Well it appears the NCAA finally handed down their punishment to the University of Southern California, and what the committee on infractions sent to the university regarding its football program is a total head-scratcher. Reports are saying that USC’s football program will face a two-year postseason ban, the loss of 20 scholarships* (see update below) and vacating wins from the 2005 season where the Trojans won their second consecutive national championship.
While penalties were expected and even die-hard USC fans knew something would come of the ridiculously long and annoying NCAA investigation, considering existing precedents, the Trojan football program was given far too harsh a punishment.
For reference, in 2002 the University of Alabama was given a two-year postseason ban, the loss of 21 scholarships and vacated wins because booster paid players. People directly associated with the football program paid players. Read that over for a second.
Then consider that USC’s investigation centers around the fact that former USC running back Reggie Bush and his family took money from someone with no association with the school or the football program. Did Bush take money? Yes. Should his records and wins while he played be wiped off the map? Yes. Should the rest of the program suffer a complete destruction because one kid and his parents were greedy and screwed over the people he called family for three years? That’s a tough one. The future of the program is now completely thrown into disarray because Bush was a selfish prick.
The other “violations” during Pete Carroll’s tenure have amounted to not much. Receiver Dwayne Jarrett was forced to donate money to charity after what was essentially a misunderstanding over housing rules. Running back Joe McKnight was “caught” driving around in a car that belonged to his girlfriend. One that was leased for her as a business expense by a guy who had no involvement with the football program and stood to gain nothing from any involvement with McKnight.
Again, everything that happened at USC was involvement with people outside the program doing things with players. While USC has a responsibility to monitor such activity, it’s impossible to catch everything.
Now let’s look at the actions that have been punished in a similar way by the NCAA. ESPN’s Ted Miller wrote a great blog post, comparing USC’s actions to those of Alabama before receiving its 2002 censure from the NCAA.
Here is Miller’s list of Alabama’s infractions:
-A recruit, identified in news reports and Kenny Smith, and his parents were given $20,000 in cash, lodging, and entertainment by two Crimson Tide boosters beginning in 1995. The first payment of $10,000 was made in $100 bills delivered in a grocery bag. Smith signed with Alabama but couldn’t been academic requirements.
-An Alabama booster previously identified as Logan Young of Memphis, Tenn., gave cash to a high school coach who was seeking $100,000 cash and two sport-utility vehicles in exchange for directing star recruit Albert Means to Alabama.
-An assistant coach, former recruiting coordinator Ronnie Cottrell, received two loans totaling $56,600 from Young in violation of NCAA rules. The loan was not repaid until the case became known.
-Two boosters involved in repeated rules violations were know to the Alabama staff, coaches and fans and were often seen at the team hotel during road games.
-A recruit, identified previously as Travis Carroll, was given the use of a car in 1999 for agreeing to attend Alabama. The car was repossessed when Carroll transferred to Florida.
Miller then tosses out a great quote: “Let that all swirl in your head for a bit. That’s old-school cheating in its purest form. Reading it almost makes you crave a jar of moonshine.”
He’s right. That’s as bad as it gets. Coaches and players being paid by boosters. People directly involved with the program, who were allowed to stay around when rules were known to have been broken. That’s old-school southern football cheating…or as people in SEC country call it “business as usual.”
So Alabama did that and got basically the same punishment as USC who had players doing things far away from the program. Hell, Bush and his family had all their dealings with Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels (yes that’s really his name) in San Diego, 100 miles to the south of Heritage Hall.
Miller later said that by any objective measure, USC’s violations (which you can review here) don’t even come close to measuring up to what Alabama did.
Again, I’m not absolving USC of any blame. The school has a responsibility to know what’s going on with its players. A punishment – even a harsh one – was expected. But a two-year postseason ban, which essentially punishes the future of the program – or people not connected to the violations – is way too much.
To be fair, USC was also being hung out to dry for the O.J. Mayo “incident.” Where the much ballyhooed recruit and former Trojan basketball star was paid by someone remotely associated with the basketball program. Yes, that was a horrific incident and USC’s basketball program should face something near the death penalty for involvement with such a crime, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with the football program.
Censure the athletic department and demand the resignation of athletics director Mike Garrett (please!). But don’t punish players and kids who had nothing to do with the incident just to make a point.
I’m sure USC will appeal the ruling but for years it has seemed that the NCAA was looking to nail a Trojan pelt to the wall.
UPDATE: ESPN’s outside the lines is reporting that USC will actually be losing 30 scholarships over the next three years, making this punishment WORSE than what Alabama received. Expect a full-scale assault on these rulings via the appeals process, because the punishment is definitely not equitable to the crime.