Last Saturday was a day of celebration: College football had finally returned, and USC was back to its winning ways. The Trojans trounced Hawai’i 49-10 in its first season of bowl eligibility in two years since the NCAA dropped the hammer on them after the Reggie Bush investigation. USC was ranked No. 1 in the country, and all was right in the world.
Well, almost. USC later slipped to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, but Trojans fans could care less in light of the latest news: another NCAA investigation.
These days it seems a conversation about USC is incomplete without discussing possible infractions related to extra benefits.
Sometime before sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee’s 75-yard scamper into the end zone on the season’s first play, the Los Angeles Times reported that a former Los Angeles County assessor’s office employee gave improper gifts to former USC running back Joe McKnight and former basketball player Davon Jefferson in 2009 and 2008, respectively.
Before I go any further, I have a question to ask: Haven’t we been over this before?
The NCAA turned over every rock and looked at every skeleton in USC’s closet during the Bush investigation. Despite finding no concrete evidence that the school or athletic department knew Bush was receiving improper benefits, the NCAA Committee on Infractions slapped USC with the dreaded “lack of institutional control” label and hit the team with, which were at the time, the most severe sanctions since SMU received the “death penalty” in 1987.
After USC had the book thrown at it, college football pundits have almost unanimously described the punishments as excessive and unfair. The inconsistencies of the NCAA’s rulings on subsequent violations have been comical, particularly at Ohio State and Auburn.
What’s more frustrating about this news is that it comes at a time when USC is leading the movement to ensure NCAA student-athletes do not hurt their amateur status by accepting impermissible benefits. In fact, USC even hosted a summit reviewing prep football “7-on-7” tournaments and the amount of money flowing through them.
Since June 2010 sanctions, USC has hired a new football coach, basketball coach, athletic director and school president, and the new administration team has acted like choirboys.
In 2009, amid rumors that Joe McKnight had accepted gifts from an outside source, the USC compliance department barred the tailback from playing in the Emerald Bowl against Boston College.
In 2010, Athletic Director Pat Haden self-reported to the NCAA that former running back Dillon Baxter received an impermissible benefit in the form of a two-minute golf cart ride across campus by a sports agent. As a result, he missed the team’s next game at Oregon State while the NCAA reviewed the case.
And just last season, former USC secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigned for personal reasons amid reports that tied him to talent scout Will Lyles, who is connected to the NCAA’s probe of Oregon.
The point is, USC has been on the straight and narrow path ever since new leadership has taken over. It’s been proactive.
We know what has happened since then: Kiffin and senior quarterback Matt Barkley have cleared the “dark clouds” that Kiffin has so frequently referenced.
After all, the idea of sanctions was to make USC suffer, not to have the Trojans emerge as national title favorites in their first season back from probation.
It would be unfair for one administration group to be punished twice for a “lack of institutional control,” especially when that group is no longer affiliated with USC, and that timeframe has already been investigated ad nauseum by the powers that be.
USC has done everything the NCAA has asked; it’s time to leave the Trojans alone.
But one never knows with the NCAA.
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