USC received the most harsh football sanctions since the 1987 SMU death penalty on June 10, 2010. Most of the media and fans of teams who have lost to USC or compete for national championships have called them cheaters and deserving of the NCAA sanctions or worse. They present a one-sided and often misleading reports about USC and ignore information about the unfair NCAA sanctions.
USC quickly appealed some of the football sanctions and presented their case to the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) on January 22. After the hearing, USC President Max Nikias thanked the committee for the opportunity to present the school’s case and described the process as “a good and fair hearing. We just have to wait for the ruling.”
The wait was shorter than expected. Today, the NCAA IAC upheld the USC appeal. This is only the second time in the last 12 appeals that an appeal has been granted since the rules were changed in 2008. The other case was Alabama State.
No one thought that the NCAA would render such a quick and fair decision, including recent media articles. The NCAA changed their appeal process to avoid reviewing mistakes made by the COI, so their decisions would not be changed.
For Trojan fans this is like Christmas in January. USC already has a top five recruiting class in spite of the NCAA sanctions, and there are likely to be some additional top recruits signing on Feb. 2 that may make this the best class in the nation.
Christopher Griffin, chair of the IAC, explained that many of the Committee of Infractions (COI) rulings were contrary to the evidence and violated NCAA rules, and they abused their discretion in determining the penalties.
“There was no reasonable basis for the finding that USC should have known about the student-athlete 1 [Reggie Bush] payments,” said Griffin. “The COI and enforcement staff violated NCAA rules during the interviews with the key witness [Lloyd Lake], and failed to consider the inherent conflict of interest of this witness given a lawsuit against student-athlete 1. Furthermore, several other rulings by the COI created new precedent and that exceeded their authority.”
Griffin explained that these errors were so significant that all remaining football sanctions against USC have been dropped effectively immediately. He said, “The sanctions already completed including the first year bowl ban, the transfers of junior/senior athletes to date, and most of the games vacated are sufficient penalties for the remaining football violations.”
During the appeals hearing, USC was able to show that the Reggie Bush violations did not begin until the spring of 2005, so the first two football games vacated including the 2004 BCS national championship game will be reinstated.
The appeal decision was expected to take four to six weeks. Griffin explained the quicker decision as follows, “The NCAA is aware that the national signing period begins on Feb. 2, and it was important that USC and the athletes involved receive the appeals decision prior to that time.”
The NCAA also acted quickly in several other recent high profile cases including the Auburn Cam Newton decision (less than a day) and the Ohio State Terrelle Pryor (and friends) Sugar Bowl decision.
Since the COI ruling USC has replaced its President, Athletic Director, and established the largest compliance staff in Division I. However, none of this could be considered by the Infraction Appeals Committee per NCAA rules. USC also has a new football coaching staff.
USC athletic director Pat Haden said, “We thank the NCAA Infraction Appeals Committee for their quick and fair ruling. The committee exceeded our expectations by reducing the sanctions more than requested, and showed a real understanding of the issues in this case.”
USC head coach Lane Kiffin was even more excited about the decision. He said, “This past year has seemed like 10 years. Now we will be able to complete the signing of another top recruiting class, and get back to competing for national championships. I am happy for the current Trojan football athletes who were being punished even though they had nothing to do with anything that occurred five years ago.”
It is expected that USC will sign the full 25 athletes allowed by NCAA rules plus the nine early enrollees that have already begun classes.
In related news, the NCAA also upheld the appeal of former USC running back coach Todd McNair. The NCAA separated his appeal from the USC one in an unprecedented decision late last year.
The details of the McNair decision are confidential due to a rumored settlement reached with him for the damages he incurred as a result of the COI rulings. McNair was unwilling (or unable) to comment but he must be pleased to be vindicated.
Julie Roe Lach, appointed by new NCAA president Mark Emmert as Vice President of Enforcement, has been conducting a study of the enforcement processes including the Committee of Infractions. It is expected that the USC appeals decision will be considered and result in changes in processes and personnel.
Attempts to contact Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and other member football coaches about the appeal decision have been unsuccessful so far. The Pac-10 conference did nothing to help USC contrary to the Big 10 and SEC in their recent cases. This is surprising because USC generates more revenue for the conference than any other college.
It will be interesting to see how the media and fans who jumped on the anti-USC bandwagon respond to this story.
P.S. Sadly this “spoof” reflects what the NCAA should do, but it will never happen from an organization that believes it does not have to be consistent, refuses to have written standards for infractions or sanctions, ignores conflicts of interests in hearings, and has rarely been fair. Much that has been written about USC and the NCAA’s findings do not report all the facts and are misleading, and in many cases are not accurate. For those of you looking for something more humorous about the NCAA and sanctions while waiting for good news on national signing day checkout these: NCAA rules come in not-so-fine print and NCAA: "Because we can."