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Did Lane Kiffin's Hiring Motivate the NCAA?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Head coach Lane Kiffin looks on 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
Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IDecember 13, 2016

Paul Dee, who chaired the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, would like the entire world of college football to think that Reggie Bush’s name alone helped USC pull in at least thirty recruits.

That is the number of recruits over a three-year period that USC must eliminate from the allowable limit of 25 football scholarships.  That leaves the Trojans with just fifteen scholarships to hand out in each of the next three years.

But do the motivations of the NCAA run much deeper?

Here is a program that lost its head coach and nearly half of its coaching staff just a month before National Signing Day, when Pete Carroll was hired to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

With possible NCAA sanctions looming, the USC administration was turned down by its top coaching choices.  In desperation, Athletic Director Mike Garrett called one of Carroll’s former assistants, Lane Kiffin, the head coach at the University of Tennessee, and the 34 year-old Kiffin immediately accepted the challenge.

He brought his father, Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator, and Ed Orgeron, the defensive line coach, with him to USC.  A few days later, Kiffin also hired defensive secondary coach, Willie Mack Garza, and strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Ausmus, from the Volunteers.

This left the University of Tennessee, one of the SEC’s proudest programs, in a precarious situation of having to hold all of its recruits with National Signing Day looming, while at the same time lining up a new head coach and staff.

To make matters worse, the entire community in Knoxville was up in arms over Kiffin’s abrupt departure after only one year on the job.

Could this have been part of the NCAA’s motivation in coming down hard on USC?  But wait.  There’s more.

In less than a month on the payroll at USC, Kiffin and Orgeron had not only managed to hold onto the Trojans’ recruits, but they put together what many considered to be the number one recruiting class in all of college football.

Has it truly been the NCAA’s intent to severely punish USC because of the lack of institutional control, or because they were appalled at the way Athletic Director Mike Garrett snatched Kiffin and his staff away from the University of Tennessee, leaving the school to scramble for recruits as well as coaches while its fans suffered?

Was it the NCAA’s intent to make USC and its fans suffer the same way that the Volunteers and their fans had suffered?

Were the powers that resentful of the way Kiffin and Orgeron put together a top recruiting class only a month after Carroll’s departure?

Were they determined to make Kiffin, who had some minor recruiting violations at Tennessee, and USC pay for its dominance in recruiting not just this year, but throughout Pete Carroll’s tenure?

The NCAA’s intent becomes even more obvious when the hearing on USC’s offenses was held just two weeks after National Signing Day, but the findings were not revealed until this past week, some four months later.

Those findings came on the heels of media reports just a couple weeks ago, that Lane Kiffin’s salary was in the neighborhood of four million dollars, twice what he was being paid in Knoxville and nearly as much as Pete Carroll was making after nine years at USC. 

In addition, Monte Kiffin was reportedly making two million dollars, also twice what he had received at the University of Tennessee.

Did the NCAA wish to break the back of a rich private institution that threw money at its football staff in order to insure its continued success, while seriously damaging the football program of an SEC institution? 

Was the Reggie Bush situation an excuse for the NCAA to vent its resentment and jealousy upon the Trojans?  Did the punishment fit the crime or were Paul Dee and his staff fixated on fitting the crime to the excessive punishment?

Remember that by the NCAA’s own admission in their report, no smoking gun had been found as it related to Bush and Todd McNair, his running backs coach at USC who was alleged to have known about the relationship of Bush and his family with two would-be sports agents, one of them, Lloyd Lake, a convicted felon.

It was Lake’s uncorroborated testimony and hearsay that the NCAA points to as the smoking gun.  But not only is there no smoke, the gun does not even have a firing mechanism.

Was it the fear of being perceived as weak by the media and rival universities that resented USC’s success, which caused the NCAA’s Committee on Overkill-er-Infractions to dole out a punishment so harsh that it would insure nearly a decade of mediocrity for most schools?

But the very action that brings the COI’s true motivation to light was their final dictum.  They took an unprecedented action, in which they did what they accused Reggie Bush and Todd McNair of doing.  The NCAA through the actions of the COI broke its very own rule.

The NCAA bylaws state that a scholarship player must not play in any games for one year after transferring from one Division 1A school to another Division 1A school.  But the COI, in an unprecedented move, waved that rule for all juniors and seniors at USC, allowing them to transfer wherever they wished without penalty.

That was an unnecessary and an undeserved punishment that has no other end, no other feasible objective other than dismantling the USC football program over this decade.

It is a punishment that has never been levied on any other college sports program in the nation, despite far worse and more massive violations than those currently involving USC.

In short, there is no substantial justification for such an action other than resentment, jealousy and fear of reprisal from the media, and other institutions who want to see the football program at USC dismantled.

In light of their sanctions, it is obvious the NCAA hopes to turn Lane Kiffin’s “dream job” into a nightmare just as his hiring by USC has subverted the football program at the University of Tennessee. 

Furthermore, they wish to besmirch Pete Carroll’s legacy at USC, which included bringing college football to the entire community, because of his perceived arrogance and celebrity status.

They have demanded in their sanctions that the doors of Howard Jones Field be closed forever to the community of which USC is so much a part.  Yet, not one shred of evidence that any of the alleged charges resulting in sanctions was a consequence of those open practices or locker rooms open to friends, family and media.

Instead, the culprits who are responsible for whatever sanctions the NCAA has dictated remain unpunished.  It is the people of Los Angeles who have been punished instead.  It is school children and local youth clubs who came to those practices that have been punished.

It is people with disabilities like Ricky Rosas who found opportunity at those practices, not sports agents.  It was youngsters like Ryan Davidson who found joy by being around the coaches and players while fighting a disease that eventually took his life.

But in the end, it is all of us, even the most venomous USC haters who may be gloating at this point, that are being punished unjustly while the perpetrators and others like them who continue to prey upon student-athletes will remain unpunished and undeterred.

Biased to the point of cruelty, making distinctions on the basis of arbitrary rules, can the NCAA and the Committee on Infractions be a part of our society’s democratic and humanistic view of Justice?

Judgment is the process of comparing ideas in order to find agreement or disagreement with our social concept of Justice, a virtue that harkens all the way back to the days of Plato and the ancient Greeks.  Concepts such as righteousness and clemency do indeed have meaning.

The facts must be thoroughly examined and weighed.  Those who sit in judgment must clearly and wisely apply distinctions.  That which ultimately agrees is the truth.

Perhaps, those in Knoxville feel that Lane Kiffin and Mike Garrett have gotten exactly what they deserve.  But what about the Lloyd Lakes and Lamar Griffins and Reggie Bushes of this world?  What have they gotten?

Even though some of us on the surface are gloating over the NCAA’s sanctions, deep within each of us, the web of fear that clouds our daily lives with caution has been further tangled. 

At the very core of existence the fear that injustice can be thrust upon anyone of us anywhere, at work, at school, at social gatherings, on the streets of Los Angeles or Miami, on campuses in Knoxville or Austin, Texas, that fear dominates our psyche.

With judgments like this, in which the only justice is no justice, we are somehow vaguely aware that there are no level playing fields—anywhere.

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