USC Football: Trojans Sanction Appeal Is Rigged Like NCAA Sanctions

Bill N@@Bill_N1Correspondent INovember 15, 2010

Reggie Bush
Reggie BushJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

In June 2010, USC received the most severe NCAA 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 scholarship losses over three years, from two to one bowl ban and removal of the show-cause penalty for Todd McNair. 

Let’s discuss the topics below regarding the USC football sanctions and appeal, including breaking news about another unprecedented NCAA action in the case:

1.  Unjust NCAA Sanctions

2.  USC and McNair Separated for Appeals

3.  Real NCAA Reason for USC Sanctions

4.  Appeal Will be Denied

5.  Sue the NCAA

6.  Scholarship Issues

7.  USC Appeal - Help or Hurt

Unjust NCAA USC Football Sanctions

Any reasonable person who studied the NCAA report, related transcripts and news reports will conclude that the NCAA acted without precedent and broke their own rules in many of the findings and the sanctions against USC. 

While many other colleges have felt the NCAA was unfair in their infraction cases, none are as obvious and convoluted as those against the Trojan football team.  Highlights are included in two articles:  Ten Reasons Why USC Football NCAA Sanctions are Not Fair and NCAA vs. USC.

McNair’s appeal and the related article by Bryan Fischer, McNair alleges serious NCAA misconduct, errors in appeal, document many of the mistakes made by the NCAA including breaking their own by-laws.

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.  This was confirmed by former agent Josh Luchs and former college athletes including Charles Barkley.  

The hypocrisy of the NCAA is that they have done nothing to work with the NFL to control sports agents and marketers, and instead, selectively punish the colleges and athletes (most have committed no violations).

The NCAA has no credible evidence linking USC to any involvement in the Bush payments, and none of this benefited the Trojans.  Yet, the NCAA hammered USC with sanctions designed to keep the football program from being successful for many years. 

Other colleges have received far less sanctions for being involved in recruiting and athlete retention payments that benefited the college and included many athletes.

For example, Paul Dee, head of the NCAA Committee of Infractions, was Athletic Director at the University of Miami, and 80 of his athletes received about $600,000.  He determined that only seven scholarship reductions were appropriate.  But, he decided that USC needed to lose 30 scholarships and be banned from two bowls for a violation involving one player that the school was not involved with and received no benefit.

The explanation that Paul Dee provided for determining the 30 scholarship sanctions for USC is so ridiculous and stupid that it show the NCAA Committee of Infractions was arbitrary and capricious. 

His explanation was that the 30 scholarship reduction represents the USC notoriety gained by Bush’s participation and resulted in USC being able to recruit that many athletes because of Reggie Bush. 

He has no basis for this determination.

This is an insult to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, as well as other USC stars (Troy Polamalu, Lofi Tatupu, Shawn Cody, Mike Patterson, etc.) during this time. Not to mention the fact that USC has historically sent the most players to the NFL, which is somewhat important to top recruits; or the 11 national championships starting in 1928; or the television coverage that USC enjoys.

The NCAA ignored their precedent of reducing two scholarships for each ineligible player.

None of this considers the fact that the NCAA has allowed USC juniors and seniors to transfer to other Division I colleges without sitting out a year, and this adds to the scholarship reductions.

The NCAA based most of the USC football sanctions on a two-and-a-half minute phone call at 1:34 AM on January 8, 2006 between Lloyd Lake and USC’s Todd McNair, after Bush had finished playing football at USC.  Lake claimed he told McNair about the Bush payments to solicit his help to get Bush to pay him back. 

The NCAA relied on this hearsay testimony of this convicted felon about the phone call even thought they concluded that he lied in other testimony about a party involving McNair, and the NCAA knew that he was mistaken about who placed the call.

This is nonsense. 

No reasonable person would believe that such a short conversation in the middle of the night could possibly explain the relationship between Lake and Bush in a way that McNair could understand and attempt to do something about it.  

This explanation was provided by McNair and ignored by the NCAA.

Let’s also not forget that this was a convicted felon who had a conflict of interest due to his lawsuit with Bush and his use of the NCAA to force a settlement.


USC and McNair Separated for Appeals

Now we can see how the NCAA’s animosity against USC is playing out. 

McNair appeared before the NCAA Committee on Appeals this weekend to ask them to vacate the findings against him due to lack of evidence—the unfair, one-sided and mistake-filled process, the contradictory findings, the unsubstantiated testimony, and the general sloppiness of the case as presented by the NCAA Enforcement Staff.

But, USC was barred from participation. 

Apparently the NCAA has separated the school and its employee for the Appeals portion of the case, another ruling that is without precedent.  

The USC Appeals Hearing is assumed to take place in January 2011 according to J.K. McKay, USC associate athletic director for football.

Most of the national media folks who cover college football and those who understand how the NCAA works believe that USC will not get its sanctions reduced.  They have paid little attention to the details of the case, because they don’t care.

They justify the way USC is being treated by stating that this case is different and can’t be compared to any other case. 

So, it is no surprise to them that the NCAA is going to so limit the scope of USC’s appeal that it can’t be won no matter how innovative or aggressive the appeal.

That is exactly what the NCAA has done by separating the Todd McNair part of the appeal.

The McNair appeal addresses only the show-cause penalty on him. 

It does not address the USC football scholarship and bowl-ban sanctions levied on USC that are primarily based on the NCAA belief that McNair was told about the Bush payments by Lake in January 2006.

If USC is not allowed to include the McNair issues in their appeal, they have little basis for getting the scholarship reductions and bowl ban changed.

There is no one else at USC that the NCAA cited in their report having any knowledge of the Bush payments. 

The NCAA has demonstrated they can and will do anything they want, regardless of their own rules and precedent.

The USC Infractions Hearing was by far the longest on record, and McNair’s eight hours of testimony is longer than most prior hearings. 

The reason for this is so the NCAA could build its case for an appeal denial since the new rules don’t allow anything discussed with the Committee of Infractions to be appealed.

In other words, the USC case has been rigged since the investigation began almost five years ago.


Real NCAA Reason for USC Sanctions

One can only speculate why the NCAA has treated USC so unfairly. 

USC’s previous Athletic Director, Mike Garrett, appeared to have very little to do with the NCAA.  In retrospect, this was not very wise because the Trojans did not have the relationships to protect themselves like other colleges.

While the NCAA report states that USC fully cooperated, this is not likely and it probably angered the Committee of Infractions. 

USC believed that they had no knowledge of the Bush payments, they were excluded by the NCAA from the Lake testimony, and Bush refused to provide sufficient information.  Pete Carroll didn’t trust the NCAA (for good reason).

Therefore, USC did not believe the NCAA accusation that the school knew about Bush payments was valid, and they refused to give themselves football sanctions like the basketball and tennis programs.

USC had more football success in the past decade than any other team.  However, the fact that Trojan athletes received three Heisman trophies in four years probably increased the level of resentment to new highs.  The run on BCS bowls and national championships didn’t help either.

This must have really upset the SEC members, among others, who probably believe that the only way USC could do this is to cheat.  Of course, many of the SEC colleges have a record of multiple NCAA infractions, and they participate in the NCAA committee process far more than USC to protect themselves.

The Committee of Infractions included representatives from colleges who had a conflict of interest because their football programs would benefit from USC sanctions.


USC Appeal Will be Denied

It is clear that the NCAA is treating USC different from any other college. 

Separating McNair from the USC appeal is further evidence because it was the basis for the NCAA sanctions and is also the primary basis for the USC appeal.

The NCAA in its convoluted logic will likely find that the rest of the USC appeals case was already covered in the Infractions Hearing, and therefore, under current NCAA appeals rules, will deny the appeal.

The NCAA appeal rules were changed a few years ago to make it very difficult to be successful; only one appeal has been upheld during this time.


Sue the NCAA

It is very unlikely that USC will sue the NCAA.  The problem with the NCAA is that you can’t win, even if you are successful with a lawsuit.

The best defense against the NCAA is to establish a good working relationship with them and get involved in committees.  New USC Athletic Director, Pat Haden, is attempting to do this.  He won’t want to antagonize the NCAA further with a lawsuit, no matter how justified.

This is too bad because USC would likely win a lawsuit and perhaps bring about necessary constructive change with the NCAA infraction process.

A lawsuit is the best thing that USC could do for college football.  But, USC can’t afford to take the chance of further angering the NCAA which cannot be trusted to be fair and appears vindictive.

However, McNair may sue if he loses his appeal, and the NCAA will likely settle out of court to avoid further embarrassment and mandated changes.


USC Scholarship Issues

If the NCAA hears the university’s appeal in January 2011, then the actual decision might come after the Feb. 2 signing date. 

Paul Dee said at the press conference announcing the USC sanctions that the appeal will delay implementation of the related sanctions until the appeal decision is rendered.  This may mean that USC can sign 20 players (since USC did not appeal a reduction of five players per year) in 2011 regardless of the appeal results. 

If the appeal is denied in January, USC will be limited to signing 15 players.

USC can also sign at least nine early enrollees if they enroll by January and not count against the 2011 scholarship limit. 

Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, long snapper Peter McBride, kicker Andre Heidari, Miami transfer receiver Thearon Collier, and fullback/linebacker Soma Vainuku (if academically qualified) can enroll early.  Defensive Lineman Sheldon Richardson from College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, may also be able to enroll early.  Former Tennessee freshman all-american offensive tackle Aaron Douglas should be able to enroll in January, and USC and Arkansas are his top two schools.

So, the issue is whether USC can sign 15 or 20 players for 2011 plus the early enrollees. 

It appears that USC is not waiting for the NCAA’s appeal ruling and is working towards signing 20 players plus nine early enrollees.  The Trojans cannot get stuck in limbo signing day with only 70 scholarship players.

Lane Kiffin won’t say much about this because USC does not want to discuss the scholarship math before the NCAA appeals hearing.

USC cannot afford to tackle in practice to avoid injury and only played 41 scholarship athletes against No. 1 Oregon; this can’t continue.

USC Appeal – Help or Hurt

USC had to appeal.

Many of the NCAA findings and sanctions were so egregious they demanded an appeal.

But, the appeal delays implementation of some sanctions.  The timing of the NCAA appeal decision may hurt USC recruiting because it is uncertain, as are the results.

It is likely that USC will lose its appeal, especially since the NCAA has shown its hand again with separating the McNair part of the appeal. 

Earlier the NCAA improperly defended the Committee of Infractions decision when director of public and media relations Stacey Oshburn commented on the USC infractions case on June 25, 2010, even though the NCAA’s policy is not to comment on specific cases. 

It is unlikely that USC will sue the NCAA, which could lead to mandated changes for the NCAA to the benefit of college football.

So, it appears that this appeal will hurt USC and the fault lies with the NCAA. 

P.S. December 2, 2010 update on the appeal from the Orange County Register:  "USC Football: Latest on the Appeal."  Note that there is no mention of the Todd McNair appeal because it has been separated, and little information is available.

This is an opinion article based on discussions with other media representatives and detailed studies of the NCAA report, USC and Todd McNair responses, and other related news articles.


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