Shades Of Grey: NCAA, Not Just USC, Has Some Explaining to Do

Mark RobertsContributor IJune 16, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Head coach Lane Kiffin gives instructions in the offensive huddle during the  USC Trojans spring game on  May 1, 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

            You’d have to be one of those snobby World Cup devotees – you know, the type who only follows “real” football – to have missed the news last week regarding USC football.  

The NCAA, after a seemingly interminable investigation into the University of Southern California’s athletic department, finally released its report, levying significant sanctions against the program.  The penalties against the football team include a two year bowl ban, vacating of several wins, and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years.

It’s quite chic to pile on the anti-USC bandwagon right now.  Certainly Mike Garrett’s arrogant response to the sanctions did little to assuage the firestorm of criticism.   And wunderkind new head coach Lane Kiffin – well, nobody liked him much to begin with.

But while the public has been gleefully gathering at the gallows (and who doesn’t love a spectacle, after all?), nagging questions remain.  And no, I’m not referencing the legitimate questions being asked of USC, such as did the coaching staff know about Reggie Bush and what role did the apparently impotent compliance office play?   Those have been, and will continue to be, debated ad nauseam. 

In addition to the queries revolving around Heisman scandals and hush funds, it’s about time someone asked some less glamorous, even gritty, questions of the NCAA.  For starters, how does it mete out its punishments?  Nobody within USC’s football program is accused of paying Reggie Bush.   In fact, it was outside sources – avaricious agents and would-be agents – who lured Bush and his unscrupulous parents toward promises of big paydays. 

Yet the punishment handed out to USC exceeds that given out to other recent repeat offenders, most notably Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida State, each of whom faced questions regarding institutional control, academic integrity, eligibility, and/or payments made by boosters. 

Is the NCAA sending a message that if a coach or booster pays a player, or a student-athlete cheats on a test, the crime is less severe than failing to keep agents away from your players?

Or perhaps the NCAA can answer why it cited Rodney Guillory’s role in the OJ Mayo debacle as an example of USC’s lack of institutional control, despite having investigated and cleared both Mayo and Guillory (at USC’s request) before Mayo even stepped foot on campus.

Absent an explicit set of guidelines, the NCAA is nothing more than a Greek god, capriciously doling out punishments depending on its whim du jour.   To be sure, USC’s athletic department, its compliance office, and its administration deserve to face some tough questions.  But the NCAA is not immune; it too has some explaining to do.  Otherwise, its enforcement decisions make as much sense as a vuvuzela.