Junior running back Joe McKnight came under fire over the winter break, as accusations of an illegal gift from a businessman, which would be an NCAA violation, became wide-spread.
The Los Angeles Times ran an article just before Christmas that looked at McKnight’s use of a 2006 Land Rover that he had been seen driving. The vehicle allegedly belongs to a Santa Monica businessman, Scott Schenter, who works for the County Assessor’s office. Schenter also founded a company called USC Marketing in 2008, which he says stands for United States China Marketing and is not connected to the university.
Any use of this vehicle by McKnight as a benefit from a marketing representative, agents or anyone of that nature would be a violation of NCAA rules. Accordingly, the NCAA responded to the accusations by investigating the situation.
McKnight was even forced to sit out of the Trojan’s San Francisco Emerald Bowl game after he was deemed unable to play by USC’s compliance department.
Schenter has reached out to the media in defense of McKnight, saying he has “nothing to do with agents, marketing players or representing athletes,” and that he has no ties to USC, as he is a University of Washington fan.
Schenter continued to explain that the vehicle belongs to a young woman named Johana Michelle Beltran, McKnight’s girlfriend, and that he helped her purchase the vehicle because the Beltran family was having trouble getting qualified for a loan.
McKnight has denied driving the car, though a Times reporter has claimed to see him driving it more than one time.
While everyone’s focus has shifted from McKnight to the NCAA basketball sanctions and Pete Carroll’s decision to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, McKnight announced his decision to enter the NFL draft and leave USC a year early.
“The time is right,” McKnight told ESPN. “This was my first healthy season and I really don’t want to come back and risk injury.”
The time may be right in terms of injury, but his decision also comes at a time where intense speculation follows him all over the USC campus. McKnight, however, explained that these ongoing investigations and allegations do not have an impact on the decision he has made, but that other factors, like the comparison to former Trojan Reggie Bush, have solidified his NFL verdict.
“If I would have come back it would have been to pursue the Heisman,” he said. “My career was OK. It was good, but not like Reggie. There was a constant pressure to be like Reggie.”
McKnight has more in common with Bush than he might have wanted after the allegations made by the Times last month. USC is already under investigation by the NCAA along with the Pac-10 about the accusations that Bush (and basketball star O.J. Mayo, as well) received improper benefits during their time at school.
McKnight’s decision to turn pro during this time in USC sports may be fortuitous, since, after Carroll’s resignation settled, the focus would have shifted back to McKnight.