In June 2010, USC received the most severe NCAA football sanctions since the SMU death penalty. This was primarily due to the Reggie Bush family receiving payments from a family friend and convicted felon who wanted to be Bush’s sports agent.
Shortly after, USC appealed these sanctions asking for a reduction from 30 to 15 lost scholarships over three years, from two to one-year bowl ban, and removal of the show-cause penalty for then USC running back coach Todd McNair.
USC accepted responsibility for the violations that were not appealed, and most of the sanctions.
The primary issues being appealed are:
1. The erroneous finding that Todd McNair was told about the Bush payments and did not report it due to NCAA errors and lack of due process.
2. The unprecedented finding that a summer intern employer was a representative of the university for hiring USC athletes even though this was acceptable in past years with UCLA and other college athletes.
3. The penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified and inconsistent with precedent in similar cases.
The appealed penalties will not be implemented until after the appeal decision. This means that USC accepted the first year of the bowl ban in 2010-2011, and 5 scholarship reductions in 2011 assuming the appeal decision is not rendered until after the February 2 signing day, which is likely based on NCAA delays.
Unfortunately for USC, the NCAA changed its appeal rules in 2008 to make it very difficult to win an appeal.
To make matters worse, the NCAA recently took the unprecedented action of separating the Todd McNair part of the appeal from the USC appeal as discussed in USC Football: Trojans Sanction Appeal is Rigged Like NCAA Sanctions.
Unlike most other colleges that received NCAA sanctions because they (or their boosters) gave money to multiple athletes either to entice them to attend or keep them, USC or its boosters were not involved in any payments to Bush’s family.
In fact, the payments by outside parties were designed to get Bush to leave USC, which he did a year earlier than required.
Yet, USC received more severe football sanctions involving primarily a single athlete. The NCAA errors involving the two key witnesses were known and not corrected, and unprecedented findings were designed to attempt to justify the harsh sanctions.
Here is comprehensive information about the NCAA vs. USC for those interested in the details.
The USC case illustrates many problems with the NCAA enforcement process. Fixes are discussed in Eight Solutions to Fix the NCAA and Improve College Football.
Here are 10 reasons that the NCAA should drop the second-year bowl ban for USC. The case is even stronger for the reduction of the 30 scholarship penalty.
Paul Dee, NCAA Committee of Infractions head, justified the committee’s decision for a two-year bowl ban at his June 11, 2010, news conference about the USC sanctions, “It was the number of bowl games that the individual participated in.”
However, there is no precedent for the determination that a single ineligible football player results in a two-year bowl ban. The NCAA vacated both bowl games. That is the appropriate penalty for an ineligible player.
What if USC had two ineligible players? Would that mean a four-year bowl ban? And for three, six and so on … name any other college that has received a bowl ban consistent with that explanation.
Does the NCAA really want to set this precedent? They have failed to use it in any case since the USC one, so clearly the answer is "no".
If the NCAA doesn't want this precedent to apply to other colleges, then they need to change it during the Trojan appeal.
Even more ridiculous is the Paul Dee explanation for the USC 30-scholarship reduction as discussed in USC Football: Trojans Sanction Appeal is Rigged Like NCAA Sanctions">USC Football: Trojans Sanction Appeal is Rigged Like NCAA Sanctions.
USC Athletes including QB Matt Barkley
The current USC team did nothing wrong, and many were in junior high school at the time violations were committed. It does not make sense to punish them by taking away the bowl game opportunity.
It appears that the NCAA may not have enough teams qualify for bowl games this year, and this could be a problem next year also.
If the NCAA wanted to punish USC, it could have demanded that USC forfeit any bowl game funds the university receives over expenses.
Dan Weber and Bryan Fisher have published several reports, NCAA Missteps on McNair and Exclusive: Investigation Illustrated that detail the NCAA mistakes and faulty finding about the connection between Todd McNair, Lloyd Lake, and Reggie Bush. This was the only connection with USC in the NCAA report.
These reports prove that that the NCAA did not come close to meeting its required burden of proof, even by the very low standards of the NCAA.
Even worse, the NCAA knew about the mistakes involving the two key witnesses and did nothing to correct them even though it took four years to conduct its investigation.
Any reasonable person would have to conclude that USC did not know about the Bush family payments after reviewing the NCAA USC Report, USC response to the NCAA, and the Weber/Fisher reports.
As discussed in the HeismanPundit.com on June 14, “To come to that conclusion, the NCAA took several leaps of faith. Under direct questioning, the principle accusers involved never actually admit to having knowledge of USC knowing anything about the situation. Nonetheless, the NCAA reverse engineers the process to reach that end, not unlike the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. First the verdict, then the trial. . . Again, USC deserves sanctions. Without a doubt. But, it should’'ve gotten a one-year bowl ban … and a less harsh scholarship reduction. This program did not pay its players, nor did its boosters pay recruits, as we have seen in recent years in other leagues . . . I think the NCAA is acting in bad faith and has overplayed its hand.”
Alabama Player in 2007
USC received the most sanctions since the SMU death penalty in 1987.
USC did not benefit from the Lloyd Lake payments to the Bush family, unlike other colleges or their boosters that paid multiple athletes and received lesser sanctions.
Here is an Alabama example:
In 2002 Alabama received five years' probation, a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 21 scholarships over three years after it was found that Crimson Tide boosters paid players (there were 10 major violations and five minor ones).
The most publicized cases include boosters making five-figure payments to two recruits. Two boosters involved in repeated rules violations were known to the Alabama staff, coaches and fans and often were seen at the team hotel during road games. Boosters paid players.
Again, boosters paid players. That's the ultimate sin in college sports because it provides a competitive advantage. Preventing pay-for-play is the chief reason the NCAA exists.
This was done under the repeat violator rules.
Alabama was told that if other violations occur during the probationary period, then the death penalty could result.
Alabama was then sanctioned for infractions in 16 of 19 sports in 2009 (201 athletes including 22 “intentional wrongdoers” in football, track and tennis). The Crimson Tide had to vacate 21 wins from 2005-2007 seasons and were put on three years probation. There were no scholarship losses.
Alabama’s appeal was denied. It was on probation at the time from the prior NCAA sanctions, yet no death penalty was imposed as previously stated by the NCAA.
Recent news articles about many other colleges who have athletes receiving payments from sports agents prove this problem is widespread and has been for many years.
The NCAA and its colleges are only aware of a few cases, and these are enforced inconsistently. It is very difficult to detect payments by sports agents to athletes because they know this violates NCAA rules, and are secretive. This is the same reason that USC did not know about it.
Lloyd Lake has made it very clear that he never would have reported the Bush payments to the media or NCAA if he had received re-payment from Bush, who refused to pay him the $3.2M that he demanded.
No one would have known, just like almost all the other sports agent payments at successful football colleges.
The NCAA has done nothing to control sports agents and there is little that a college can do to control them.
College football is the minor leagues for the NFL, so the NCAA could develop a solution with the NFL to control sports marketers/agents.
The non-profit NCAA has net assets of $400M, growing at the rate of $40M per year siphoned from college television revenues. It cannot say there is a lack of resources to solve this problem.
It is not fair to USC, or any other college, to hold them responsible for the NCAA’s failure.
In July, Alabama head coach Nick Saban referred to agents preying on players and jeopardizing their eligibility by saying, “How are they any better than a pimp?” Saban suggested penalizing the NFL, perhaps limiting the access and cooperation their scouts receive on campus.
But, the real problem is that the NCAA has not attempted to solve this problem with the NFL, and who else is in a position to do this?
The NCAA report cited the “NCAA Principle of Amateurism” to justify the findings against USC.
But, the “non-profit” NCAA has net assets of $400M and is adding $40-50M per year, which far exceeds its management and administrative budget of $29M. Why does the NCAA need all this money?
College coaches make millions of dollars. Conference expansion is all about money.
However, football athletes are deprived of their right to become professional until three years after high school and they are prevented from having part-time jobs during the school year to make extra money like other students.
The athletes from lower income families are the ones who commit the most major infractions due to lack of money, yet the NCAA won’t allow colleges to give them a stipend that would eliminate most major infractions.
The NCAA has the funds to do this. It is no different than giving needs-based scholarships to non-athlete students.
The NCAA bears part of the blame for low income athletes taking money.
USC vs. Notre Dame
The NCAA Infractions Committee included representatives from Miami (leader), Notre Dame, and Nebraska.
This is a clear conflict of interest because these colleges are competitors for national championships, which require the best recruiting.
Giving USC harsh sanctions by taking away two years of bowl games and 30 scholarships means that these colleges all benefit by having a better chance to get the better athletes while USC will be at a disadvantage for many years.
For example, USC’s (and the national) No. 1 2010 recruit, Seantrel Henderson is now attending Miami.
Notre Dame will have a better chance of beating USC in the next five years, after losing the last eight games.
If the NCAA had any ethics, you would think that none of the colleges represented on the Committee of Infractions would be allowed to recruit and sign USC athletes. Of course, Miami is no better for taking advantage of the conflict of interest.
The mistakes and unprecedented findings and sanctions add further credibility to the effects of this conflict of interest.
The NCAA also made the unprecedented finding that Bush’s $8-an-hour internship with sports marketer Michael Ornstein, which was known by the NCAA at the time, constituted illegal benefits and erroneously classified Ornstein as a booster.
Ornstein had previously hired UCLA and other college athletes as summer interns without any problems with the NCAA.
USC was never told that the NCAA considered Ornstein a booster until the NCAA findings were issued. Using it as a finding for a major infraction shows how far the NCAA will go to rationalize an infraction.
Paul Dee was Athletic Director at the University of Miami. Miami told the NCAA that rapper Luther Campbell wasn’t a booster because he never donated to the school. But, as head of the NCAA Committee of Infractions, Paul Dee found that Ornstein was a representative of USC athletic interests because he hired interns only from USC one year, a ruling that has no precedent in NCAA history.
To justify the proposed sanctions, the NCAA created new precedent without any clarification that high-profile athletes require enhanced compliance, yet faulted the University for not meeting this previously non-existent and vague standard.
The NCAA is waving the one year waiting period for transfers, a punishment that has never been used before (made possible by the combination of the 2-year bowl ban and a recently effective rule).
The NCAA argued that open practices (and granting sideline passes) were an issue and without precedent proposed USC close practices, yet offered no evidence to support the conclusion that it had any relationship with the infractions.