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Thursday, June 3, 2010
Updated: June 4, 12:19 PM ET
What could be for USC?

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

It's almost as if the NCAA has a sadistic side, gleefully forcing University of Southern California fans to squirm for all these years.

It's been almost 15 weeks since the Committee on Infractions began its investigaion into allegations that Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo received improper benefits as athletes at USC.

OJ Mayo
O.J. Mayo's time at USC has been a part of the NCAA's investigation.

The committee didn't convene until more than four years after Bush played as a Trojan. Even after it releases its report, this thing's not over. The committee forwards its findings to the NCAA executive committee for a final verdict. Then USC can appeal. Bureaucracies don't move this tortuously in a Franz Kafka novel.

Whenever the report is released, USC president's office probably won't get word about the findings much before you do. Tom Yeager, chairman of the infractions committee from 2001 to 2004, said Wednesday the university is typically notified less than 24 hours before the decision. If it's in an e-mail, it might not come until the morning of the committee's recommendations.

"They just want to assure that all key university representatives are on campus. Obviously, there will be a need for a response," Yeager said.

The scariest thing about the impending decision for USC fans is that it could fall under the repeat-violator rule. USC was sanctioned for violations in the basketball program in 2001, two years before Bush showed up on campus. It doesn't matter that the potential violations were in different sports. It's the institution that's penalized, not the sport.

"If there was a case in men's basketball and then a case in any other sport within five years, the stakes have gone up," Yeager said.

Whatever the committee comes up with, there's no denying something has been missing around Heritage Hall for the past decade. It's called restraint. Run by a former professional athlete -- Mike Garrett -- USC's athletic department, drunk on the money its storied football program generates, has allowed its culture to creep ever closer to becoming pro sports.

The players -- especially in football -- too often view campus as an incubator for professional sports. Dangling the draft is a nifty way to attract talent; how many 18-year olds don't want to wind up rich and famous? But it's also a pretty good way to attract unsavory characters. That gets you on the bad side of the NCAA, not to mention college sports fans who like the amateur game to be played by amateurs.

The growth of an NFL culture began under Pete Carroll, who had come from there. Garrett, knowing he was under NCAA scrutiny, didn't exactly signal the need to change directions when he hired Lane Kiffin, a Carroll disciple with deep NFL ties, practically from birth. The basketball program under Tim Floyd was beginning to take on that pro mentality, though it probably has turned that corner a bit under Kevin O'Neill.

If the NCAA does come down hard on USC -- say handing down a multi-year ban on bowl games or stripping the Trojans of precious scholarships (Yeager said taking away TV time is unlikely, since the conferences, not the NCAA, now cut the TV deals) -- the rest of the college football-watching world would probably stand up and cheer.

Even a USC fan would have to admit that something doesn't smell right. You think Bush would have settled out of court with failed sports marketers Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake if they had absolutely no claim on him?

It's not as though the Trojans have never had brushes with these kinds of associations. Rodney Guillory, who was allegedly funneling Mayo cash, had been implicated in the earlier hoops scandal. Garrett didn't find it odd that suddenly he was hanging around again?

USC no doubt argued vigorously that it could not have exercised institutional control over something that happened more than a two-hour drive from campus, in San Diego, where Bush's parents reportedly lived in a house they weren't paying for. That argument -- institutional control -- probably explains why the committee has taken so long.

"Invariably, [institutional control] is one of the topics that created some of the longest discussion by the committee and it is an aggravating factor," Yeager said. "It's one of those things that elevated the potential seriousness of the penalties assessed in the case."

So, you've got two potentially serious aggravating factors in this case: a recent infraction and a possible lack of institutional control. Maybe USC's belief that nothing much will come of this case has been misguided all along, as Garrett, Carroll and Kiffin have been saying. As Yeager points out, though, the NCAA keeps a small circle of informed sources.

And just a few months before the committee convened in Arizona, the Los Angeles Times reported that tailback Joe McKnight was driving around in a Land Rover registered to a Santa Monica businessman. Believe McKnight's claim that it was his girlfriend's vehicle if you like, but the Trojans clearly figured there might be something fishy since a perfectly healthy McKnight never touched the field in the Emerald Bowl.

Too many things don't add up at USC these days. It's the committee's job to do the math.

Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com.