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USC Sanctions and Pac-10 Expansion
The NCAA took the easy way out
Richard Linde, 18 June 2010, updated 6/26/2010

In its case involving polluted amateurism, the NCAA has capped the oil spill -- silencing the public's outrage -- but not without cost to its integrity.

What does an expanded conference mean for the Pac-10? Why don't the Big Ten and Big 12 just swap names?

USC SANCTIONS:

Regarding the sanctions meted out to the USC football program, former coach Pete Carroll had this to say, "After going through the process from the depositions and the interviews over years and years, and also participating in the hearing for the NCAA, I never thought there were any facts that supported these significant sanctions that have come forth. The primary issue throughout the process was did the university know. The university didn't know, we didn't know. We were not aware of any of these findings."

The NCAA disagrees.

The august body found USC guilty of a Lack of Institutional Control (LOIC) mainly because of the alleged relationship between running backs coach Todd McNair and the would-be sports marketers. The NCAA believes that McNair knew about the relationship between Reggie Bush and his family and the fledgling sports agency while Bush was still in school and playing football for USC. If true, that certainly would warrant slapping USC's football program with a LOIC.

However, if USC's staff was not aware of such a relationship, the lesser charge involving a "Failure to Monitor" would be more appropriate, that is, the staff should have known about the relationship -- but didn't.

Media overkill

Did the NCAA bow to media pressure?

The pressure exerted by the media over the three-and-a-half year period preceding the findings took two forms: (a) Since Mike Garrett (USC's athletic director) 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 wondered aloud, some threateningly, if the NCAA wouldn't go soft on USC because of the Trojans' high profile.

Certainly, Don Yeager's book, "Tarnished Heisman," didn't help the university's cause. The following taken from Amazon.com's description of the book seems aimed at an LOIC, although not emphatically so: "Don Yaeger exposes the NCAA-prohibited activity in which (Reggie) Bush allegedly engaged, and also shows how USC and its coaching staff appeared to have turned a blind eye to the increasingly luxurious lifestyle of their star athlete and his family."

Note the weasel-word, "appeared," in Amazon's description.

Since agency partner A has a criminal history, his use as a source for Yeager's book -- and, most importantly, coach McNair's alleged familiarity with the Bush/agency relationship -- comes into question. See "All things Trojan."

Then there is the matter of compensation for the sports agent's story. "The compensation wasn't for the tapes, the compensation was for (his) story. That was a decision made before I got involved with the project," Yeager says.

Also, reference Tabloid Times for an example of media overkill and its potential influence on an NCAA investigation.

Wishy-washy testimony

In my opinion, proof of whether McNair knew about the improper benefits given to Bush and his family by the sports agents is specious at best.

First of all, McNair denies he knew anything about the relationship. Secondly, none of the would-be sports agents definitively say in certain, unimpeachable terms that McNair knew about the involvement.

Reference the YouTube video regarding the sports agents' wishy-washy testimony.

The critical telephone call

In its infractions report, the NCAA writes that "At least by January 8, 2006, the assistant football coach (McNair) had knowledge that student-athlete 1 and agency partners A and B likely were engaged in NCAA violations." (*) Note that McNair was aware of the relationship in April 2006 when the media broke the story about Bush.

On the date in January, the NCAA says that McNair had a telephone conversation with agency partner A -- the one with the criminal background -- that lasted for two minutes and 23 seconds, "during which agency partner A attempted to get the assistant football coach to convince student-athlete 1 either to adhere to the agency agreement or reimburse agency partners A and B for money provided to student-athlete 1 and his family."

The alleged telephone call that took place between McNair and agency partner A is the weak link in the NCAA investigation. It lasted only two minutes and 23 seconds and is the main foundation that supports the LOIC in my opinion. If that foundation crumbles under the tectonic plate that supports it, the main thrust of the NCAA's case against the football program will crumble with it.

McNair's reply to the allegation is somewhat convincing..."certainly (such a conversation) would have lasted more than two minutes and 23 seconds. It is unfathomable that a conversation over student-athlete 1's alleged debt of tens of thousands of dollars and how (agency partner A) wanted it repaid or he would implicate USC could take place in less time than it takes to order a pizza for delivery."

The NCAA found his argument "unpersuasive," saying that, "Much can be said in the course of a two and a half minute conversation, including everything that agency partner A reported that he said...the committee finds it implausible that the assistant football coach would have stayed on the phone for that length of time in the middle of the night with a person he claimed not to know."

McNair does not recall the January phone call, and, not surprisingly, for the NCAA investigator asked him about a January phone call that took place in 2005, not in 2006 as it had. McNair maintained throughout the investigation he had no knowledge of any alleged impermissible benefits given to Bush and his family. He denies the accusations against him in Allegation 1(b)(3) as it is shown below. (*)

The factual errors

Our conclusion below is supported by USCfootball.com in its article entitled, "NCAA missteps on McNair," which among other factual errors made by the NCAA, points out that the NCAA investigator Richard "Johanningmeier, who had misstated the nature of the call to (Lloyd) Lake (i.e., agency partner A), would have similar factual inconsistencies in his questioning of McNair; asking the USC coach about a call that he said was made "Jan. 8, 2005," -- getting the year wrong.

"There would be four more "2005" references in this session with no one catching the wrong year."

Reference Ted Miller's ESPN blog entry (link to blog).

Reference, "NCAA missteps on McNair."

Reference, "Did COI present McNair with inaccurate evidence and misleading questions."

The credibility factor

In its rebuttal to the NCAA allegations and to specifically allegation 1(b)(3), USC points out that agency partner A concocted an account of a call with McNair that never occurred. During this fabricated call, McNair purportedly said I'm "trying to resolve it," and Bush was wrong and should try to make it right, so don't implicate the school, this according to agency partner A. Of course, that call never occurred and those words by McNair were never spoken.

The fabricated account severely damages the credibility of agency partner A and his description of the January phone call that lasted for two minutes and 23 seconds. In February 2006, agency partner A began serving time in prison for a parole violation.

His credibility is further damaged by the following, this taken from USC's rebuttal:

"He blamed the assistant football coach for student-athlete 1's decision to go elsewhere and even made the completely unsubstantiated and false allegation that the assistant football coach was paid $50,000 by Sports marketer A (Michael Ornstein) for delivering student-athlete 1 (Bush) to his sports marketing firm."

In its report, the NCAA questions McNair's credibility as well, but not convincingly in my mind. Most of the evidence gathered against the assistant coach comes from a perusal of his phone records, and, in some instances, assumptions are made as to the nature of his phone conversations; other assumptions are made based on the absence of specific calls. 

The altered photograph

The most damaging piece of evidence undermining McNair's credibility is a photograph taken of McNair with his arm around a well-known actor, the two of them posed with the two would-be sports agents in the background. The following quote is taken from USC's response to the charges.

"A photograph Agency partner A provided shows Assistant football coach with his arm around (redacted), an actor and friend of Assistant football coach. Agency partner A and Agency partner B appear in the background of the photograph. That photograph, the Staff insists, establishes that Assistant football coach knew Agency partner A and was 'socializing' with him on the night of October 29, 2005. From that premise, the Staff leaps to the conclusion that, if the two were present at the same place, they not only must be friends but must have spoken about the sports agency and the doings of Student athlete 1's stepfather."

The photograph was allegedly taken from agency partner B's cell phone. Here is a link to the photo.

In response to the photograph and allegation, USCfootball.com writes, "The photo, which USC was never allowed to see in its original format, had been altered, according to an expert in the university's response to the NCAA's allegations. McNair and his easily recognized actor-friend had posed for photos frequently according to his testimony."

In its response to the photograph, USC writes, "... (l) people elbow their way into events and manage to get themselves photographed with celebrities, and (2) a picture tells us nothing about the relationships of the people depicted."

That's certainly true at the University of Washington's annual Picture Day event. Try getting a photo of the coach without some unknown person jumping into the scene. I've even had a coach wrap his arm around a stranger to pose with him just before I snapped the shutter.

The booster allegation

The other allegation supporting an LOIC seems most bizarre. The NCAA claims that one of the sports marketing agents became a representative of USC's athletics interests solely as a result of employing three USC student-athletes (including Bush) in the summer of 2005; that is, he became a booster.

If anything, sports marketing agents are inimical to the athletics interests of a schools athletics program and are certainly not boosters.

Booster violations give a school a competitive advantage, not would-be sports marketers who, in their effort to harness an athlete by paying him under the table, destroy his edibility. Having marketing agents chasing after one's athletes is a competitive disadvantage. No serious athlete wants to lose his eligibility by surrendering his amateurism to the Temptation of Medusa.

Schools have some control over their boosters because a typical booster has the best interests of the school in mind. Marketers could care less about the school involved. In fact, agency partner A seemingly went out of his way to harm USC by concocting the Ornstein story. Good or bad, no booster in his right mind would make such an allegation.

Then why invent the booster scenario?

Note the committee-on-infraction's conclusion: "The committee noted that the violations in this case strike at the heart of the NCAA amateurism principal."

The committee's conclusion is correct. However, the NCAA took the easy way out in its effort to diffuse the public outcry railing at its concept of amateurism. The result of its conclusion (the LOIC) is a quintessential example of sophistry, which involves "subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation."

Schools have no control over marketing agents, and they will continue to be a problem in the future.

Conclusion

Since questions concerning agency partner A's credibility are supported by the facts, while questions concerning McNair's credibility are open to argument, a reasonable person is left to conclude that the severity of the sanctions is not warranted by the facts, given that the NCAA's case (the LOIC) against USC's football program is tenuously anchored by a he-said/he-said dispute (McNair versus agency partner A).

A "Failure to Monitor?" Yes, but not an LOIC leveled against the football program.

In its case involving polluted amateurism, the NCAA has capped the oil spill -- silencing the public's outrage -- but not without cost to its integrity.

Reference, "USC files appeal of NCAA sanctions"

References

Ted Miller of ESPN sums up USC's response to the NCAA in 2009. Miller writes, "In other words, USC believes the NCAA is kowtowing to pressure to make an example out of the school."

Reference Dick Baird's take on the investigation. You'll need a subscription to dawgman.com to read it. (Baird's take, link). Baird was formerly an assistant football coach at Washington and is most familiar with the brand of justice handed down by the NCAA. (**)

Reference McNair's response to NCAA (PDF File).

----------------------------

EXPANSION:

Now that Nebraska has been added to the Big Ten, the league should be officially known as the Big 12 -- count them, twelve teams. But doesn't that appellation conflict with the name of the real Big 12, you know the league with mighty, omnipotent Texas as its prime, dictatorial member? No. Now that the former Big 12 has lost Nebraska and Colorado it should be really called the Big Ten. Why don't the two conferences just swap names?

What about the Pac-10?

Adding Utah and Colorado to the Pac-10 should make it the Pac-12. That's what the expanded conference should be called and probably will be, and if that happens, it will prove that the chancellors and presidents of the schools in the Pac-10 know how to count to twelve, while members of the Big Ten are nigh to being imbecilic, just using their ten fingers to count instead of their fingers and toes. Apparently, members of the Big 12 don't know how to subtract.

Seriously, expansion will be good for the "Pac-12":

-- It will bring in more TV revenue, considering the Denver and Salt Lake City markets, along with money from a play-off game between the two divisional champions, providing the league is split in two, for example, north and south.

-- Formation of the new conference split into two divisions gives its members the option of playing a nine-game or eight-game conference format.

-- It proves that new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is a bold and creative leader. His effort to create a 16-team conference was commendable, though the odds said it was not likely to happen from the start.

------------------------------------

(*) In its infractions report, the NCAA writes (allegation 1(b)(3)), "

"At least by January 8, 2006, the assistant football coach had knowledge that student-athlete 1 and agency partners A and B likely were engaged in NCAA violations. At 1:34 a.m. he had a telephone conversation for two minutes and 23 seconds with agency partner A during which agency partner A attempted to get the assistant football coach to convince student-athlete 1 either to adhere to the agency agreement or reimburse agency partners A and B for money provided to student-athlete 1 and his family. Further, during his September 19, 2006, and February 15, 2008, interviews with the enforcement staff, the assistant football coach violated NCAA ethical conduct legislation by providing false and misleading information regarding his knowledge of this telephone call and the NCAA violations associated with it. The assistant football coach failed to alert the institution's compliance staff of this information and later attested falsely, through his signature on a certifying statement, that he had no knowledge of NCAA violations."

(**) Preface to Baird's article, Nobody wins in NCAA justice, "From a UW perspective, listening to Pete Carroll comment on the NCAA’s penalties levied against USC was like watching a replay of 1993. To me the most significant thing he said was, 'The agenda took them beyond the facts.' I know David Price of the investigative unit of the NCAA and I saw the way he dealt with us."

 

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

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