Typically, I’ve given guys who work for ESPN a little slack. They have some truly gifted writers and reporters at the network (no Scoop Jackson, I’m not looking in your direction) and a lot of the investigative work they do is fantastic. One guy I can typically read when I want solid, accurate analysis (read: not Andy Katz) is Pat Forde. He’s always level-headed, sees both sides of most issues and rarely dives into the self-indulgent world of “over-statement” so typical of the blow-hard columnists the WWL employs.
In case you missed it, an excellent piece on Outside the Lines recounted, in detail, how Mayo has been receiving compensation from various sources for years, dating back to his high school days. That continued while he was at USC. The report was backed up with receipts, transaction records and damning testimony from a former member of Mayo’s entourage. The report was both convincing and troubling. If true, should USC’s basketball program be punished? Yes, absolutely. If there is any evidence they were aware of the situation the school should be hammered even harder. But the Death Penalty? Um, no.
Just to start out here, let me first say that I’ve met Pat several times, we’ve shared press buffets and had several conversations. He’s a great guy and in my opinion, he’s a phenomenal writer. But his column yesterday angered me for a ton of reasons.
To even compare this incident to what happened at SMU in 1986 is both irresponsible and sensationalist. Basically, he did exactly what people complain about ESPN doing all the time. To recount what happened in ’86, you have to first realize the program was already on probation. Then, the NCAA discovered that 21 players were receiving payments that totaled over $61,000 from a university booster. They were actually given the money with the assistance of athletic department staff members.
So Pat, how is that in any way like Mayo being paid by someone with no association to USC? Oh, right, it isn’t.
Forde essentially argues that USC danced with the devil and should therefore be punished severely for it. Here’s the problem with that: before Mayo signed his letter of intent with the Trojans, USC asked the NCAA and the Pac-10 to investigate his background and make sure he was clean. Those investigations turned up nothing. Obviously the NCAA and the Pac-10 did a fantastic job there.
He also says that because of the ongoing Reggie Bush allegations and now because of the Mayo revelation, USC needs to be punished extremely harshly because they’ve turned a blind eye to this sort of behavior – basically the basketball program should be killed because of a football player’s alleged transgressions and the actions of one basketball player. That argument makes no sense. It’s like saying that Oklahoma football should have gotten the Death Penalty because Kelvin Sampson committed major recruiting violations and then quarterback Rhett Bomar had a no-show job. One incident has nothing to do with the other.
The problem with the Bush allegations is that his accuser is a convicted felon, former gang member and a spurned potential partner. Additionally, Lloyd Lake (Bush’s accuser) doesn’t have anywhere near the type of documentation the accuser in the Mayo case does. Does that mean they aren’t true? No, it means his credibility is called into serious doubt. Besides, all the evidence so far has shown that it mainly involved his parents, far removed from USC and the dealings were with someone who had no association with the school. Therefore, the Trojans should certainly face some form of punishment if the Bush saga ever comes to some sort of negative conclusion, but we all know it has to be insanely hard to keep players in check when it comes to their off-campus activities.
But the larger point here is how Forde is distorting the facts just to get attention or raise some heads. The reason I know he’s trying to do just that is simple: Indiana University. As an Indiana alum, it pains me to say this, but what happened to IU’s basketball program is far worse than the Mayo-USC thing. Indiana hired a known cheater in Kelvin Sampson and he then proceeded to cheat again. I’m sorry, but if any program with issues this year deserves harsh punishment it’s my Hoosiers. But Forde never even suggested that type of NCAA retribution for a “lack of institutional control.” You might be asking why he didn’t hammer IU. Well the likely answer is simple and it’s exactly what’s wrong with sports writing these days.
You see, Forde is a Louisville guy. Which means that any time something happens at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville or Indiana University, ESPN sends him to cover it. He’s at virtually every Indiana press conference and he’s tight with everyone in the media relations and athletics departments. There was no way he was going to drag them through the mud. Why would he? Every time he stepped on the Bloomington campus after that would have been awkward and uncomfortable. You don’t deliver a gut punch and then expect to get great access. It sucks and it’s the exact reason people can’t stand ESPN these days.
So rather than take a dump in his own backyard, Forde unleashes a completely unfair assault on USC’s basketball program. Solid work Pat, way to go all Skip Bayless on us.
Again, I’m not saying the Trojans should avoid punishment, quite the opposite actually. But to even suggest that they should be given the Death Penalty is irresponsible and it was just an obvious attempt to stir up controversy and get attention.
What pisses me off is that I always thought Pat Forde was above this type of garbage. I guess I was wrong.