Storm clouds hanging over USC athletics

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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7 replies
  1. Rich Salas
    Rich Salas says:

    USC haters are a desperate pathetic crowd of losers. they believe anything and everything negative about USC…as long as it makes them feel better about how their pathetic little wannabe program got demolished by USC on the field. Sad.

  2. Gene
    Gene says:

    It amazes me each time I see comments by these people who apparently don’t know much about USC. You only call USC “cheaters” because of your dislike for them after they have pounded your schools into the ground on the field. For your info, it was a player who violated the rules, not the coaches. TO THIS VERY DAY, the NCAA has NO EVIDENCE that the coaching staff knew of the player’s involvement with the agent. The NCAA, which has lost so much credibility over their unethical judgments and rule changing based on USC’s case, chose as “evidence” to believe the statement of an agent who knowingly knew his involvement with the player was a violation (thus, no credibility). The NCAA chose to believe a “rule breaking” uncredible agent rather than the USC coaching staff. The bottom line, the NCAA never had evidence that the coaching staff knew of the player breaking rules. One player violated the rules…NOT the coaches…NOT USC. When a program is successful, like USC is, there are always critics who want to try and knock USC. Critics including some of these morons writing these comments and the morons that work for the NCAA…You can try to knock USC all you want, but USC will always be USC and will always continue to fight on.
    And as for the writer of this article…I completely disagree with you. How can you say, “Thanks to Todd McNair” for a dark cloud? Actually, if you are a Trojan fan (which probably your not), you should be praising Coach McNair. Good for Coach McNair…Its about time someone stand up to the morons of the NCAA and expose them of “Cheating.”

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      what a ridiculous comment…you were affiliated with that great place and yet obviously don’t have a clue about the NCAA’s judgements and findings (or I should say lack of). Apparently, you don’t know much about USC either.

  3. Tank McGinty
    Tank McGinty says:

    We may say that there are dark clouds over USC, and we could blame all these students and administrators, but if you understand the big picture, you would see that these clouds are spewing from the NCAA, and they hover over many other schools too. The justice department is investigating the NCAA because enough people have been crying out that their systems are not congruent, whether it be in penalizing schools or deciding championships.

    The whole NCAA is flawed to begin with, even a recent Southpark episode brought up the comparisons to that organization and slavery. A valid point, considering the NCAA helps schools exploit their athletes for minimal pay, despite the revenue they help generate in merchandise sales. These athletes basically do enough training and practices time-wise to qualify as a full time job, and they are expected to be in class, when they are tired and sore.

    The athletes know they are being used, they know others are profiting on their work, they know that they could get a career ending injury at any moment, and they know that the NCAA wags their finger at them for taking money, while the other NCAA hand slides a wad of bills into their pocket with every “penalty”. If the NCAA seems to act unfairly to the athletes, then the athletes seem to learn that the image of propriety is more important than actual being fair and honest. In other words, athletes learn to appear saintly, but to try not to get caught.

    Until the NCAA gets regulated, decapitated or another organization rises to replace it, there will be more exploitation of athletes, and thus more willfull rebellious athlete defiance of the rules in such a flawed system. Some may say that it is unseemly to pay athletes, since they are paid in education, but much of this education is saddled with expensive book fees, parking cost, and other unforseen charges that plague many students and aren’t considered when creating scholarship amounts.

    Plus, the university model of education was founded by the ancient Greeks, who were only allowed the time to earn their education because slaves tended to the work that would have otherwise occupied their time. Maybe the leaders of the NCAA think that this tradition must continue, and it is their mandate to invoke it in present days, but hopefully our new leaders will make the enlightened decisions and change the system for the better.

    We all need to realize that these dark clouds over USC and other schools are really noxious plumes from the dark spire of the NCAA, and if we don’t knock down this tower, it will be our fault when their dark matter obscures our vision, steals our sunshine, dirties our reputation and fouls the noble experience of sports.

    Something to think about…

  4. Ed
    Ed says:

    USC brought this on themselves by being a serial (six time) NCAA violator. The more grief and embarrassment USC receives the more I like it. USC deserves any and every thing they get.

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Another ridiculous comment! You like some of the other USC haters don’t have a clue. To this day, the NCAA don’t have evidence of the coaching staff violating rules. They believed an uncredible agent who knowingly helped one player violate rules.
      Keep trying to knock USC all you want, but USC will continue to fight on.

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