How Many Controversies Before Lane Kiffin Lands on Hot Seat at USC?
USC is embroiled in yet another controversy.
According to the school's official website, a student manager for the football team was dismissed after it was discovered that he intentionally deflated five footballs used by the Trojans in their game against Oregon last Saturday.
From that story:
Game officials discovered and re-inflated three of the balls before the game and two others at halftime. All balls were regulation in the second half. The student manager confirmed that he had, without the knowledge of, or instruction from, any USC student-athlete, coach, staff member or administrator, deflated those game balls after they had been tested and approved by officials prior to the game.
The story also states that USC investigated the incident immediately and was reprimanded and fined by the Pac-12.
Each team supplies its own footballs for its offense to use during the game, so Oregon would not have used those under-inflated footballs. The competitive advantage with under-inflated footballs is twofold: The ball is easier to grip by a quarterback when making a throw, and it's easier to catch for a receiver.
Receivers love a soft ball.
What's disturbing about this whole mini-scandal is that the student manager apparently was the only one who knew about the under-inflated balls.
That's hard to believe.
Those footballs are being tossed around the sideline constantly. Players know when the ball is a little soft. It's probably unlikely that nobody noticed that wonderfully soft football.
It's also disturbing that officials tested and approved the balls prior to the game, yet he deflated them after inspection, and it still got noticed before the game had even started.
He apparently never re-inflated the other two under-inflated balls at the half, even after the team had already been caught with three under-inflated balls prior to the start of the game.
Is this arrogance or stupidity?
How about both?
Surely, he or another equipment staff member would have been addressed by the coaching staff and ordered to make sure all balls were within NCAA regulations. Either he was instructed to make sure all balls were properly inflated but ignored that order, or he was never given any instruction.
In either case, it stinks.
This latest incident is the latest to rear up under head coach Lane Kiffin's watch. Kiffin reportedly told Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez in August that "I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that much" and then did just that when he voted in the USAToday Coaches' Poll, according to a story by ESPN.
Then there was the jersey-changing controversy against Colorado.
Players switched jerseys during the game, which by itself isn't a big deal...unless it's done to intentionally deceive the other team. Players can have the same jersey number, but they both can't be wearing that same number when they are on the field at the same time.
According to a USAToday article, "USC changed [quarterback Cody] Kessler's jersey to No. 35, the same number as punter Kyle Negrete. Kessler was then used on a two-point conversion in the first half. (The try was successful, with Kessler running it in himself, but called back due to holding.)"
From the NCAA rule book: ”Numbers shall not be changed during the game to deceive opponents. A team caught doing so will be assessed a 15-yard penalty and 'flagrant offenders shall be disqualified.'”
Kiffin also abruptly walked away from an after-practice media scrum and banned local beat reporter Scott Wolf for two weeks because Wolf reported on a USC player injured during a game. One of USC's new media policies is that a reporter may not report an injury if it occurred during practice.
Wolf was eventually reinstated, but the damage had been done.
The pettiness that is occurring at USC's football program is beyond ridiculous. Switching jerseys and under-inflating balls?
That's so high school, isn't it?
It's not befitting of a proud university and its storied football program—a program whose story is now riddled with NCAA violations and sanctions.
Even if Kiffin wasn't aware of the under-inflated balls—even if nobody but this one student knew about those under-inflated balls—the very fact that an equipment manager felt the situation was desperate enough to cheat is disturbing.
A former Division 1 receiver confided to me that "[under-inflated] balls are not uncommon. It happens all the time." That may be true, but USC cannot afford to do what other schools may or may not be doing.
Most other schools aren't continually under the NCAA's microscope.
Most other schools haven't had at least four incidents in the past three months that have put a black eye on the school's football program.
How Kiffin withstands yet another embarrassing incident that occurred under his watch is going to be interesting because USC Athletic Director Pat Haden didn't hire Kiffin—Mike Garrett did.
Did Kiffin know about Ballgate?
It doesn't matter.
When a student football equipment manager feels the need to do something monumentally stupid to give his offense a slight edge, something is very wrong.
When acts of desperation occur, it's a red flag.
A team that was ranked preseason No. 1 has already suffered three losses: Votegate, Jerseygate and now Ballgate.
At this point, you have to wonder if Kiffin will be shown the gate.
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