By Greg Beacham
LOS ANGELES — The NCAA threw the book at storied Southern California on Thursday with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits of an entire year’s games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans’ 2004 national championship.
USC was penalized for a lack of institutional control in the ruling by the NCAA following its four-year investigation. The report cited numerous improper benefits for Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who spent just one year with the Trojans.
The coaches who presided over the alleged misdeeds — football’s Pete Carroll and basketball’s Tim Floyd — left USC in the past year. USC reacted with uniform outrage to the harshness of the sanctions, promising an appeal.
“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA,” Carroll said in a statement produced by the Seattle Seahawks, who hired him in January. “I never thought it would come to this.”
The penalties include the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game on Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush’s Heisman-winning 2005 season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said a committee will meet to consider vacating USC’s 2004 championship. While no action would go into effect until USC’s appeals are heard by the NCAA, Hancock said there would be no 2004 champion if USC’s victory is vacated.
“I take the same stance as our university,” new football coach Lane Kiffin said. “There is some guilt, but the punishment is too severe. That’s why the appeal process is taking place.”
The rulings are a sharp repudiation of the Trojans’ decade of stunning football success under Carroll, who won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships before abruptly returning to the NFL.
The NCAA says Bush received lavish gifts from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush’s family apparently lived to a limousine and a new suit when he accepted his Heisman Trophy in New York in December 2005.
The NCAA found that Bush, identified as a “former football student-athlete,” was ineligible beginning at least by December 2004, a ruling that could open discussion of the revocation of the New Orleans Saints star’s Heisman. Members of the Heisman Trust have said they might review Bush’s award if he were ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
“I have a great love for the University of Southern California, and I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players,” Bush said in a statement.
“I am disappointed by (Thursday’s) decision and disagree with the NCAA’s findings. If the University decides to appeal, I will continue to co-operate with the NCAA and USC, as I did during the investigation. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on making a positive impact for the University and for the community where I live.”
USC plans to appeal some of the football-related penalties, but with no resolution of any appeal expected until next spring at the earliest, that won’t help many of the current Trojans.
“It does stink to possibly not play in a bowl game,” said USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a freshman starter last season. “But at the same time, I came here to get a degree from one of the best universities in the country and to win football games. If we play 13 instead of 14, then we’re going to try to win all 13 of those.”
The NCAA took no further action against the men’s basketball team, which had already banned itself from post-season play last spring and vacated its wins from Mayo’s season. Floyd, now coaching at UTEP, resigned from USC last June, shortly after he was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.
“As Coach has wanted to say publicly for a long time, ‘It didn’t happen,”’ Floyd lawyer Jim Darnell said in a statement.
The bowl ban is the most damaging to Kiffin, who will have to ratchet up his formidable recruiting skills to entice players with no hope of post-season play before 2012. USC also will lose 10 scholarships annually from 2011-13, but Kiffin believes he’ll still land a large share of the nation’s top talent.
“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on recruiting,” said Kiffin, who doesn’t plan to sign additional players this year before the scholarship sanctions take effect. “We’ve talked to a lot of people, from our team to our signees to recruits, and we do not feel the impact at all, because USC is still USC. We’re still going to play an extremely high level of football. They’ll still get a great education as they come to USC.”
The women’s tennis team also was cited in the report for unauthorized phone calls made by a former player, but the NCAA accepted USC’s earlier elimination of its wins between November 2006 and May 2009.
“The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee,” the report said.
The report also condemned the star treatment afforded to Bush and Mayo, saying USC’s oversight of its top athletes ran contrary to the fundamental principles of amateur sports.
“Elite athletes in high profile sports with obvious great future earnings potential may see themselves as something apart from other student-athletes and the general student population,” the NCAA report said.
“Institutions need to assure that their treatment on campus does not feed into such a perception.”
USC’s saga reached its climax on a tumultuous day in college athletics, when Colorado’s defection to the Pac-10 from the Big 12 provided the first steps in what could be a radical nationwide conference realignment threatening to change the nature of amateur sports.
USC had long been known for its lenient admission policy at football practices, which during Carroll’s tenure were open to almost anybody from movie stars to regular fans.
Although Kiffin tightened the rules shortly after taking over, the NCAA also prohibited all non-university personnel, except media and a few others, from attending practices and camps — or even standing on the sidelines during games, a favourite pastime of Will Ferrell and other wealthy USC alumni.
The Trojans barely avoided further punishment that would have removed one of the sport’s most popular teams from television. The committee discussed a TV ban, but decided the penalties handed down “adequately respond to the nature of violations and the level of institutional responsibility.”
USC is the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to be banned from post-season play since Alabama served a two-year ban ending in 2003. The NCAA issued no bowl bans during the tenure of late president Myles Brand, but the NCAA reportedly regained interest in the punishment over the past year.
The Trojans have been under suspicion for years. The NCAA, the Pac-10 and even the FBI conducted investigations into the Bush family’s business relationships and USC’s responsibility for the culture around its marquee football team.
USC officials including Garrett and Kiffin appeared before the NCAA infractions committee in February to argue the school’s ignorance of Bush’s dealings.
The report also criticized “an assistant football coach” known to be running backs coach Todd McNair, putting him on a one-year “show-cause penalty” prohibiting him from recruiting, among other sanctions.
The NCAA condemned McNair’s professed ignorance of Bush’s dealings with sports marketers Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels. Each sued Bush in attempts to recoup nearly US$300,000 in cash and gifts they say were accepted by Bush’s family during his career with the Trojans while they attempted to sign him as their company’s first client.
“I know they did a very, very thorough investigation,” said Brian Watkins, a San Diego lawyer who represented Lake in a lawsuit against Bush. “It surely wasn’t a rush to justice.”
Watkins said he spoke with Lake after the sanctions were announced.
“He was sad. He wished that wouldn’t have happened,” Watkins said.
AP Sports Writers Bernie Wilson in San Diego, Gregg Bell in Seattle and Michael Marot and Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis contributed to this report.