Tomorrow, USC suits up for its most important game of the year.
With all due respect to the men’s basketball team, this game will be played in a court 2,000 miles from the Galen Center in Indianapolis, and USC Athletic Director Pat Haden will be throwing the passes.
Bad puns aside, an impressive delegation consisting of USC’s best players in Pat Haden, Assistant Athletic Director J.K. McKay, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, among others, will sit before an NCAA appeals committee tomorrow, hoping to essentially cut in half the sanctions put on the football program last year.
But this is by no means a slam dunk (OK, I’m done).
Haden will be looking to cut the amount of football scholarships lost over the span of the next three years from 30 to 15 and reduce the bowl ban from two years to one. So, if victorious, USC will be able to play in a bowl game next year. Haden has conceded on some of the other punishments: Clearing the campus of everything related to former football player Reggie Bush, including his Heisman Trophy, and former basketball player O.J. Mayo.
Ethos, pathos and logos indicate that USC should have no trouble winning the appeal.
The university president, surly athletic director and enthusiastic football coach who presided over the program and who were deemed to have “a lack of institutional control” are gone. They are replaced by a very friendly, mild-mannered intellectual who has done nothing but cater to the NCAA’s every need. When Haden came in shortly after the sanctions were announced, he turned USC’s compliance department into a veritable Department of Homeland Security.
Any sign of misdoings, USC has reported it. It made freshman running back Dillon Baxter pay $5 to a charity for accepting a ride in a golf cart from a student who also happened to be an NFL agent. USC complied completely with the NCAA regarding Bush and hasn’t said anything to indicate bitterness or an arrogant attitude toward the almighty organization, despite the mere slap on the wrists the NCAA gave Auburn and Ohio State for violations somewhat similar to Bush’s.
But the NCAA is not an organization that relies on either emotion or logic, which is why it’s unlikely the appeal to reduce the sanctions will be granted.
Citing the precedent of the Ohio State football program being basically let off the hook, despite star quarterback Terrelle Pryor being caught in possession of a car belonging to a dealership three separate times, won’t work, even though common sense indicates otherwise.
The reason for this is a change to the NCAA bylaws in 2008. Before, an appeal could be won if it was determined that the penalty was inappropriate or excessive based on the circumstances or evidence.
Now, it can only be won if the offending institution can proclaim “the penalty is excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion” by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
This is a much harder thing to prove. In a U.S. court of law, the prosecutor needs to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the U.S. trial system used the NCAA’s wording, nobody would be found guilty this side of Benedict Arnold.
But this isn’t a trial in a U.S. court, as Haden, an attorney, knows. Thus, USC needs to play by the NCAA’s rules.
“It’s not a judiciary proceeding,” Haden said. “Precedent doesn’t necessarily control the situation … At the end of the day, they don’t have to pay any attention to those. They can create new findings each time they meet.”
The NCAA is also very reluctant to prove that it displayed poor judgment and that it was at fault.
Rarely does the NCAA turn on itself and reverse its own rules. In the 11 appeals since this new standard came into effect, 10 of them have failed.
Haden knows this and is going into the proceedings with a determined but calm approach.
“I’m just realistic,” he said. “I’m just going with the odds — [about] 10 percent of appeals are successful.”
There is a better chance of only part of the sanctions being reduced rather than the whole thing.
Haden has stated multiple times he is going to make reducing the number of lost scholarships a priority because that’s ultimately what the football program needs to stay among the nation’s elite.
USC coach Lane Kiffin has backed Haden up on this approach.
Even though USC should prevail, the NCAA is not going to abort its defined culture anytime soon. Up by 25 in the fourth quarter, look for the NCAA to go for two.
“Spittin’ Sports” runs Fridays. To comment on this article email Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.