USC Sanctions and the Ultimate Case of Laughing Last and Laughing Best

As Lane Kiffin goes about his business of making utter fools of people who questioned him as our head coach, allow me to provide a little “off season” blog about the greatest injustice in the history of college football. I have been waiting for two years to write something as thorough and unimprovable as this, but I never got around to it, and now someone else did it better (see below). I need to fill the next 50 days, so what better way than through this genius summary of what USC was put through. As Lane puts together a recruiting class the likes of which college football has simply never seen, let me remind readers that when you look into the heart of courage, you will see the spirit that is Troy.
“Yes, I know, beating a dead horse here, but my buddy wrote this out to share with an outspoken USC hating coworker (Texas grad), and it’s too good not to share here. A great primer for any objective discussion of the sanctions, and will be particularly useful as the trolls will be emerging from their caves en masse this year as SC marches toward another title and another Heisman. Again, not my material, but I thought the audience for this summary should be larger than 1 myopic hater. Enjoy” – Eli Lum

From Cody Pedersen:
Allow me to educate you about USC’s NCAA sanctions so that your ignorance does not continue unchecked into your next workplace environment, or in conversations with your family. You need to stop sipping the Haterade. You should know why you should be rooting for USC instead of gleefully rejoicing in their incredibly unfair punishment.

What is the most common statement made about USC and their NCAA penalties? Any casual college football fan will tell you that USC got slammed for paying their players. “USC paid Reggie Bush more than the Saints did his rookie year” etc. etc. This is a supposed to be funny, but I’ll tell you why I still find it intellectually insulting:
1) Reggie and his family didn’t actually receive that much money – probably something in the neighborhood of $50-$60k
2) Reggie was paid by sports marketers from San Diego with no affiliation to the university
3) USC received no benefit from the money Reggie took. The cash didn’t start coming until after his second season with the university, and Reggie left as soon as he could for the NFL (after his third season). So he didn’t attend USC because of the money, and he didn’t stay because of the money. If anything, it convinced him to leave as soon as possible.
4) The NCAA’s report on USC does not mention anyone from the university providing any special treatment to Reggie or his family. Rather, USC got punished for what the university should have known about one of its student-athletes while he was on the roster.

Let me repeat that for you – USC’s football team is on sanctions for what the NCAA says the school should have known about one of its 2,200 student-athletes’ interactions with individuals with no affiliations with the university (i.e. these guys are not even boosters). Just to be clear, this is a new standard of oversight imposed by the NCAA with no previous precedent.

So what did the Bush family take that USC’s coaches and compliance team should have obviously caught onto?
– Rent-free, furnished housing in San Diego for approximately 12 months (let’s estimate $3k/month rent for a total value of $36,000)
– $13,000 to $15,000 for a Chevy Impala for Reggie
– Travel expenses for Reggie and his family, including an offseason trip to Vegas for Reggie, a 2005 road game at Cal, the 2005 Heisman ceremony in New York, and the 2006 Orange Bowl. Let’s guess high and say the total cost was $10,000. That brings us to a total high-end estimate of about $61,000.

First, the house. There’s absolutely no way the school can know if someone is providing free housing to the parents of a student-athlete who live three hours away. That’s like saying UT should know whether all of its athletes’ parents are paying for their own housing, even parents that live in Houston, San Antonio, or Dallas. There is no university in the country with that kind of compliance department.

Next, the car. Reggie previously drove a ’94 Ranger. He registered his ‘new’ car (something all schools are required to track) as a ’98 Impala, which it was. If you see that upgrade, are you raising a red flag and investigating? If it’s 2005 and your star from a lower-middle-class family is driving a ’98 Impala, are you worried about where he got it? I didn’t think so.

Travel expenses – Reggie’s stepdad was a pastor and his mother worked for the state corrections department. Is it unusual for them to travel to a road game 5 hours from LA, or to pony up the cash to attend their son’s Heisman ceremony and National Championship game? The school provides tickets to parents for all home and away games – should they have been suspicious that Reggie’s parents actually decided to use them?

The NCAA says yes. The Infractions Committee that heard USC’s case, chaired by Paul Dee (remember that name), said in their report that “high profile players demand high profile compliance.” Again, and I hope you’re picking up the theme here, this is a standard of oversight and monitoring that had never before been communicated by the NCAA. Literally, never. It’s not in a single NCAA bylaw. Why? Because it doesn’t’ make sense. Who determines what is ‘high-profile’? Is the best player at Louisiana Tech ‘high profile’? What about Colorado State? Cal? Does an All-American water polo player fit that description, or just football and basketball players? Does it mean All-Conference? All-American? Should it be based on Lee Kiper’s mock drafts? It’s an arbitrary qualitative assessment, and it’s impossible to enforce. I’ll say one more thing on this – I was there in 2005 in 2006, working for the football team. Obviously this means I’m highly biased and defensive toward the USC football team. But I saw Reggie’s parents at the games when I was working for the team. I saw him driving his ’98 Impala. At no point did I think there was anything unusual happening. Honest to goodness truth, which is why it annoys me to no end when people say they know Pete Carroll & Co. knew about it. It’s a dumb assumption made by people who want the worst to be true, 99% of whom have never really been around college athletics.

Ultimately in holding the school accountable for the actions of a student and non-affiliated individuals, the NCAA hung their hat on is this:
1) Some of the sports marketers entered the USC locker room on two occasions
2) They believe that Reggie’s running backs coach Todd McNair knew Reggie was on the take

On point #1, this did happen, no doubt. But lots of people were allowed in the locker room. USC had open practices. They had celebrities and NFL scouts and reporters and families and youth football teams on the sidelines at practice constantly. There are people lined up outside the practice field before and after with memorabilia for autographing. There were TV cameras at every practice. USC had a lax security policy, something they’ve since tightened up. But is this an unpardonable sin when you’re the #1 team in the country in the media capital of the world? Yeah, these guys got into the practice locker room (not the locker room at the Coliseum), but again, I don’t see how this is a red flag, when all kinds of people were coming and going.

#2 – The NCAA has no real proof that McNair knew about Reggie. What they have is two pieces of circumstantial evidence. The first is a photograph of McNair and a friend with two of the sports marketers in the background of the photo. I’m not kidding, that’s one of their pieces of evidence. The second piece of evidence is that one of the sports marketers, Lloyd Lake, a convicted felon, called McNair in the spring of 2006. This was after Reggie’s junior season was over, he had already decided to go pro, and was no longer interested in helping these fledgling marketers start a business. So Lake and his buddies got understandably pissed and started threatening to go public with the story. At some point, Reggie stopped answering his phone, and these guys got desperate and called his coach. So there’s a 2 minute phone call, which no one knows the contents of, and a very unconvincing photograph. That’s it. I will say, the circumstantial evidence doesn’t look good. It obviously doesn’t. But what did the NCAA prove? Nothing, except that they take the testimony of a convicted felon with a failed sports marketing venture over that of an assistant coach. Furthermore, they’re inferring that McNair knew about the matter while Reggie was still on the football team, when this call happened after the 2006 season was already over.

Just for comparison, let’s take a look at Cam Newton. Multiple witnesses (none of them felons) claimed that Cecil Newton asked to be paid $180k for his son to go to Mississippi State before he ever played a down for Auburn. In this instance the NCAA dropped the investigation for lack of evidence. Please explain to me how the evidence against Newton was weaker than the evidence against McNair. Happy to hear you parse that one out.

Ok, so in summary of what we’ve covered so far, Reggie took money, no doubt about it. The money he took did not benefit USC or the football team in the least. And finally, the NCAA hammered USC for failing to meet a standard of oversight that had never previously been communicated, based on evidence that was thinner than any previous NCAA judgment involving penalties. The NCAA’s report itself says, “This case was not like any others.” No ****. Additionally, you’ve got to remember that the NCAA spent four years investigating USC football and basketball, and found no other instances of rule-breaking by members of the football team. Four years of investigating and they found nothing worth mentioning in their report that did not involve Reggie Bush, when USC was putting 10-15 guys into the NFL draft every year. But they cited the school for ‘lack of institutional control’ and issued the worst football sanctions since the SMU death penalty.

So what was this finding against USC really all about? In the NCAA’s report, they make the following statement: “The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee.” Please read that again. The general campus environment. Seriously, that’s what they’re making qualitative statements about. What this comes down to, ultimately, is that the NCAA got embarrassed. Yahoo broke a story about a star player on a national championship team taking a bunch of money. The NCAA spent four years investigating. Opposing fans nationwide were clamoring to see a powerful program get dealt with, and at the same time articles were being written questioning whether USC would be punished at all. And in four years the investigators came up with an ambiguous photo, a 2-minute phone call, and testimony from an ex-con that would never hold up in a court of law. They were looking foolish, and they felt they had to make a statement. So Paul Dee dropped the hammer. Thoughts from impartial observers:

CBS Sports (Bryan Fischer): ”Forget the legalese of an appeal or the words of a lawyer, USC never really understood what this case was truly about. The NCAA thought USC was arrogant. It was, and that was its greatest crime.”

Sports Illustrated (Stewart Mandel): “From the day the punishment was announced, the sanctions seemed unnecessarily harsh, considering they involved the indiscretions of a single player and rogue parties with no ties to the school. It seemed the Committee was making an example out of the Trojans because of the case’s high-profile nature (as evidenced by Chairman Paul Dee’s ‘high profile players demand high profile compliance’ line). Since then, we’ve seen numerous other cases involving ‘high profile players’ (Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor) in which the school paid little or no price…We’ll never know exactly why Dee’s Committee came down so hard on USC, but the school’s adversarial response likely played a big part. Whether or not that’s fair is another matter entirely… You’d be hard-pressed to find precedent for a school hit so hard over activities by parties with no association to the university.”

ESPN (Ted Miller): “During a flight delay last year, I was cornered at an airport by an administrator from a major program outside the Pac-12. He made fun of me as a “USC fanboy” because of my rants against the NCAA ruling against the Trojans. But we started talking. Turned out he agreed with just about all my points. (He just didn’t like USC.) He told me, after some small talk and off-the-record, that “everybody” thought USC got screwed. He said that he thought the NCAA was trying to scare everyone with the ruling, but subsequent major violations cases put it in a pickle. Then he told me that USC was punished for its “USC-ness,” that while many teams had closed down access — to media, to fans, etc. — USC under Pete Carroll was completely open, and that was widely resented. There was a widespread belief the national media fawned on USC because of this. Further, more than a few schools thought that the presence of big-time celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell, at practices and at games constituted an unfair recruiting advantage for the Trojans. It wasn’t against the rules, but everyone hated it. This, as he assessed his own smell test, was a subtext of the so-called atmosphere of noncompliance that the NCAA referred to — an atmosphere that oddly yielded very few instances of noncompliance around the football program even after a four-year NCAA investigation.”

I think I’ve sufficiently substantiated that USC got royally screwed by an investigation team and Infractions Committee with an agenda that had no basis in the NCAA rule book. But the real screwing hasn’t even been laid out. Let’s talk about the sanctions. USC was given a 2-year postseason ban, docked 30 scholarships over 3 years, limited to 75 total scholarships over that same 3-year period, and was forced to allow all its upperclassmen to transfer if they so chose (USC lost 5-10 players because of this transfer rule). As I said before, this is the harshest penalty assessed against a school since the SMU death penalty. Let’s look at other major NCAA investigations in the past 20 years and the penalties assigned (ignoring irrelevant garbage like vacated wins – though USC’s sanctions were the worst there too due to a lost 12-win season and Heisman Trophy forfeited) :

Miami, 1995
Crime: University officials helped students fraudulently obtain Pell Grants – the school was directly responsible for providing more than $630,000 in extra benefits over four years to more than 140 student-athletes in four sports.
Punishment: One year bowl ban, loss of 31 total scholarships over three years, limit of total 80 scholarships. Athletic Director at the time of these sanctions? You guessed it, Mr. Paul Dee, from 1993 to 2008. Also, I’m sure you heard last year, a Miami booster named Nevin Shapiro who ran a $930 million Ponzi scheme in Miami has testified to federal investigators that he provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in impermissible benefits to more than 70 Hurricanes athletes from 2002 to 2010 (mostly during Dee’s tenure), including paying for prostitutes and abortions. Shapiro at one point tried to physically assault the school’s compliance officer, yet was allowed to host fundraisers standing side by side the university’s president and even ran out of the tunnel with the team for a bowl game. Sanctions still pending, but they are likely to be less than those of USC. I’m not making this up.

Alabama, 2002
Crime: 11 major violations — one was later withdrawn — and five minor charges under two former coaches. Most flagrant football violation was an agreement between a booster and a high school player’s coach to pay $115,000 for the player to attend Alabama. The same booster also paid someone to take the SAT and ACT for that player (Albert Means) so that he would qualify academically.
Punishment: Two year bowl ban, loss of 21 scholarships over three years.

UNC, 2010
Crime: A former tutor “constructed significant parts of writing assignments” for three players and provided more than $4,000 in impermissible benefits to players after she graduated. This tutor had personal ties to the head coach, Butch Davis. Seven football players accepted more than $27,500 in benefits, including cash, flights, meals, lodging, athletic training, admission to clubs and jewelry from agents and their subordinates. Lastly, and this is the kicker, an assistant coach, John Blake, was compensated by a sports agent for the access he provided to student-athletes, and failed to disclose the income to the university. Multiple players from UNC ultimately signed with that sports agency. Please read that again: an assistant coach was a paid employee of a sports agency that signed multiple UNC athletes. I couldn’t make this up if I tried! Please punch yourself in the face and then try to understand how the NCAA considered this to not be a ‘lack of institutional control’ on par with USC.
Punishment: 1-year postseason ban and 9 scholarships over three years.

Ohio State, 2010
Crime: Eight players taking a total of $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for jerseys, rings and other Buckeyes memorabilia. Furthermore the head football coach lied to investigators about his knowledge of the situation, and five of those players were allowed to compete in a bowl game by the university, who told the NCAA ‘nothing to see here.’
Punishment: One-year postseason ban and 9 scholarships over three years.

Let’s summarize shall we?
(See Attached)

See any punishments on there that look slightly disproportionate to the crime? Okay, a few more reasons to despise the NCAA and what they did to USC:
– In justifying the infractions against USC, the NCAA stated that they cannot not look at precedent in establishing penalties because (paraphrasing) ‘every case is unique.’ USC Athletic Director Pat Haden after the USC appeal was denied: “If we have to prove an abuse of discretion and there is no standard because you can’t use past precedents, how do you prove an abuse of discretion? I don’t know how you overcome the burden. It’s kind of circular.”
– In subsequent NCAA cases, the NCAA began citing precedents for the penalties imposed against Ohio State and Boise State. Please put yourself in the shoes of a USC fan. Yes this is really happening.

A few final thoughts on USC’s absurdly unfair sanctions:
ESPN (Ted Miller): “Multiple lawyers have said two scholarships for every ineligible player was the general precedent set by the Committee on Infractions. Reporters at the Mock Enforcement Experience were told the same thing by those in the NCAA. Reggie Bush’s ineligibility turned into 30 scholarships over three years.”

“The NCAA treated USC unfairly — everybody in college sports knows this — and it likely won’t revisit such irrational harshness. In the end, the justification for such severe penalties, meted out in contrast to past precedent, was little more than ‘just because.’ But the NCAA, an organization not endowed with a sense of self-awareness, failed to foresee when it curb-stomped USC that among the lawbreakers in college football, the Trojans were jaywalkers amid a mob of bank robbers…If anything, it sure seems the committee is trying to set a new precedent. It’s holding USC responsible for the sins of not just Bush and Mayo… but all the star athletes and seedy brokers everywhere whose misdeeds go unreported. They spent four years building their case in order to use it as a global deterrent.”

Sports Illustrated (Stewart Mandel): “Consider: USC received almost the same exact penalties that Alabama did in 2002 (two-year bowl ban, 21 scholarships) for a case in which the school’s own boosters made payments to recruits…In other words, in the committee’s eyes, USC’s failure to monitor a player’s relationship with those seeking to cash in on his future earnings is every bit as serious as Alabama’s failure to monitor supporters trying to help secure future wins for their favorite team… “

Ok, the rant is over. If you’re not convinced that USC’s reputation and sanctions are a complete sham, then you never will be. On a somewhat related topic, if you ever want to read an extensive and thorough article about how absurd the NCAA is, and how they’re essentially a Mafia-like organization that keeps all schools in line through fear and intimidation, read the following:…ge-sports/8643/

Lastly, you should be rooting for USC this year. You should be rooting for them because they’re led by a stellar QB with a heart of gold who takes missionary trips during his school breaks, is still dating his high school girlfriend, and is completely genuine (he’s kind of a dork). You should be rooting for them because they’ve had one player arrested in the past three years (cough cough, Florida). You should be rooting for them because Lane Kiffin, despite media reports, is a pretty funny dude who is pulling top-10 recruiting classes when he’s allowed to sign 10 fewer guys than anyone else around. His dad is his defensive coordinator for goodness sake! It’s adorable! You should root for them because they went on the road last year, played only 43 scholarship guys and beat a top-10 Oregon team, then beat UCLA 50-0, and had to sit at home and watch those two teams play for the Pac-12 ‘Championship.’ You should be rooting for them because when they had nothing to play for last year, they went 10-2 with an incredibly young team. And you should be rooting for them because, if they can make a title run this year like they’re capable of, it will be the biggest middle finger to the NCAA I can imagine.