Last week USC received the worst publicity from a former Trojan named O.J. since People V. Simpson.
In response to mounting scrutiny surrounding the O.J. Mayo investigation, Athletic Director Mike Garrett imposed a preemptive strike and penalized the university’s basketball program in hopes of alleviating potential NCAA sanctions. Garrett’s forced apology includes several recruiting restrictions, reimbursement of money to the NCAA for last year’s tournament bid, loss of scholarships, forfeit of all 21 wins Mayo helped earn over the 2007-08 season, and, most frustrating for the program’s three seniors, a ban on all post-season play for this year’s squad — including the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments.
However, one group of students has rallied against what it sees as an injustice and taken it upon itself to amend the sanctions decreed to the basketball team.
The “Let Them Play” movement has organized t-shirt sales, a university petition and a Jan. 21 rally in the hopes of persuading the athletic department to reconsider the team’s post-season probation.
“These sanctions are unfair to the current coaching staff, players, and most of all, the students,” reads the “Let Them Play” Facebook group, nearly 3,000 strong just a week after Garrett’s announcement. “It is on us as Trojans to show our support of USC Basketball to the NCAA and [Athletic Director] Mike Garrett so that they will let SC Basketball play!”
USC student petitions have had success in the past.
In 2004, Robbie Ellison collected over 1,000 student signatures to entice ESPN College Gameday to campus for the first time in the show’s 11 year history.
However, persuading Garrett to reach down and pull the basketball program out from under the bus may present a more significant challenge.
If “Let Them Play” hopes to put serious pressure on Garrett and the athletic department, the group will need the support of student organizations, student government and probably a few more Facebook friends.
Then again, with slogans like “Hold the Mayo” and “Fight the Man On,” “Let Them Play” shouldn’t have much trouble raising support as the season wares closer to an end and, hopefully for the group, tournament play.