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USC and the dreaded LOIC
USC versus the media
Malamute, 19 February 2010

Representatives from USC's athletic department -- as well as former football coach Pete Carroll -- are meeting with members of the NCAA infractions committee to answer allegations of impropriety regarding their athletics program. If USC officials (coaches, administrators) were aware of the extra benefits allegedly given to former running back Reggie Bush by a fledgling sports agency, 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 last season's national championship game against Texas." According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush was worried that coach Carroll might find out about the relationship.

ESPN blogger Ted Miller writes, "It's likely that Trojans running backs coach Todd McNair, who is also on hand but refused comment, will face tough questioning on the Bush matter. One of Bush's former agent suitors, Lloyd Lake, who is embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with Bush, has claimed that McNair was aware of his association with Bush."

If McNair knew about the association with Bush, then how much he knew about the financial relationship comes to question. Sourcing Lake for that relationship brings up some questions, which are discussed below.

And if McNair denies knowing about the relationship, then it could boil down to a he-said-she-said argument and, if so, the Trojans could face the less severe sanctions associated with a Failure to Monitor (FTM).

According to Miller, McNair has had a lawyer present with him at this week's meetings with the NCAA.

The NCAA is reviewing much more than allegations surrounding Reggie Bush, so be aware that the NCAA investigation is more complex than I have made it out to be. See The Los Angeles Times' timeline of USC's troubles.

For example, what about tailback Joe McKnight's use of a 2006 Land Rover that was owned by a Santa Monica businessman? USC held McKnight out of the Emerald Bowl while its compliance office investigated the matter.

In December, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The most damning part of The Times story is the Land Rover parked outside the Trojans' practice field with the emergency lights flashing while (Joe) McKnight socialized with his teammates and coaches before jumping in the car and driving away.

"Is there nobody at USC who would see this and wonder why this kid with no job from an economically disadvantaged background would be driving such a nice vehicle?"

Was Plaschke insinuating an LOIC? I have no idea.

But what's the bluebook on a 2006 Land Rover? About $20K? Sounds like racial profiling to me.

Then there are allegations surrounding former basketball player O. J. Mayo that are discussed in the Times' timeline.

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."

Simers than concocts a scenario in which Garrett is talking to Tim Floyd, former USC basketball coach, about the recruiting of O. J. Mayo and that Garrett should have told Floyd to tell the guy who promised to deliver Mayo to get lost.

Simers continues, "Never happened because Garrett was asleep on the job, and quite literally Monday, Times reporter Baxter Holmes -- my new hero -- telling Garrett to 'wake up' after Garrett had fallen asleep during the Trojans' afternoon basketball practice."

How's that for turning a metaphor into reality?

In Simers' mind, I guess, Garrett should be out in the parking lot profiling the cars his athletes are driving instead of being asleep at the switch.

Note that Mayo's agent said that Mayo did not accept gifts or money while being recruited by or playing for USC. Floyd, who resigned as USC's coach last summer, has denied wrongdoing, according to the Times.

This stuff with the Los Angeles Times reminds me of what happened to the UW football program in 1992, when it was hammered by the media. (*)

With a questionable media involved, one wonders if USC will get a fair hearing, for once public opinion is formed it's hard to change it, and right now there is the public presumption that USC lacked institutional control in the Bush and Mayo matters. If the NCAA let's USC off with minor penalties, the "eastern mafia" will scream that money talks; members of the NCAA infractions are well aware of this potential charge and how it could affect their future investigations.

I think its fair to say that most football fans across the country -- including those from UCLA and Notre Dame -- 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.

Along with Plaschke's and Simers' rumblings, certainly, Don Yeager's book, "Tarnished Heisman," isn't helping USC's cause. The following taken from Amazon'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 Lake has a criminal history, his use as a source for Yeager's book -- and 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 Lake's story. "The compensation wasn't for the tapes, the compensation was for Lloyd Lake's story. That was a decision made before I got involved with the project," Yeager says.

USC officials can always point to a double standard if the university is hammered with penalties, the eastern mafia notwithstanding.

In its most recent cases, "the NCAA found that 61 Florida State athletes committed academic fraud in 10 sports and the penalty was forfeiture of games. Alabama had more than 200 athletes in 16 sports misuse a textbook distribution program at a cost of more than $40,000 and also forfeited athletic contests." Why did a tainted Alabama program field a team in the BCS title game this year?

Supporting the notion of a double standard, when questioned about the Washington versus Michigan/Woodson punishments, Yeager replied, "I have always argued that the NCAA has been inconsistent in its meting out of collegiate athletic "justice" -- I don't want to just say "justice," because these aren't crimes in most cases."

I doubt if the Trojans will face sanctions as severe as those levied on the UW football program in 1993. It's not that the sports agency had a 10-year relationship with Bush and that USC administrators and coaches should have known about it. (*)

Under policy amended in 2001, the NCAA eased the burden on schools whose athletes are targeted by unscrupulous sports agents, according to a former NCAA enforcement chief.

If the USC football program should collapse, it would hurt the whole conference, not only in its perception, but by the decreased revenues the Trojans would be putting in everybody's coffers.

----------

(*) In July of 1994, the NCAA reviewed the penalties levied against Washington by the Pac-10 conference. In adding additional penalties, it stated: “The penalties imposed, which are in excess of those imposed by the institution and the conference, reflect the committee's finding of a significant lack of institutional control over the summer jobs program in the Los Angeles area. Had the athletics department and, in particular, the members of the football coaching staff made even the most cursory examination of that jobs program during the 10 years of its operation, they would have discovered the violations.”

The university was prohibited from collecting $930,000 for its participation in six televised football games during the 1993 season. Postseason competition in football was banned for the 1993 and 1994 seasons. There was a reduction in the number of permissible official visits in football during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 academic years, and a reduction in the number of permissible football scholarships during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 academic years.

Also reference Yahoo Sports, "Cash and Carry."

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

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