The USC baseball program had its annual alumni game on Sunday, with a host of recent and not-so-recent ex-players taking on this year’s squad. Several members of the 1963 national championship team were there celebrating their 50th anniversary and the 2013 Trojans had a chance to play a few live innings in preparation for their season, which starts on Friday.
But there was one very noticeable absence from Sunday’s festivities. No, it wasn’t a big-name alum like Mark Prior, Randy Johnson or Mark McGwire. It fact, it wasn’t even an alum at all: It was USC coach Frank Cruz.
Cruz was suspended late Thursday night by the university pending an investigation into NCAA Countable Athletically Related Activities rule violations.
The amount of hours athletes can spend practicing directly with members of the coaching staff is limited to 20 hours per week during the season and eight hours per week out of season. CARAs range from full-fledged practices to things seemingly mundane such as film review or even just playing catch with a coach.
“We take any potential NCAA infraction seriously,” Athletic Director Pat Haden said in a statement. “USC Vice President for Athletic Compliance Dave Roberts and his staff will investigate whether the baseball program exceeded the allowable CARA hours, and will do so diligently and expeditiously. Pending the results of the investigation, we have suspended Coach Cruz from all coaching duties.”
Team members said Haden broke the news to them in the clubhouse following last Thursday’s practice.
“It was really just shocking,” said junior catcher Jake Hernandez. “Obviously not at all news you would expect.”
To have your coach suspended just one week before the start of the season is jarring, to say the least, but members of the team recognize that they have to stay focused on what they need to do on the field.
“We’ve just gotta go play baseball,” Hernandez said. “Whatever else is happening, we’re just sticking together as a team and focusing on the game.”
Associate head coach Dan Hubbs is leading the team in the interim while the USC Compliance Department and Associate Athletic Director Mark Jackson conduct their own internal investigation and try to get ahead of the issue before the NCAA gets involved.
“Coach Cruz and coach Hubbs have both done a great job of co-leading the team ever since Hubbs got here,” Hernandez said. “So the uncertainty is a little rough, sure, but we’re used to hearing from coach Hubbs anyway.”
Several upperclassmen, such as Hernandez and senior infielder Adam Landecker, have taken a more vocal role in keeping the team focused amid this very large distraction.
“Just reminding everyone that we’re still a team,” said Landecker. “We’ve still gotta be ready to play a game [on Friday] no matter what.”
USC opens the season this Friday at Cal State Fullerton, then visits Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday before the team’s home opener at Dedeaux Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Nebraska.