Sports scandal reflects poorly off court

Long before sports pundits, bloggers and vaguely indignant students condemned him for inciting yet another Trojan sports ’SCandal, Tim Floyd didn’t have a whole lot going for him in the court of public opinion. The figurehead for USC’s woefully unpopular basketball program never had the avuncular charm or tech savvy of football darling Pete Carroll, nor Carroll’s advantage of heading up a star-studded NCAA colossus.

What Floyd did have was captainship of the Pac-10’s sinking Titanic, and, as spring progressed, he seemed ready to bail at any time. At the end of March, following a devastating loss to Michigan State and the end of any Final Four fantasies, he flew to Tucson to interview for a coaching position at University of Arizona. Less than a week later, Taj Gibson, DeMar DeRozan and Daniel Hackett made public their decisions to opt for the pro draft, a blow that left Floyd so far up the creek without a paddle he was in Deliverance territory.

By the time Yahoo! Sports published allegations in May that Floyd gave at least $1,000 in cash directly to one of O.J. Mayo’s confidants, the fan was on and the room was stinky. USC was already knee-deep in NCAA allegations; the Trojan football program had been under investigation for months as to whether former star Reggie Bush received up to $300,000 in improper benefits when playing at USC. The further accusation that Mayo was courted by Floyd to the tune of something close to $30,000 was not exactly a blemish on an otherwise untarnished surface, though part of the blame fell on the Harold Hill of basketball promoting, slippery Rodney Guillory.

Guillory, according to an almost certainly autobiographical Wikipedia entry, is a Southern California “event promoter.” He was famously involved in a tussle with NCAA rules in 2000 when, working as a runner for a sports agency, he provided former USC guard Jeff Trepagnier and former Fresno State guard Tito Maddox with improper benefits (including plane tickets). This was not something Floyd was unaware of when he agreed to meet with Guillory — after all, when you lie down with fleabags, you inevitably wake up dogged by an NCAA investigation.

This was the case when one of Guillory’s former friends (and, rather inconveniently for him, an ESPN sports writer), released information regarding the shady deal.

The rats fled the burning ship. In an unprecedented diaspora of up-and-coming talent, USC’s top freshman recruits — Noel Johnson and Solomon Hill — bolted for other schools. USC also stopped pursuing Renardo Sidney, another top recruit whose precarious eligibility could have entrenched the school in further NCAA trouble. Super-super senior Marcus Johnson decided to opt for the NBA Draft, even though the USC athletic program had just won him a sixth year of eligibility.

In the wake of losing all but one player who averaged more than 18 minutes of playing time a game last season, Floyd (not-so-voluntarily) tendered his resignation June 9, leaving open a position that few were vying for. While he did manage to somewhat invigorate the program before his departure — under his reign, the Trojans participated in a (sadly, USC record-breaking) streak of three straight NCAA tournaments — the added baggage of the recruiting scandal would mean whoever stepped in would have a lot on his plate.

Enter Kevin O’Neill, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett’s fourth choice for the job. Though O’Neill has a reputation for brusque methods and an abrasive personality, at least he doesn’t come with a history of illegally buying players. It’s time for USC officials to stop turning a blind eye to fairly obvious machinations. Guillory’s shady reputation preceded him, and his undue influence in the scandal presented bigger problems within USC’s recruiting process.

USC’s decision to stop pursuing Renardo Sidney can be seen as a step in the right direction, a chance to distance itself from more trouble. (At the same time, it’s also a prime example of the pot calling the kettle litigious.)

We can only hope O’Neill’s appointment marks a necessary turning point in the Trojan sports franchise; if the USC athletic department is truly committed to maintaining a clean record, the first step is to hire coaches who will uphold that ideal.

The scandal should also, however, serve as a reminder for all branches of Trojan athletics that transparency is key. The NCAA would have undoubtedly considered issuing a more lenient punishment if any relevant officials had disclosed information about Floyd’s actions to the committee. As it is, it may be many months until a formal punishment is issued.

It’s time for O’Neill to accept the consequences on behalf of the organization and work toward rebuilding a franchise that has been floundering both ethically and on the court. USC must wash Floyd out of its hair and carry on its way.

Lucy Mueller is a junior majoring in cinema-television production.