UPDATE, Sept. 27: ESPN.com's Joe Schad reports the NCAA ruled against USC's appeal Friday.
USC athletic director Pat Haden took the logical steps of addressing the NCAA’s lightening of sanctions against Penn State during a previously scheduled meeting with the governing body.
Haden issued a statement via USCTrojans.com’s blog Wednesday, in which he said that USC vice president of athletic compliance Dave Roberts and he discussed “outside the box solutions to the scholarship issues resulting from the injuries and transfers experienced by our football team over the past three seasons.”
USC has served two years of a three-year limit on the number of football scholarships it can award. The program's total was slashed from 25 per year to 15, and the roster can only carry 75 scholarship players at a time.
Haden said in his statement that numbers are closer to cut even shorter because of injury. Scott Wolf of Los Angeles Daily News reported USC took just 55 scholarship players on its season-opening trip to Hawaii.
Haden’s statement made specific mention of the NCAA’s cited reasoning for repealing the scholarship limitations initially imposed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
"In reducing Penn State's scholarship penalties, the NCAA specifically noted the 'progress' it had made regarding athletics integrity. Since the Committee on Infractions (COI) issued its sanctions in 2010, USC has been held up as a model and praised for its integrity and commitment to compliance, a fact often mentioned by the NCAA itself. “
Precedent was set not only with the lessening of sanctions against Penn State, but in other decisions, the NCAA has made recently.
North Carolina, Mississippi State, Ohio State and USC Pac-12 rival Oregon all received significantly lighter penalties for violations ranging from recruiting violations, contact with agents, receipt of impermissible benefits and academic fraud.
The severity of USC’s sanctions was likely never about the violations committed but rather the attitude exhibited when faced with charges.
Former athletic director and Trojan Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett did the program no favors in the appeals process, saying that “there was nothing but a lot of envy,” in the NCAA’s decision.
Garrett also hired Lane Kiffin, who left Tennessee with the cloud of an NCAA investigation looming. Tennessee is serving a probationary period until August 2015 for infractions former Kiffin assistant Willie Mack Garza was found to have committed.
Perhaps, the NCAA was indeed making an example of USC because of its success in the mid-2000s, the era in which running back Reggie Bush was found to have violated Bylaw 22.214.171.124—benefits received from an agent.
Nevertheless, these were circumstances in which discretion may have been the better part of valor. The NCAA rewards cooperation, as programs have discovered since the hammer was dropped on USC.
Garrett’s missteps became Haden’s mess to clean, which made early appeals efforts difficult. One such attempt was rejected in 2011, less than a year after Haden replaced Garrett.
However, Haden had more time to prove his compliance with NCAA guidelines. The current Trojan AD worked diligently, most notably in an investigation into former running back Joe McKnight receiving impermissible benefits.
His cooperation with the governing body notwithstanding, the Trojans may still face a dead-end per ESPN.com's Joe Schad.
Haden has done what he can, and now is the time for USC to capitalize. The NCAA is often eradicate in its decision-making, as the Trojans can attest. This week should mark the beginning of the program receiving some relief from its sanctions. Whether it will is less clear.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.