It is only wrong if you get caught, and boy did they get caught.
The University of Southern California’s NCAA rule violations have been piling up the past couple years and the time has come for the rubber to hit the road. The NCAA’s investigation of USC sports programs as a whole dates back to infractions performed in 2006 and will come to its culmination in Tempe, AZ on Feb. 19-21.
Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush, Joe McKnight, and several other former Trojans will be the main focus of USC’s meeting with the NCAA Committee of Infractions due to their unapproved actions during their tenures in Southern California and the outcome could be bloody.
Depending on how the Committee reacts to a laundry list of violations that range from illegal recruiting techniques to players accepting extra benefits from marketing companies, USC should be sanctioned with a number of probations. These could include vacating victories from games that these “intentional wrongdoers” participated, the loss of scholarships, and a postseason ban.
Since most of these violators have already flown the coop, the University and their current athletes will have to take the brunt of the NCAA’s sometimes-erratic punishment system.
Over the past few decades, we have seen the NCAA levy an interesting array of penalties to schools that have violated their “holier than thou” set of rules.
When searching for precedent on an issue like this, it is hard not to try and draw comparisons to Alabama’s continuous problems with the NCAA police last decade.
From the major incidents in 2000 that cost the Tide two possible postseason appearances and several scholarships to the schools much more docile textbook infraction in 2005 that “only” forced the football team to fork up a few victories, the foolish moves by the Men of Troy will certainly fall somewhere in between these two, which should force the Committee to give USC some sort of a slap on the wrist...but the question is how hard.
Assuming that action is taken on the defiant university, there will be enormous ripples felt whether you are in the Pac-10 or in a school in any other BCS conference.
Whether the Committee of Infractions throws a pebble or a boulder towards Southern California, the Los Angeles area will undoubtedly experience a violent jostling from any NCAA sanctions.
It all starts with recruiting and the 2010 National Signing Day could be a signal of possible problems that lie ahead. While USC still staked claim as the Top Recruiting team, UCLA surprisingly finished eighth in the nation, stealing several prospects also interested in the Trojans.
The Bruins’ on-field product is getting stronger and any recruits and/or TV deals that they can steal from underneath the Trojans due to sanctions would help level this quickly shrinking playing field.
While any moderate probation placed upon USC, like scholarships lost, would greatly benefit the growth of neighboring UCLA, the entire city of Los Angeles could be singing a different tune if the NCAA decides to go for the jugular. Serious sanctions, like no TV or post season appearances, could devastate the LA area and their entire college football market.
LA is a marketing heaven for advertisers and the Trojans' success this past decade has captured the attentions (and more importantly the greenbacks) of the fans in this easily-distracted city.
But LA fans are really only interested in one thing and that is a team that has a chance to win a championship. If the Trojans have zero chance of bringing home a title, then don’t expect fans to keep their eyes glued to weekly matchups, to buy USC paraphernalia, or even loyally go to games.
And with the Bruins still too young to be considered serious title contenders, a lengthy postseason ban could force this city to lose the buckets of national TV dollars often thrown at this money saturated market.
Depending on how the meetings go down in Arizona, the entire Pac-10 could experience repercussions. A moderate punishment (one that takes away a few scholarships) could force talented players who are only interested in playing on the west coast to other teams in the Pac-10.
If playing for a championship-caliber team while receiving a full scholarship is of great importance to these prospects, then this somewhat mild sanction on USC could greatly benefit schools like Oregon, Cal, and perhaps even up and rising schools like Stanford and Arizona.
But like the LA ripple, a serious punishment could end up negatively effecting the entire Pac-10 for the first couple seasons on this young decade.
Any type of postseason or television expulsion takes away one of the most interesting matchup on the schedule of every team in the Pac-10. Getting a shot a taking down the high and mighty USC is something teams constantly look forward to and they relish the moment when victory is actually obtained. Just ask all of the teams that have upset the Trojans the past couple seasons.
Taking away the overall significance of this game by banning these matchups from television may be devastating, but taking away the postseason from this University will be like removing the venom from a cobra. With nothing to really fight for, would these Trojans still Fight On?
A matchup with USC during these probation seasons will be like playing a non-conference game. Wins and losses would produce little significance in the overall head-to-head history because of the asterisk LA fans would immediately throw over those seasons.
This severe sanction would also hit the Pac-10 where it hurts the most...their pocket book. Fox Sports West, ESPN, and the Pac-10 rely heavily on USC and their revenue dollars to fund their college football bottom line. Completely removing the most popular team in the west coast from television would be extremely detrimental to every facet of the Pacific Time Zone’s Saturday football lineup.
On the other hand, perhaps this would open up the door for another Pac-10 powerhouse to reclaim their rightful spot on top of the conference. A severe ban on USC would mean teams like Oregon, Cal, and Stanford could gain more national spotlight with their extra televised games, perhaps allowing this conference to seamlessly pass the torch.
And while those teams may not bring in the immediate dollars that USC does, it could be a better story in the long run.
The ripples felt on the national level may not be as brutal as those felt closer to the epicenter, but when a juggernaut like this falls, expect everyone to feel some sort of rumblings.
The earliest reverberation felt on the national level has to come in the size of offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson. Originally committed to USC on National Signing Day, the five-star recruit decided to hold off signing his Letter of Intent due to these upcoming sanctions.
Henderson was a nationally sought after recruit with teams like Florida, Miami, and Ohio State seeking his talents. Players like Henderson want to add to their own brand by playing for a team that is going to provide them with the most national exposure. If a team is on a postseason or television ban, it is hard to add anything to your NFL stock when all of your games are in the dark.
A serious sanction could force the hand of several five-star recruits within the USC system and those thinking about attending USC any time in the near future. This could greatly benefit teams throughout all of the BCS conferences who may have tabs on these players.
But not all schools across the national board would benefit from the NCAA dropping the hammer down on USC. South Bend could also feel a huge ripple if USC losses the national spotlight with a television ban, as this is one of Notre Dame’s and NBC’s biggest games of the season.
With the Irish reeling after several terrible seasons, the Notre Dame market, which reaches practically every house in America on a weekly basis, can’t really afford another blow. Notre Dame’s long lasting rivalry with the Trojans has been rather one-side as of late but it still has the highest potential to bring in the most dollars out of every other game on the Irish’s schedule.
A TV-ban quite possibly would cripple NBC’s profits from this deal with Notre Dame. USC is their break even game. Who is really interested in seeing the Irish struggle with Navy or lose to otherwise struggling BCS teams?
The NCAA will definitely be weighing these money matters into their decision when considering the severity of the punishment they want to hand down to a team that many consider as one of the most profitable college football schools in the nation. Don’t forget that the NCAA gets their piece of the pie as well.
I personally hope that they throw the book at the Trojans and make a real example of their wrong doings. Because as long as teams like USC keep treating the NCAA rules like California’s cell phone driving laws, a minimal punishment won’t stop these schools for becoming repeat offenders.