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Complications affecting the NCAA investigation of USC
Rich Linde, 26 May 2010; Updated 31 May 2010

It has been nearly 14 weeks since the NCAA's hearing on the Trojans' case. What's holding up the findings? For one, it's a complex case.

The severity of the sanctions levied by the NCAA will be determined by: (1) did the Trojans know about the Bush affair, (2) should they have known about it, regardless, or (3) they didn't know about it because of privacy and profiling issues, a third option no one is considering.

If USC officials (coaches, administrators) were aware of the extra benefits allegedly given to former running back Reggie Bush by a fledgling sports agency, during a portion of his stint of play at USC, then USC could face the dreaded sanctions associated with a "lack of institutional control," which might include a ban on post-season play and the loss of scholarships.

In my opinion, the levying of these sanctions centers around running backs coach Todd McNair. Evidently, sources have told Yahoo! sports that "USC running backs coach Todd McNair knew of Bush's involvement with the marketing firm before (the) national championship game against Texas." According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush was worried that coach Carroll might find out about the relationship.

If the NCAA sets Troy on fire, it might self ignite if it fiddles around and isn't cautious. Its case is complex, featuring:

  • Questionable witnesses -- One of the sports agents has a criminal background. Since Bush denies the allegations of impropriety, the case takes on the appearance of a he-said/he-said situation. The NCAA is faced with obtaining information from secondary and tertiary sources.


  • Limited investigative tools -- The NCAA was counting on receiving court-ordered depositions in lawsuits brought against Bush by the marketing agents. Since Bush has settled these lawsuits out of court, the NCAA is left with its he-said/he-said argument and secondary sources.

  • The NCAA can't issue subpoenas for testimony given under the threat of perjury.
  • Compensation for story -- Since one of the sports agents has a criminal history, his use as a source for Dan Yeager's book, "Tarnished Heisman" -- vis--vis coach Todd McNair's alleged familiarity with the Bush/agency relationship -- comes into question. "The compensation wasn't for the tapes, the compensation was for (the source's) story. That was a decision made before I got involved with the project," Yeager says. Yeager says he has secondary sources for his material. The NCAA is faced with obtaining secondary sources as well.


  • Lawyer present at NCAA query -- Todd McNair, a central figure in the investigation, had a lawyer present with him during his questioning at the NCAA probe, which took place in February, according to Ted Miller in his ESPN blog.

  • The NCAA is leery of potential lawsuits in light of its Rick Neuheisel debacle back in 2005, which cost itself $2.5 million, mainly as a result of blindsiding Neuheisel in violation of its own bylaws.
  • Invasion of privacy and racial profiling issues -- Answering the "should have known" allegation (number 2 above) brings up the data base argument: is the athletic department supposed to maintain a data base of home addresses belonging to parents of student athletes along with the automobile-registration information pertaining to the automobiles driven by its student athletes?


  • Self sanctions on basketball program -- Playing chess with the NCAA, USC's athletic director Mike Garrett opened the game with a gambit, sacrificing his basketball team in what appeared to be a brilliant move. Responding to the gambit, the Los Angeles Times' T. J. Simers countered, "There is talk about how the basketball program is assuming the role of a sacrificial lamb in the hopes its slaughter might mitigate any football punishment, but that also takes the blame off Garrett, who deserves it all."


  • Pressure levied on the NCAA by the media to find USC guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors -- Media pressure takes two forms: (a) Since Mike Garrett has questionable competency, as determined by a given columnist, USC would have known about the Bush affair given a competent athletic director, and (b) certain members of the media wonder aloud if the NCAA won't go soft on USC because of the Trojans' high profile.

    If the NCAA let's USC off with minor penalties, certain members of the media are likely to say that money talks; members of the NCAA infractions committee are well aware of this potential charge and how it could affect their future investigations. I think it's fair to say that most football fans across the country -- including those from UCLA, Notre Dame, and the SEC -- would want to believe that USC is guilty of an LOIC, providing they knew the difference between an LOIC and an FTM. The NCAA is aware of that also, being in what could be an untenable position if it goes with the lesser failure-to-monitor charge.
  • See Pat Forde's article, Is NCAA selective enforcement real?
  • No apt precedent to follow -- In general, by their very nature, sports agents are inimical to an athletics program, whereas boosters, who are involved in typical NCAA infractions, are attempting to further the aims of the athletics department. This a unique case, involving a fledgling sports agency, questionable witnesses, a he-said/he-said, media pressure, compensation for a damaging story, self-sanctions, a Heisman Trophy, a national championship, potential lawsuits, and potential privacy and profiling issues.

  • This case is far different than the sanctions handed out to Alabama, its case involving boosters.

  • A zany three-ring circus -- On Feb. 12, one of the plaintiffs walked out of a deposition because of alleged intimidation from an armed security guard retained by Bush's lawyers. One of Bush's representatives said he felt the need for protection because the plaintiff was a convicted felon and documented gang member.

References:

See The Los Angeles Times' timeline of USC's troubles.

Also reference Yahoo Sports, "Cash and Carry."

"Lake walks out of Reggie Bush deposition"

"Tarnished Heisman,"

"USC and the dreaded LOIC"

"All things Trojan."

Alabama violations in 2002.

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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