CFN Analysis - The Sanctions Against USC
Former USC head coach Pete Carroll
Former USC head coach Pete Carroll
Posted Jun 10, 2010

It took several years, but USC has finally been hit by NCAA sanctions with a two-year bowl ban and, reportedly, the reduction of 30 scholarships. Does this, along with the potential vacating of wins, really matter? The CFN writers give their take on the punishment that everyone has been waiting for.

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Sanctions Against USC

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Pete Fiutak   

They got away with it.

While it might seem like USC's two-year post-season ban and the reduction of as many as 30 scholarships over three years is a big deal, considering USC cares mostly about being in the national title hunt and wouldn't be for the next two years anyway, this isn't as big a deal as it might seem. The punishment isn't going to be any sort a deterrent. Remember, Alabama came though its sanction storm just fine.

Knowing how unfair and silly the NCAA rules are, how many fan bases would trade away two bowl games, scholarships, some revisionist history several years after the fact, and a few rebuilding years for a 13-0 season with a national championship? 120 out of 120.

Here's exactly what's going to happen. USC, who isn't BCS Championship good right now, will miss out on going to a few mid-level bowl games, Lane Kiffin and his terrific coaching staff will get a two-year grace period and will recruit their tails off, hitting it out of the park on nine of every ten recruits they get, and USC will be really, really good again in 2012.

No, Auburn, you didn't win the 2004 national championship. (And technically, Oklahoma should win after finishing second in the BCS final standings and Auburn third.) If you want to think your tremendous 2004 Tiger team now deserves the national title, and if that's how you want to get a trophy, fine. Never mind that no one else will acknowledge it or care, but if it makes you feel better and puts a song in your heart for a few days, then congratulations.

No, Vince Young, you didn't win the 2005 Heisman Trophy (although Heisman voting should be done after bowl games and Young would've certainly have won it that way).

No, BCS committee, NCAA, and anyone else who believes that you can simply erase history with an asterisk, you can't take away the results of the games six years after the fact.

No one outside of historians and a slew of very silly people (like me) care or put any stock in the idea of vacated wins, and again, if the point is to punish and to keep schools from cheating, this ruling proves that it's still worth it. There's a great chance you'll never get caught, and if you do, you'll have made a ton of money and you would've made your fan base happy.

You want to punish USC, NCAA? You want to do something with some teeth that will keep programs from cheating? Force the school to give back its share of 2004 bowl money, TV revenue, and the dough made from merchandise and ticket sales. Force USC to open the 2004 books, and whatever the football team brought in, that's the fine. If the season didn't happen and the wins are vacated, then so should the revenue made off of them.

But for now, USC and the coaches will spin this into a positive; good programs always do. If Florida could bring in an all-timer of a recruiting class after the Urban Meyer health issues, then selling the four and five star types on the idea of coming to USC, forming the foundation, and being ready to rock a few years later should be easy.

This wasn't a death penalty and it wasn't the mega-hit that the program should've taken if all the allegations and violations really are true. The precedent has been set, big-time college football programs. Keep on doing what you're doing.

Richard Cirminiello

If the NCAA was looking to make an example out of USC, well, mission accomplished.

Admit it, you never thought the Trojans would get dinged this hard, impacting their past, present, and future. They did, sending a clear message across the entire landscape of college athletics that there will be serious ramifications for a lack of institutional control. As difficult as it is to police kids in this environment, hopefully the ruling resonates to each and every campus because no one wins when these situations crop up. A wounded USC is bad for the school and its returning players, bad for the Pac-10, and bad for the sport as a whole.

As a sidebar, how do these infractions impact the legacy of Pete Carroll, once the prince of the Pac-10? Whatever respect you had for him in the past is surely gone now, right? The wrongdoing occurred on his watch, yet he'll feel none of the pain from the NCAA. His old employer certainly will. In fact, so will many of the kids whose parents were promised that their boys would be in good hands at Troy for the next four or five years. While I get the whole CYA mentality and the desire for self-preservation, Carroll's decision to bolt for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL now looks like a blatant move of cowardice. He obviously knew what might be headed his way in 2010, yet rather than dealing with the punishment along with his kids, he tucked tail and bid adieu to the poor suckers left holding the bag. Yet another shining example that those so-called "faces of a university" are too often fraudulent and seriously flawed characters.

For his part in this mess, Carroll signed another lucrative contract and won't have to personally live through the punishment being handed out by the NCAA. Unless, of course, you count a tarnished image that's as tenuous these days as the Heisman Trophy won by Reggie Bush in 2005.

Kevin Carden,

If the report in the L.A. Times proves to be true that USC will be hit with a two-year postseason ban and a loss of at least 20 scholarships then that definitely exceeds what most people around the program felt would happen. Having to vacate wins from the 2004 season is certainly a big hit in itself, but it doesn't really have an impact going forward, which is what most people are concerned with right now.

The possible loss of 20 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban is the part that will really hurt the program because it severely limits the school's ability to recruit, which is one of the major strengths of the current coaching staff. The type of kid that commits to USC, is committing for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is for the opportunity to play for national championships and in BCS bowl games. High school kids today have grown up watching their favorite players hoisting up the crystal football after winning a national championship.

Losing a handful of scholarships a year will have the longest impact on the program because it makes the margin of error in evaluating players so slim for Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, that you have to hit on just about every player you sign, our you are going to have a ton of depth issues on the roster.

The new coaching staff was building a lot of momentum in recruiting with the recent verbal commitments of DeAnthony Thomas, Cody Kessler and Victor Blackwell among others. One of the most interesting things to watch going forward is whether Kiffin and Orgeron can keep the seven extremely talented recruits in the 2011 class solid in their verbal commitments and build around them.

Matt Zemek

The moral of this story is as old as the scriptures: When trouble looms, tell the truth. Spill the beans. Take the heat. Show contrition. Make good-faith efforts to repair what can be repaired. Ask forgiveness. The USC athletic program and AD Mike Garrett didn't, and now they're left to sift through the wreckage at Heritage Hall.

Was a two-year bowl ban (and the 20-plus scholarships lost) a punishment that fit the crime? No. A one-year bowl ban (with the scholly reductions) seemed much more reasonable. Academic fraud and other violations that strike at the core of amateur athletics – at least the idea of amateur athletics – were not part of the mix at USC. This was more a case of a few athletes, primarily Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo (and to a lesser extent, Dwayne Jarrett) being paid and provided for during their USC careers. This kind of activity is almost surely going on at other big-name programs. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at USC did careen considerably out of control, and putting the clamps on one season represented a pretty fair penalty.

Two years, though, represents another level of book-throwing on the part of the NCAA. This is as severe a punishment as anyone could have expected; in all candor, it likely exceeded the consensus prediction. USC is likely to hemorrhage recruits because NCAA bylaws – as provided by The Bylaw Blog – give athletes more freedom of movement if a school's period of bowl-game ineligibility is prolonged rather than limited.

Bylaw says the following: "No release needed to contact SAs (student athletes) if school has postseason ban for the rest of their eligibility." Bylaw 14.8.2 says this: "The COI (Committee on Infractions) can recommend a waiver to allow SAs to transfer and play immediately if ban is for the rest of their eligibility."

As you can see, the reality of a two-year bowl ban would naturally have an exponentially greater (negative) effect than a one-year ban. It will possess far more reach than a one-year ban and change the minds of numerous USC football recruits. It's impossible to think that a substantial player exodus WON'T occur now that the two-year bowl ban has been handed down. When one also considers that USC did self-impose a ban for the recently-concluded basketball postseason, the two-year bowl ban raises eyebrows. Fuller statements and explanations (at press time, late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning) have yet to emerge, but when details pour out on Thursday, it will be interesting to see what the NCAA came up with. It's widely felt that this is a penalty commensurate with a view that there was a complete lack of institutional control at USC. It's a little hard to believe that contention, given the difference Pete Carroll has made in the lives of his players. The program did fall victim to the siren son of success in a city that is intoxicated by glamour, and Carroll certainly wasn't the vigilant steward he needed to be while agents and moneymen zeroed in on Bush and Jarrett. However, one recoils at the idea that USC was a runaway, renegade program on par with Southern Methodist in the 1980s. That's a bit much, to say the least.

So, without knowing the fuller reasons the NCAA brought down the hammer on USC, I'll offer this thought to frame the issue and create a foundation for further discussion as more information becomes available: The Lane Kiffin hire had a certain amount to do with this penalty. How much is unclear, but the move definitely figured into the NCAA's organizational attitude and thought process.

Let's recall what was happening in the life and career of Lane Kiffin when USC – having lost Pete Carroll (who knew what awaited him if he stayed on) – searched for its newest football coach. Kiffin had to bear the embarrassing reality of shrugging off an NCAA investigation at Tennessee. Monte Kiffin's son wasn't just casual about the notion of wrongdoing; he was flippant and even defiant about it all. Moreover, in the hours after Kiffin was named USC's head coach, his uber-recruiter assistant, Ed Orgeron, made phone calls to Tennessee players telling them to enroll at USC instead. This was confirmed at a press conference in Kiffin's (and Orgeron's) first week on the job.

Surely, you don't want to irritate or anger the NCAA, the organization that leveled a draconian and clearly excessive penalty against former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant for telling a lie in an interview. Surely, you don't want to wave the red flag and yell "TORO!" to the organization that's trying to pull up anything and everything about your program. Surely, you don't act in ways that show fierce institutional resistance to what the NCAA is trying to do. Surely, you compensate for the fact that Reggie Bush settled out of court and was not willing to speak to the NCAA in a direct and not-so-hostile setting.

USC did none of these things. That's why this is a two-year bowl ban and not a one-year ban.

Had Bush (and Mr. Mayo) been willing to open themselves up to the NCAA, USC's outlook would have improved. Had Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron not been incredibly stupid in their first few days as (reincarnated/returning) USC coaches, the Trojans wouldn't have been hit as hard. Most importantly, if Mike Garrett had hired a squeaky-clean coach with impeccable credentials, it's very hard to think that a two-year bowl bad still would have been levied against USC.

The Lane Kiffin hire was a big "F--- you!" from USC to the NCAA. Maybe the move felt good at the time. Today, as the reality of USC's situation sinks in, it certainly seems that the NCAA responded to USC's institutional emotionalism and ferocity with a severe and visceral overreaction of its own.

USC shouldn't have gotten a two-year bowl ban. Then again, its hubris and defiance represented spectacularly tone-deaf actions, a collective display of emotionalism and arrogance which irritated the organization it should have tried to embrace. The past years ought to have been a time when USC accommodated the NCAA and said all the right things in its words and deeds. Because the Trojans – at least Mike Garrett and Lane Kiffin – didn't follow that particular modus operandi, the NCAA was petty and vindictive enough to return the favor.

I can't say this was fundamentally fair to USC. Then again, I can't say USC has anyone but itself to blame. Hubris rhymes with witch… right, Lane Kiffin? Flapping your mouth at Tennessee and shrugging off the very notion of being investigated have certainly caught up with you at your newest coaching stop. Yes, Lane, this was the one job you always wanted, the one job which made a hasty nighttime getaway from Knoxville an acceptable act in your eyes.

How do you like the bed you've made at your old-new home?

Somewhere, two things have just happened:

1) Urban Meyer's stress level has plummeted, given all the cleansing, good-chemical-releasing belly laughs the Florida coach is performing right about now;

2) A 13-year-old kid has revoked his stated commitment to play for Lane Kiffin when he becomes a college freshman in five years.

Yes, USC, the Lane Kiffin hire might have felt so cathartic and deliciously rebellious at the time. Methinks, though, that this steep and excessive price – this extreme and oversized punishment announced by the NCAA – is in many ways a result of that fateful coaching hire your athletic director made in early January.

Mike Garrett should say goodbye to the AD's chair. USC is saying hello to a world of problems that – while perhaps not deserved in a strict legal or institutional sense – are nevertheless the product of runaway arrogance at Heritage Hall. Next time, be a good citizen, USC. Maybe that lesson will sink in as the enormity of this punishment becomes clear.