document: Tennessee has successfully thrown Kiffin under the bus, and USC fans should be concerned because Kiffin apparently didn't make it very difficult.

There are three central allegations:

  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin or his assistant coaches between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 of 2010 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.
  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the football program and failed to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant football coaches."

But the big problem for Kiffin -- and the boon for Tennessee -- is this: In both of the alleged violations (the calls and the recruiting visit), Kiffin was told in advance by Tennessee not to do what he ended up doing, according to the NCAA and, of course, Tennessee.

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."

Ergo: Kiffin's failure to monitor.

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden in a statement:
"We have received from the NCAA a notice of allegations against Lane Kiffin pertaining to his tenure as the head football coach at Tennessee. The NCAA enforcement process provides for Tennessee and Lane to address those charges. Until that process is completed, it would be unfair and premature for me or USC to comment on this matter.

"However, I will say this: 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."

Kiffin used the USC statement to decline comment, but did note that "we look forward to working through the process with the NCAA."

Ha! Sure, that will be great fun, Lane.

What you can gather from news today is that Kiffin could suffer some sort of sanction that limits him in recruiting. I'm experiencing a bit of déjà vu because I covered a similar situation in 2002 when then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel was grounded for eight months for violations he committed while coaching at Colorado.

That case was similar not just in that the violations occurred at a school where the coach was no longer employed, but also in that the previous school thought said former coach fell somewhere between cockroach and toe fungus on the pecking order of organisms.

That case was also similar because you have to understand the subtext of under-the-bus-throwing: When a successful, current coach is found to have engaged in a pattern of secondary violations, the school throws the compliance department under the bus: "Our coach wanted to comply but our compliance department failed him!"

But when a hated ex-coach is alleged to have engaged in a pattern of secondary violations -- read: Neuheisel and now Kiffin -- then it's clearly the coach's moral turpitude at work.

USC fans might immediately wonder if this connects to the Trojans' appeal before the NCAA or in any way exposes USC to potential problems. The official answer is "probably not," other than specific sanctions against Kiffin would become another obstacle for the football program to deal with as it tries to maintain a high level of competitiveness.

But in terms of the public relations, it casts another shadow over Kiffin and USC. As in: "See, the bad things they were saying about Kiffin are true!"

Of course, if Kiffin leads USC to 10 wins this season, no Trojans fans will really care.

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