USC Sanctions: Unjust Penalties Against UW a Decade Ago Might Force NCAA's Hand

Phil CaldwellCorrespondent IIIJanuary 21, 2011

As the University of Southern California finally gets their appeal of sanctions heard on Saturday, the past history of another storied Pac-10 program may be forcing the hands of those doing the ruling. Reduced sanctions in 2011 may be a lost cause, because of what went on in 1993 and 1994.

On August 22, 1993, following an eight-month investigation the Pac-10 Conference (and NOT the NCAA) put the University of Washington football program on probation for 1993 and 1994.

Included in the penalties against the University of Washington was a two-year bowl ban, a reduction of 10 scholarships per season, a one-year television ban, funds from television forfeited for a year, halving recruiting trips from 70 to 35 in 1993 and 40 in 1994 and a two-year probationary period.

The ban on television appearances cost the university over $1.4 million from lost tv revenue. And in spite of the conference stating, “There was no evidence that UW set out to achieve a competitive advantage,” they nevertheless crippled the program with the most severe punishment in conference history.

All this started from a Seattle Times report about a $50,000 loan to then-QB Billy Joe Hobert, by an outsider with no connection to the Husky program. Charles Rice was an Idaho scientist but not a UW booster. The NCAA eventually ruled Hobert had lost his eligibility and thus the school was not punished for that allegation, but Hobert was. 

During the investigation of Hobert, a number of wild allegations were put forth by the LA Times about the University of Washington—most of which were discarded in the final analysis. 

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Headlines screamed things like “Drug Ring has Husky Connection,” “Huskies Pressure Accuser,” “Huskies Investigated by Secret Service,” “Husky Players Sold Prescription Drugs,” “Players Claim They Need Guns,” etc.

LA Times reporters Danny Robbins and Elliot Almond ran many more stories based on accusations from five former UW players who had a falling out with Don James in the years prior, one of whom sued Husky coaches and physicians over shoulder treatment he had been given. Two others had been dismissed from the team after they were arrested during an altercation with Santa Ana police prior to the Freedom Bowl game. 

None of the allegations were part of the notice of charges filed against the Huskies that led to the final sanctions. But because of the stories and accusations, the name of Don James and the University of Washington was dragged through the mud in Southern California and the rest of the nation.

What was not thrown out, however, were claims that a Los Angeles booster in Southern California had loosely managed several Husky players and paid them for minimal or non-existent work in summer jobs.

Some of the players claimed it was never as it was alleged, insisting that while one or two guys had filled in extra hours on their time cards with inflated hours, due to the booster being out of town and not keeping track of what was going on, that was the exception but certainly not the norm.

Both the Pac-10 and NCAA ruled otherwise. 

When the Pac-10 penalties came down, Husky nation was outraged over the severity, since all associated with Don James and his staff had little to no knowledge of any of this. And it was unlikely they could have known about it. 

Jerry Kingston, head of the Pac-10 committee that recommended the penalties, sounded like he agreed when he said, “We have not found the University of Washington guilty in that sense,” but then later, he astoundingly added, “There is an environment here that allows you to be taken care of, and that would create both a recruiting and ultimately, a competitive advantage.” 

Husky fans insisted the latter statement contradicted the former statement.

Even rival coaches felt the Pac-10 sanctions on UW were far too severe. Then-Washington State coach Jim Walden said, “It’s almost like police brutality that the conference would go beyond the law. They put the death penalty on Don James, one of the most highly respected people in our profession.”

Don James felt his own university had turned their back on him when they apparently negotiated an extra year of bowl ban in exchange for one less television year. He was even more critical of the Pac-10, saying, “It seemed like they were out to get us because we were so good, rather than help us get through this.”

Coach James quit in protest over the entire matter, feeling it was a kangaroo court from the start. Former UW president William Gerberding added, “Some small minds and people seized the opportunity to punish our coach, our team and our university.”  

Players on the Husky team even went so far as to file a lawsuit against the Pac-10, claiming breech of contract, penalties “grossly disproportionate to the University’s violations” and evidence of a conspiracy engineered by UW’s Pac-10 competitors to sideline UW’s football program and thereby improve their own records.

Meanwhile, schools like Auburn had been given similar penalties as those imposed on UW, but with far more egregious crimes. 

Two years prior, former Auburn players Eric Ramsey and Alex Strong claimed they had been paid by assistant coaches, with Strong claiming he had received "a couple of thousand a year" from former Auburn assistant Frank Young. Here was the University of Washington, absolved of knowledge, being hit with more sanctions and penalties than schools where their own coaching staffs were caught red-handed.

How could this be fair?

But in spite of all the Husky whining about the Pac-10 sanctions, things got far worse the following April 27. The NCAA, feeling that they wanted in on this too, slapped the Huskies with a second year of a television ban, through 1994, and added a third year of probation extending the time to the summer of 1996. 

All while no evidence of any wrongdoing by the University of Washington other than ticky-tac matters like $2 fruit bowls given to recruits and free T-shirts during a visit, had been proved.

What drove Husky fans nuts was knowing that every single school in the nation was guilty of similar things, but had not been discovered simply because they had not been investigated. The real crime UW was guilty of was being investigated in the first place!  How could UW be penalized for minor issues that every single university in the country was also guilty of? Why single out only one school?

Nevertheless, the NCAA alleged the dreaded and vague “lack of institutional control,” mostly centered on allegations that university had not monitored the use of entertainment and meal money by athletes above allowable amounts.

Needless to say, the University of Washington and their fans were absolutely livid. There were calls to quit the Pac-10 and become an independent. And to this day, now almost two decades later, Husky alumni are still furious about what went on during these investigations.

UW did manage to have several decent seasons following all this in 2001, winning the Rose Bowl, but the past 10 years have been a nightmare, bottoming out with a 0-12 record several years ago. Most feel all of this is the legacy of sanctions that were far too severe for the crime, and bogus reports made famous by unscrupulous newspaper reporters in Los Angeles.

All of which brings us back to the USC situation and their appeal to be heard tomorrow.  

With the Reggie Bush situation, the sanctions on USC are similar in punch to those placed on the University of Washington by the Pac-10, let alone those piled on a year later by the NCAA.    

The NCAA hit the Trojans with a two-year bowl ban, four years of probation and loss of scholarships similar to what UW paid. But unlike the Huskies, the Trojans were not banned from television, though they are being threatened with having to forfeit all games and a national championship won in 2004.

But the Pac-10 never hit the Trojans like they did the University of Washington—football rivals judging a program that had repeatedly beaten all of them for years, all while claiming justice.

Thus the question becomes, considering what was done to the University of Washington by not only the LA Times and how they reported so many things that were not deemed credible enough to become part of the case, but also by the Pac-10, how can USC  complain when their program was convicted of far deeper issues than UW ever had? 

If USC wins their appeal, how is this fair to other programs slapped with similar sanctions by the NCAA?

And thus the greater problem facing USC is not whether they were guilty or not, or whether the investigations were fair, nor whether witnesses were credible. The issue is: since so many other programs have made similar accusations about the NCAA, why should USC be treated any differently?

And how can any of this be just, when other rival programs in the conference have alumni donating hundreds of millions specifically to athletic programs for a competitive advantage?  

The NCAA justifies all this investigating and sanctions as their tools to keep things fair.  And yet they’re allowing hundreds of millions donated to other programs that directly tie to recruiting? 

How is this fair? How COULD this be fair?

Furthermore, how can an organization earning billions of dollars from TV contracts, rule fairly when certain members earn more of that revenue for the NCAA, than do other programs like the University of Washington?  And how is it fair for an organization that refuses to pay their athletes be in charge of all this?

Isn’t this a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house?

All these are matters that signify a huge hill to climb for the University of Southern California tomorrow. Especially when rival schools have still not forgiven conference foes of their part in what was done to the University of Washington in 1993, and when rival schools benefit from a USC on probation.


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