You’re a company in the throws of a federal investigation for tax evasion and fraud. You need a new CEO to come in, clean house, and straighten up the mess the last guy left. Who are you going to hire? That brilliant Madoff guy you met in jail, right?
In December, with the threat of NCAA investigations looming, Lane Kiffin, in characteristic hubris shrugged off potential concerns and told reporters that he took the NCAA inquiries as a compliment to his staff's hard work.
NCAA letters must have left him proud of his lead recruiter Ed Orgeron for pushing to the edge of the rule book.
At the same time, USC fans were watching the end of the Pete Carroll era, hastened by what many believed would result in recruiting violations and an NCAA ruling that would leave a significantly negative impact on the future of the Trojan program. There was even talk of losing the 2004 BCS Championship (A season which, ironically, saw many recruiting duties handled by Mr. Kiffin and Mr. Orgeron).
Given the gravity of this situation, USC athletic director Mike Garrett chose to hire Kiffin as Carroll’s replacement in a package deal that included Ed Orgeron as Chief Recruiter and Lane’s father, Monte, as Defensive Coordinator.
“Gee, Mr. Madoff, we’re excited to see how you'll return discipline and ethical financing to this once proud institution.”
There will be numerous articles in the coming days suggesting that USC is being made an unfair example of, protesting the punishment of an institution for a player who was being paid by an agent unrelated to the school.
There are even many legitimate arguments for some form of player compensation from the NCAA to be issued. The NCAA, unfortunately, appear to have been too busy counting TV and video game cash to consider such an option.
The bottom line, though, is that rules cannot be changed retroactively. Under current and past rules, USC and every other FBS institution is responsible for putting eligible amateur status players on the field.
When a player is being paid to play, by anyone, at USC and not being paid somewhere else, that is an unfair advantage and a violation of those rules.
It’s an advantage, in part, because high school seniors choosing where to play college ball would typically prefer to make money at USC more than playing for pride and giggles at Auburn or Georgia Tech.
In turning a blind eye to situations like the one Reggie Bush presented, in which rumors, now confirmed as true, had been swirling for some time, it was a choice to turn a blind eye to NCAA rules and hope not to get caught. This same institutional environment continued the “blind eye” practice when O. J. Mayo was receiving benefits as a USC basketball player.
True, a school can’t know everything, but when illegal player benefits are being discussed at sports bars in the Midwest regarding your sunny California team, perhaps you should look into things or, dare I say it, consider sitting your Heisman Trophy candidate to protect the interests of your team and school?
More than these, of all the signs making it clear there is an institutional “lack of reality” problem in the athletic department at USC which does not take the NCAA rules seriously, perhaps the most obvious was when the “new guy” charged with cleaning things up, was really the “old guy” and his henchman who were there when all the trouble started back in 2004, just before they took the same ego driven acts to new places.
Why did USC get what it deserved? Because, despite all the media hand-wringing and warning signs that forthcoming sanctions were serious, despite a year-long investigation into several aspects of the program, the Trojan Athletic Director was so out of touch that he still chose to hire the controversial young gun "good ol’ boy" who shrugs off letters from the NCAA like they were parking tickets.
The AD chose to bring back the “good ol’ days” that brought on all of the trouble in the first place.
Think Mike Garrett was really worried about the "ethics" of Kiffin when he was checking the resume in January? Or was he imagining the truck-load of All-American athletes who would magically fall under the "barely legal" Orgeron spell when they visited campus?
Lane Kiffin may prove himself worthy of a large contract yet, particularly while his father is still coaching and given the staff he has assembled, there is reason to believe he can. He may even build a championship program without future NCAA sanctions.
The problem is that Garrett chose, of all the coaches in the land, the most controversial kid on the block who brags about the glory days when USC was breaking the rules and has a history of breaking some of his own rules in other places.
My guess is, whatever happens, Garrett will not be there to see how it all turns out.
Vote in our poll, did USC and Lane Kiffin deserve their punishment?
(follow me on Twitter: @kyvolunteer or read previous articles on my blog www.kentuckyvols.com)