Trojans Trashed by NCAA

June 11, 2010

It may take a while for the Men of Troy to “fight on” after the crushing blow they received Thursday.

In a long-awaited decision, the National Collegiate Athletic Association severely punished the high-profile football and men’s basketball teams at the University of Southern California for improper commercial dealings involving Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and basketball standout O.J. Mayo.

Among the most severe penalties, the football team is banned from postseason bowl games for two seasons, loses 30 athletic scholarships for the next three years and must vacate a slew of victories, including the 2005 Orange Bowl which awarded the Trojans the Bowl Championship Series National Championship. (Since the NCAA does not officially recognize a champion in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision football, only the BCS can determine whether to take away USC's national championship, so this action applies only to the NCAA's records of the game.) The men’s basketball team is banned from postseason play for one season, loses an athletic scholarship for two years, must vacate numerous wins and return money it received for its participation in March Madness in 2008.

In a statement issued immediately following the decision, USC officials noted that the institution plans to accept “some of the penalties” imposed by the NCAA and that it will appeal “those penalties that are too excessive.” Though they admitted to wrongdoing in all cases, they did not specify which penalties they plan to appeal and considered "too excessive."

Penalties against USC, however, could have been worse. NCAA officials noted that they strongly considered banning USC football and men’s basketball games from being televised for a certain time period – a rarely-used penalty – but decided that the punishments levied were sufficient.

NCAA infractions reports typically gloss over details that could identify the specific athletes involved in wrongdoing, with officials citing the need to protect student privacy. The 67-page report on USC, however, all but names Bush and Mayo in the opening paragraphs, describing one as “known to be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy” and the other as “widely known to be a ‘one-and-done’ ” – a term for basketball players who play one year in college for the sole purpose of entering the professional draft afterward.

Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions and a lecturer of law and education at the University of Miami, said these identifying details were included in the report to show “how prominent” these athletes were at USC. Though Dee initially told reporters during a Thursday conference call that the NCAA was not trying to “send a message” with such a high-profile decision, he seemed to offer one in summarizing his thoughts about it at the end of the call.

“If you have high-profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those players at a higher level,” said Dee. “High-profile players demand high-profile enforcement.”

The NCAA found that USC “lacked institutional control” in failing to monitor the commercial activities surrounding Bush and Mayo, noting that some athletics officials knowingly turned a blind eye to the myriad impermissible benefits that they and their families received from sports agents who sought generous kickbacks once the two players reached the pros. Todd McNair, USC running backs coach, is singled out in the report for lying to NCAA investigators about Bush’s dealings with agents. Having been retained by new USC football coach Lane Kiffin, McNair is now banned for all recruiting activities for the upcoming season.

The impermissible benefits given to Bush and Mayo were lavish and, the report suggests, hard to ignore. Bush received a rent-free home for his parents; a 1996 Chevrolet Impala with new rims; airfare to all away football games and hotel lodging for them; cash; limousine service and new furniture and appliances. Mayo received cash; numerous electronic devices including a cell phone and a television; meals; watches; shoes; clothing and private transportation for him and his friends. Bush and Mayo “refused to cooperate fully with the investigation.”

“Their world included professional sports agents, ‘runners’ and ‘handlers,’ ‘friends’ and family, many of whom were eager to cash in early on expected lucrative professional contracts,” the NCAA report reads. “The actions of those professional agents and their associates, with the knowledge and acquiescence of the athletes, struck at the heart of the NCAA’s Principle of Amateurism, which states that participation in intercollegiate athletics should be ‘motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental, and social benefits to be derived.’”

Aside from these major violations, the NCAA also discovered the Trojans football team exceeded the number of allowable coaches during the 2008 season, when the team hired a consultant to observe its special teams. In yet another discovery, the NCAA found that between 2006 and 2009 an unnamed women’s tennis player was allowed to use the athletics department’s long-distance access code to make 123 unauthorized international calls – worth more than $7,000 – to family members.

In the nearly four years since the Bush violations were initially reported in the press, the NCAA faced mounting criticism for taking so long to bring charges against USC and eventually punish the institution. Still, while these football violations were being investigated by the NCAA, it also discovered the Mayo violations in basketball. Last year, the NCAA announced that it had combined the infractions cases and would rule on them together, further pushing back a decision.

Dee defended the NCAA’s response, arguing that this was “not a case that lent itself to being solved in a short period of time.”

During the time it took to investigate the case, Pete Carroll, former football coach, and Tim Floyd, former basketball coach, left USC for greener pastures – Carroll to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Floyd the basketball team at the University of Texas at El Paso. Bush has gone on to great success with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, which won the Super Bowl this year. And Mayo now plays for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. All these former USC coaches and players have lucrative, multi-year contracts.

This is the sixth major infractions case the NCAA has filed against USC – the most recent being a 2001 case involving football and women’s swimming. Prior violations occurred in 1986, 1982, 1959 and 1957. All of these involved Trojan football.

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