Pac-12: USC sanctions

Mike Garrett: 'Nothing but a lot of envy'

June, 11, 2010
BURLINGAME, Calif. -- Hundreds of miles away from Heritage Hall and only a few hours after the release of an NCAA report that spelled out major penalties for USC, athletic director Mike Garrett broke his silence on the matter by telling a group of the school’s sports boosters that the report was “nothing but a lot of envy.”

“As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was … I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans,” Garrett said to cheers Thursday night at the San Francisco Airport Marriott.

Garrett made the statement on a previously scheduled coaches' tour stop for football coach Lane Kiffin and men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill, whose programs faced sanctions. Football took the brunt of the hit in the report with a two-year bowl ban among other penalties due to improper benefits received by Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. USC will appeal.

Declaring that “we can still split a national championship if we win all our games,” Kiffin also indicated he was heartened to learn 56 of his players appeared this morning for a voluntary 7 a.m. workout.

“Regardless of what happens in that appeal, we know this: SC is more powerful than anything else,” Kiffin said. “The university, the football program, the basketball program -- no matter what they try to do to us, it won’t matter.”

Before dining on seared fillet mignon and chocolate mousse cake, Garrett was greeted warmly with hugs and handshakes by USC fans who each paid at least $75 for event admission.

Wearing a striped cardinal-and-gold-colored tie -- and a smile -- Garrett had this to say when I approached him before the start of the event: “No comment. Don’t bother me. The world is great.”

While walking away with associates, he said, “Don’t talk to that guy. He’s the press.”

Later, when asked why he had not spoken publicly about the NCAA report or even issued a video statement, Garrett acted like he did not hear the question. He patted me on the chest and said, “God bless you.”

When a newspaper reporter asked if he were worried about his job,” Garrett patted that writer on the chest as well and said, “I’m just worried about your job.”

The crowd gave Garrett a standing ovation and also applauded and cheered when he mentioned the school would appeal the NCAA ruling.

“We’re fighters,” Garrett said. “As I told my staff, I said, ‘You know, I feel invigorated by all this stuff.’”

O’Neill, whose team faced few additional sanctions because the school had already self-imposed a postseason ban for this past season, said it was “a great decision by Mike” to go ahead with those sanctions in January.

O’Neill was not present at the school while star one-and-done player O.J. Mayo was being recruited, but he did address difficulty in maintaining institutional control.

“We can’t control people 24 hours a day,” O’Neill said. “That’s all there is to it. You cannot control people from the outside. You cannot control agents. You cannot control runners. Those kinds of things get away from you sometimes because you have no way of knowing. I do know this: We do the right thing every single day by the university, by the athletic department, by the student-athletes.”

Kiffin, playing to the crowd, compared the idea of institutional control to raising children.

“Imagine if you have 120 of them to control,” he said. “And imagine if you also have responsibility for every parent and every family member they have. It’s a pretty difficult situation.”

USC's 2009 response to NCAA

June, 10, 2010
You can now read USC's 2009 defense against NCAA charges online (PDF).

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.

Will the Trojan colossus crumble?

June, 10, 2010
Under Pete Carroll, USC won consecutive national titles and just missed a third. It became the premier college football program in the country, a Heisman Trophy and NFL pipeline where you were liable to run into Snoop Dogg or Will Ferrell on the sidelines. USC was where the cool kids went. You know -- all those prep All-Americans.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillLane Kiffin will have to find a way to keep recruiting as USC appeals the NCAA ruling.
The program was a colossus standing astride college football, sporting a smirk that infuriated its rivals (though, let's be honest, both Oregon and Stanford busted the Trojans in the chops last year in blowout victories as they staggered to a 9-4 finish and Pete Carroll ran off to the Seattle Seahawks).

It certainly didn't happen overnight -- it took four years, actually -- but the NCAA cut the Trojans off at the knees Thursday, citing the program for the dreaded lack of institutional control and sanctioning it with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships -- 10 per recruiting class -- over the next three years.

USC will appeal. It believes the infractions committee didn't give its defense a fair shake. We'll see. A completely different committee will review any appeal, so maybe a new set of eyes will see things differently. Of course, a lengthy process -- a final ruling on an appeal wouldn't come until the spring of 2011 and might take much longer considering the complexity of the case -- could just prolong the embarrassing notoriety and delay any righting of the program under first-year coach Lane Kiffin.

Yes, USC will right itself. Eventually, no doubt. The right coach at USC, which may or may not be Kiffin, will win, just like the right coach at Alabama or Ohio State or Florida or Texas will win.

Just know that these sanctions have teeth. A loss of 10 scholarships from the next three recruiting classes will significantly damage overall depth. And, as Tom Luginbill points out, the margin for error in recruiting will become razor thin. A couple of busts and the program could find itself with gaping holes heading into the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But it's not just about the loss of 10 scholarships per class, it's also about the remaining 15. Kiffin will be challenged to convince elite prospects who have no emotional ties to the program to sign. The bowl ban won't matter that much. Even with the 2011 class, you're talking about an incoming freshman only missing one postseason (though an appeal would mean the Trojans could play in a bowl after this season but not the next two). No, the recruiting challenge will emerge from USC not being in the national title hunt in the near future. A recruit who signs this February or the next one or the next one probably can't count on being a member of a national contender.

And, you may have noticed, national contenders seem to do well in recruiting Insider.

Will USC's 2011 recruiting class, which is off to a fast start, hold together? And will the Trojans see a number of players transfer? We shall see.

We will also see if another Pac-10 team can take advantage of USC being knocked to the canvas. Obviously, there will be more hotshot southern California prospects available and more reasons for them to look elsewhere.

The first beneficiary could be UCLA. Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel already has made big recruiting inroads, even beating USC for a couple of elite prospects in February. Football monopoly? The Trojans just lost their hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk.

Oregon appears on the cusp of moving up from a top-25 program to something more elite, and the Ducks seem like the team most likely to get the first shot at taking the Trojans perch. They now are the favorites to win a second consecutive Pac-10 title. You might recall that winning consecutive conference championships wasn't easy before Carroll arrived at USC and did it seven times.

But the Pac-10's overall depth is as good as it's ever been. The conference, in the short term, could revert to its old, unpredictable self, pre-Carroll. Rose Bowls from 1995 to 2003 featured seven different Pac-10 teams, including Washington State twice and the mighty Trojans just once.

Then there's this little expansion issue. When USC's bowl ban is over heading into the 2012 season, the conference might look very different. Texas over in the Pac-16 Eastern Division might have already tried to extend its powerful recruiting tentacles into Trojans territory. That could get interesting.

Alabama got hit hard by NCAA sanctions in 2002, losing 21 scholarships over three years. The Crimson Tide appears to be in fine shape today.

No reason USC can't recover as quickly.

But the NCAA, without question, has changed the near-term trajectory of the Trojans program, which means the Pac-10 heads into 2010 feeling much different than it has in recent years.

USC plans to appeal NCAA ruling

June, 10, 2010
USC has announced that it plans to appeal at least some of the NCAA sanctions imposed on its football program.

"We acknowledge that violations occurred and we take full responsibility for them. However, we sharply disagree with many of the findings in the NCAA Committee on Infractions Report. Further, we feel the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified in the report," said Todd Dickey, USC's senior vice president for administration, in a press release.

Dickey added: "We will accept those sanctions we believe to be consistent with penalties imposed upon other NCAA member institutions found guilty of similar rules infractions. We are hopeful that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will agree with our position on appeal, and reduce the penalties."

Dickey also said in the press release that USC has retained the Freeh Group, headed by former federal judge and ex-FBI director Louis Freeh, to help "provide us with recommendations about the best way to protect our student-athletes and their families from those who seek to violate the rules" -- i.e., "unscrupulous sports agents and sports marketers."

Instant analysis: NCAA didn't buy USC's defense

June, 10, 2010
Turns out the NCAA did give USC the Alabama slammer. And then some.

The NCAA hammered USC with sanctions on Thursday, as the Trojans were banned from postseason play for two seasons, lost 30 scholarships over the next three years and must vacate all wins from December 2004 -- the BCS title game included -- through the entirety of the 2005 season.

USC was cited for a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits, exceeding coach staff limits and unethical conduct by a running backs coach Todd McNair. Because of violations in 2001, the program also was considered a "repeat violator."

The penalties, USC's sixth case of major infractions since 1957, exceed in severity sanctions Alabama received in 2002 and what Washington received in 1993 -- major violations cases you can review here.

USC can appeal the ruling, but then it runs the risk of simply delaying the penalties further into the future.

The first question: Why did the NCAA hit USC so hard with sanctions?

Answer: It didn't buy any of USC's defenses.

  • "The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee," the report said.
  • "The committee noted that the violations in this case strike at the heart of the NCAA amateurism principal, which states that intercollegiate athletics should be motivated primarily by education and its benefits," the report said.

The 67-page public report recounts a laundry list of extra benefits provided to Reggie Bush and his family, much of which has been widely reported. The committee also found that McNair not only knew about Bush's dealings with would-be agents and sports marketers, he lied about what he knew to NCAA investigators. McNair, whom new coach Lane Kiffin retained as the Trojans running backs coach, is banned from all recruiting activities for a year.

"The committee finds ample reason in the record to question the credibility of the assistant football coach [McNair]," the report said.

The only gesture of mercy: No television ban. Said the report, "The committee seriously contemplated imposing a television ban penalty in this case. However, after careful consideration, it ultimately decided that the penalties below adequately respond to the nature of violations and the level of institutional responsibility."

So what does it mean?

First, there's the embarrassment of the vacated wins, which could mean the BCS takes away the 2004 national title.

But the NCAA obviously wanted to make a strong statement, and the only way to do that is to hit a program where it hurts: The present and future.

Losing 10 scholarships from each of the next three recruiting classes is a significant blow. Losing potential bowl berths for the next two seasons also will be a blow to recruiting as well as school finances.

In other words, these penalties will send the program that has won seven of the past eight Pac-10 titles back to the pack. Will it crush the program? Probably not. But let's just say the Trojans probably won't win the Pac-10 when they are again eligible for the postseason in 2012.

The unfortunate thing is the folks who will suffer most under these penalties -- players who weren't around in 2004 and 2005 -- are not the ones to blame. Most of the principals have moved on to bigger and better things. Bush and O.J. Mayo are NFL and NBA millionaires. Bush's parents, stepfather Lamar Griffin and mother Denise Bush, used their son's fame for profit, breaking NCAA rules in the process, probably couldn't care less. Former coach Pete Carroll signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Seahawks. Tim Floyd is the basketball coach at UTEP.

USC looked like a slight Pac-10 favorite entering the 2010 season. Now that they are only playing for pride, who knows what the product will look like on the field.

The door is open for another program, or two, to make its move. Further, in 2012, the Trojans will re-enter the race after Pac-10 expansion in a weakened state, which means the opportunity window figures to be open for a few more years.

The NCAA doesn't like to talk about sending a message, but the USC ruling should do just that.

You can run -- or run your program loosely -- but ultimately you can't hide. Even if it takes four years, the NCAA will eventually have its say.




Friday, 12/26
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Thursday, 1/1
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Monday, 1/12