Just say No, USC, just say No
Another Monday -- and a whole weekend to think about the NCAA report and the over-the-top sanctions for USC. Time for some answers.
What do you say now that you've had more time to think about all this? How do you respond to the NCAA Committee on Infractions other than by putting together the best possible football team this fall and preparing a killer appeal for the Appeals Committee?
One word, actually, is all you need to respond to two of the Committee's more outrageous prescriptions.
No we won't do that.
No, we won't profile any of our players.
No, we won't give them extra scrutiny just because they're, as you so cutely called them out on the front page of your poorly-written, shoddily reasoned, shockingly unpersuasive report -- "one-and-done" basketball players or high-profile Heisman Trophy-candidate football players.
No we won't have a separate standard for them. Show us where it's in the NCAA rulebook that we must do that. Because here's the deal.
You want us to profile the likes of Reggie Bush, huh? And I'm guessing maybe someone like Alabama's Mark Engram, should he have come here. Or Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson if he'd have ended up at USC.
But why do I bet you're not talking about profiling with the same level of extra scrutiny Heisman Trophy candidates like Washington's Jake Locker, Stanford's Andrew Luck, or from recent seasons past, Florida's Tim Tebow, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or maybe even our own Carson Palmer.
Just a guess. But how much have you hounded Florida to make sure they were auditing the collections at the church of the high-profile Tebow's father, just to make sure no Florida Gator folks had joined to drop some extra coins in the collection plate. Should they do that? Of course not. That would be an outlandish invasion of privacy and assumption of guilt.
Just as it is here.
Then there's basketball. Did you realize there were two high-profile "one-and-done" players who hit LA that same year. One of them was an outstanding student and leader, rode a bike since he didn't own a car, lived in the dorms, worked exceptionally hard, did everything asked of him and completed all his coursework before moving on. His father was in prison and his single mother took care of O.J. Mayo's younger siblings by working in a doctor's office in a gritty Ohio River town that had seen better days -- Huntington, W. Va. Mayo, it was clear, since he was in the eighth grade pretty much had taken care of himself.
The other young man who shared that Sports Illustrated cover with Mayo, was Kevin Love, living off-campus, driving a big SUV to Westwood for school and practice, and having a heck of a good time. Great kid, Came from a great family. Dad a former NBA player, uncle the lead singer of the Beach Boys, mom a professional nurse, sister a budding equestrian star. Came from leafy Lake Oswego, Oregon, one of the nicest suburbs in America. But he was at UCLA for one reason. He couldn't go to the NBA until the next year.
Which of these two young men do you think the NCAA COI expected the the school they attended to give them extra scrutiny?
That's called profiling. And that's what the NCAA clearly expected USC to do. After all, look at all the signs -- single mom, teen mother, other children at home, dad in prison. Could it be more obvious?
All you have to do is sit these kids down for that first compliance interview and ask them. Is he your real dad -- or your step-father? Does your family rent or own? Can you show us the payments? How many younger siblings do you have? How much money do your parents make? Do they have any felonious friends? Can we see your tax returns and bank statements?
No, just you Mr. Mayo. You, too, Mr. Bush. Mr. Tebow, Mr. Love, you're fine.
Man, Arizona got killed by people who were sure the new immigration law there would guarantee profiling even if the folks there said the language said otherwise. But look at this NCAA report. And listen to Chair Paul Dee's words. They flat out say it to USC, and any other program with players like Reggie and O.J.: Profile these guys.
Absolutely. You know that part where they told USC no more open practices, no more letting people in from the neighborhood, no more alums, or fans, people just walking by. No, no, no.
And here's what USC should say to that.
No we won't. We're not letting you profile, or stereotype LA. Nothing bad happened as the result of an open practice at USC ever. You think Lake and Michaels were coming around to be seen in the light of day? But pee wee football teams did. And neighborhood kids. How about Ricky Rosas? Would he have gotten stopped at the gate the first time he showed up under your rules?
So no, NCAA Committee on Infractions. We're not going to do that. You can't make us. Show us where it says we have to act like the SEC and have state troopers guarding the field during practice. Sorry, that doesn't fly here. We want our team to be part of the community and vice versa.
Is that a competitive advantage since they can't do that in Starkville, Miss., or Pullman, Wash. and have Will Ferrell or Snoop Dogg stop by? Tough. This campus is in LA. And this community is part of USC and USC a part of this community and we're not letting some close-minded, envious prigs from nowhere near the West Coast tell us without any evidence that they somehow didn't approve of the "environment."
They have no right to make an arbitrary, prejudiced, uninformed anti-LA call like that. Sorry this isn't South Bend. Or North Broad Street in Philly, where the Temple law professor who signed off on this couldn't imagine, I'd guess, that anyone would ever even consider stopping by to watch the Owls practice. Too bad. Instead of telling USC what they can't do, why not make the Temple campus inviting and safe enough, and your program good enough, to get fans to want to stop by.
How does USC go about going public here? How does it take over the narrative to tell its story, to show how unreasonably unprecedented the NCAA's actions have been here?
USC needs a public face now. No more secrecy. No more "No comments." And no more Mike Garrett as the occasional spokesman and de facto program head. He immediately assumes "emeritus" status as athletics director while someone with the profile of a Pat Haden or maybe a Rich McKay from the NFL is recruited to lead the program. Ideally ask Garrett, who despite his quirky personality, has been a true, loyal Trojan, to take on duties of rallying USC athletics alums to come forward to support the public in every forum available to them. But as Garrett showed last Thursday, he's been a loose cannon too often when he does speak.
As to the public part of this. Imagine the impact if USC had been able to release its hard-hitting 179-page December response to the NCAA before the Committee made its decision. Or if that youtube.com Todd McNair deposition had leaked. USC must go public here every day -- in every way.
You said last week that this decision makes it clear the NCAA expects that USC, and maybe every athletics department in the country, will have to go out and hire an ex-FBI agent as a director of security like the NFL teams do. And then USC goes out and hires ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh's law firm to do just that? Where should this all go?
USC should get Freeh's group to concentrate not on USC, which is what the unscrupulous agents want them to do. Freeh and Co. should help USC, using the exact rationale of the NCAA Infractions Committee in punishing USC for not being proactive enough here in "monitoring" the conduct of agents, pursue the NCAA for the same sort of violation. When, if ever, has the NCAA gone after the unscrupulous agents, the demonstrated bad actors, the guys who are leading players astray?
When has the NCAA gone to the players and agents associations, gone to the NBA and NFL, and worked out arrangements to police all of this?
It hasn't. It expects USC to do so. Guess what Bill Duffy, the agent Mayo fired when it was found out his involvement with street agent Rodney Guillory in signing Mayo, is doing these days? He's still signing college players. How can one school on its own solve these kinds of systemic problems that derive from all sorts of pro league rules and differences in what's allowed and not allowed by sport.
But the NCAA expected USC to do so. And appears, after not living up to its own responsibilities, to have thrown a temper tantrum because USC didn't. Reminds me of that cellphone video last month from the grade school classroom in Houston where the 13-year-old wise guy had locked his teacher out of the room and was acting out. And then she got back into the classroom and kicked the you know what out of him. Thanks to the video, she's gone now.
The 67-page public report is the Committee's video. It wouldn't be wrong for USC to, as it appeals, ask that based on this decision, this committee be vacated. And new people appointed. These people advocated profiling, for goodness sakes.
And they acted out their frustrations in public. They gave USC, with a single issue involving outside agents with no connection to the school nor any intent to benefit the school and a single player and a disputed-at-best staff member with possibly illegally tainted evidence, the back of their hand. They gave USC a worse penalty (30 scholarships lost and a two-year bowl ban) than was given to the school where more than 100 football players were funneled more than 600 grand, the school where the Committee chairman was A.D. at one time -- 31 scholarships lost, a one-year bowl ban.
And the chair chuckled about it when asked about those numbers.
OK, just to make the comparisons specific here. We know what USC is supposed to have not done with regard to one player, Bush. Here's the Miami scorecard that got the Hurricanes a slightly lesser penalty -- one scholarship lost more vs. one extra bowl year ban for USC.
Well, more than 80 Miami student-athletes, 57 in football, pocketed more than $220,000 after falsifying Pell Grant applications in a scam run by former UM academic counselor who pleaded guilty to the charge of masterminding the largest organized scam in Pell Grant history.
And that was just for starters. The NCAA then found that the university, as in the University of Miami, provided more than $400,000 of other improper payments to Hurricane football players, failed to implement a drug testing program and other assorted violations.
And for that, Miami received a one-year bowl ban in 1995. One year.
So USC should pursue these folks every way it can. At the convention, and maybe through resolutions pointing out the unintended consequences for every school with these precedents. With the aid of the Pac-10. With the aid of groups like the Los Angeles Urban League and the Black Coaches Association. Many of you might not agree politically with former LA Police Chief Bernard Parks, a USC alum, but he gets it here. The NCAA doesn't get the way the world works here, Parks said last week. And then comes in with an off-with-their-heads punishment for USC.
Freeh's group should pursue the issue of whether the NCAA used tainted evidence, recordings which seem illegal according to California law, in reaching its decision. Did the Committe purposely "weasel-word" its response about this to get around the issue. Did it have its investigators listen to the recordings and report back?
We need to know. USC must get these people deposed. Must get their email messages and notes. If that requires a change in NCAA governing legislation, then pursue that. If it takes going through California courts, do that. However USC pursues a legal strategy here, it has to turn the tables and get Lake and Michaels deposed. Get them to court. Get this all out there. Get those NCAA investigators on the stand.
And be very aggressive in pursuing the safety and increased-injury angle for players on a USC team being asked to compete with maybe as few as 65 scholarship players thanks to normal attrition in back-to-back-to-back seasons against 12 opponents with 85 scholarships. Get the USC Medical School involved here, the National Trainers Association, all sorts of injury experts. How about Dr. James Andrews? And the whole panoply of famed LA-based sports phusicians.
But you can't do that. Everybody knows you can't go after the NCAA and win? Isn't that right?
Ask Jerry Tarkanian.
But wasn't that an exception? A loophole that involved employment law and a one-of-a-kind deal?
Maybe. But USC must now become the Tark the Shark of schools. Find that one way through this. Get that single seam opened and beat the NCAA at its own game. The NCAA is wrong here. USC may not have been perfect but if this precedent holds, college sports will be far more arbitrarily governed. Schools will be much more likely to be set up by outside actors. Imagine the scenarios if the people who've gone after USC are rewarded for doing so just because the NCAA wanted to get USC. Lake and Michaels bet the house on that. Knew that this would be the way to go. And they were right. So far, anyway.
USC owes it to itself, its players, its students, its alums, its fans, its community and its future to see that that does not happen.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at email@example.com.