Heritage Hall, by most standards, is a decorated facility. Six Heisman trophies line the entrance, championship banners hang from the upper balcony, and if you venture outside the building, you’ll spot several hundred plaques on a patio floor commemorating members of USC’s athletic hall of fame. It’s a fitting display for a program with 92 national championships — 11 on the gridiron.
Still, it goes without saying that, despite the pedigree, despite a remarkable run of success even in recent seasons, that USC, at least football-wise, is in a slump.
Over the last 12 months, its football program was placed on four-years’ probation, sued by the Tennessee Titans, sued by Stafon Johnson, posted its worst overall record since 2001, its defense allowed more yards per game than any other USC defense in 45 years and then its appeal of the original sanctions was denied.
Oh, and in case you missed it, the 2004 national championship-winning season never happened.
But this shouldn’t be about what transpired. After all, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden recently said USC has “moved on.”
But it’s hard.
And the thing is, I know how I want to feel about this. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to talk about Matt Barkley as a Heisman Trophy candidate. I want to talk about Devon Kennard returning to defensive end. I want to talk about a 30-member incoming recruiting class.
But I know how I should feel about this: The bad press isn’t over and that can’t be ignored. You’re going to keep reading about the NCAA. You’re going to keep hearing about the Committee on Infractions. You’re going to keep noticing lingering effects. The storm clouds looming over Heritage Hall are not going to part overnight.
Thank the University of Tennessee and Todd McNair for that.
Last Saturday, USC coach Lane Kiffin, who formerly served as the Tennessee headman for 14 months, met with the COI in Indianapolis after being served with a notice of allegations in late February concerning his stay, albeit a brief one, in Knoxville, Tenn.
Accordingly, Kiffin was cited for a failure to promote an atmosphere for compliance, as well as a failure to monitor — both of which remain major violations according to the NCAA.
The problem hinges on one thing: it could still impact USC even while the alleged infractions occurred on Eastern Standard Time. There’s precedent for that.
Rick Neueheisel, while serving as the coach at Colorado from 1995-1998, was found guilty of multiple recruiting violations in 2002 and, subsequently, was barred from off-campus recruiting as Washington’s coach for seven months.
Similarly, in 2006, the NCAA banned Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson from calling recruits and making off-campus visits for a year after he and his staff violated NCAA rules by making 577 additional phone calls to various prospects while at Oklahoma.
Such a circumstance would unquestionably hamper USC, which is already facing scholarship restrictions, on the recruiting trail, but even more damaging to the program’s reputation as a whole remains, yes, another lawsuit.
Former running backs coach Todd McNair, who was presumed by the NCAA to know of former tailback Reggie Bush’s dealings with sports marketers Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month against the NCAA, alleging libel, slander and negligence.
McNair’s suit isn’t particularly relevant in regard to USC on the field at least. He’s seeking monetary gains after the NCAA gave him a show-cause penalty last June, preventing him from recruiting and forcing schools to “show-cause” if they wish to hire him. Both make him essentially unemployable.
But McNair’s lawsuit, provided it does go to trial, could impact USC by making things public. In case there isn’t a settlement, which still remains quite possible, the NCAA would have the power to subpoena witnesses in court. Pete Carroll could testify. Brennan Carroll could testify. Reggie Bush could testify.
For a group that largely pleaded ignorance, denied any sort of knowledge of “extra benefits,” it might choose to paint a different story if speaking under oath.
What did they know? When did they know it? What else did they know?
It’s been speculated, for some time and for good reason, that there were infractions committed by other USC players and coaches that were not included in the NCAA’s report last June. Those could be revealed. Those could become public. Those could become very damaging, PR-wise for a university trying to cast an image of itself as the leader in 21st-century compliance.
It could still drag on.
Nobody wants to be called into court. Nobody wants to say anything. Nobody, McNair aside, wants to write another chapter to this never ending saga. Bush chose to settle with Lake and New Era Sports & Entertainment in 2007 for $300,000 as opposed to making a court-ordered deposition. Think he’s itching to testify?
It’s been roughly seven years since Bush raced down the Coliseum sidelines, adorned in a cardinal-clad No. 5 jersey. That’s more than 80 months, more than 3,000 days.
“If only we could just move on.”
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