NCAA delivers postseason football ban
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.
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.
The BCS is likely to force Southern California to vacate its national championship. BCS executive director Bill Hancock says in a statement Thursday that the presidential oversight committee will meet soon to discuss whether USC will be stripped of its title.
If that happens, there will be no BCS champion for the 2004-05 season. Hancock said no action would be taken by the BCS until the appeal is heard.
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 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 on 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 was ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
Appeal chances not appealing
Minutes after NCAA Committee on Infractions chair Paul Dee answered his last question regarding USC, the university released a statement with its intent to appeal the penalties.
The odds of the Trojans winning that appeal, however, aren't good.
A source with extensive knowledge of the infractions and appeals processes told ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil that a switch in the NCAA's standards makes it extremely difficult for an institution or individual to win an appeal.
"Under new standards, you're just not going to see penalties overturned,'' the source said. "It used to be you had to show the penalty was excessive or inappropriate. Now you have to show that the COI abused its discretion. In other words, you have to prove they had an agenda. That's impossible.''
The trouble is spelled out in black and white on the NCAA's website, where it reads that the "Infractions Appeals Committee will reverse or modify a ruling ... only if one of the following standards is proven:
• The ruling was clearly contrary to the evidence.
• The individual or school did not actually break NCAA rules.
• There was a procedural error that caused the COI to find a violation.
• The penalty is excessive AND is an abuse of discretion.
"I am sure that's in part why this took so long,'' the source said. "They wanted to make sure they crossed every 'T' and dotted every 'I' and didn't commit some procedural error. That's almost the only way to get overturned on appeal.''
The rule went into effect in 2008 and since then, none of the four high-profile cases brought up for appeal has been altered.
Alabama tried to argue that its penalty -- vacating 21 football victories -- was excessive and that no other school had been punished similarly in cases involving student-athletes obtaining textbooks not included in their scholarships. Bama lost on appeal.
Memphis tried to reverse the decision to vacate its 2007-08 basketball season, claiming the COI didn't have enough evidence to suggest that either the school or Derrick Rose had reason to know that he was ineligible. The appeals committee "found no basis to conclude that the penalty was excessive such that the Committee on Infractions had abused its discretion in imposing the penalty.''
Florida State tried to overturn the punishment meted out to its football team, arguing the COI didn't give enough consideration to the university's involvement in the investigation. The penalty was affirmed.
Last year the NCAA affirmed its punishments of Indiana and head coach Kelvin Sampson, denying the school and the coach's appeal to lessen the penalties that crippled the program.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 leaving for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks last January. Floyd resigned last June, shortly after he was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.
"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 cooperate 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."
Carroll says he's "absolutely shocked and disappointed" by the NCAA sanctions imposed on his former Trojans for improprieties surrounding Bush.
The new coach of the Seattle Seahawks said in a video produced Thursday at team headquarters that "the agenda of the NCAA's infractions committee took them beyond the facts."
USC plans to appeal some of the penalties it believes are excessive.
"There is a systemic problem facing college athletes today: unscrupulous sports agents and sports marketers," Todd Dickey, USC's senior vice president for administration, said in a statement. "The question is how do we identify them and keep them away from our student-athletes?"
First-year football coach Lane Kiffin said: "There is some guilt in some penalties, but the punishment is too severe and that's why the appeal process is taking place."
The NCAA took no further action against the men's basketball team, which had already banned itself from postseason play last spring and vacated its wins from Mayo's season.
Second-year basketball coach Kevin O'Neill said he was glad the NCAA didn't impose further punishment on his program.
"I applaud them on realizing self-imposing was our way of saying, 'You know what, we did make some mistakes along the way and what we better do is be vigilant in our efforts,' which we will," he said on campus.
Floyd, who is coaching at UTEP, quit last June, after he was accused of giving $1,000 in cash to Rodney Guillory who helped steer Mayo to USC.
"As Coach has wanted to say publicly for a long time, 'It didn't happen,'" Floyd attorney Jim Darnell said in a statement.
Under Floyd, the Trojans made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and had three straight 20-win seasons.
As part of its self-imposed punishment, USC will return to the NCAA the money it received through the Pac-10 for playing in the 2008 NCAA tournament. The Trojans lost one scholarship for last season and one for next season; they lost one coach to off-campus recruiting this summer; and lose 20 recruiting days for next season. USC also vacated its 21 victories during the 2007-08 season, when Mayo competed while ineligible.
"We can't control people 24 hours a day," said O'Neill whn asked about a lack of institutional control at a booster gathering on Thursday evening. "That's all there is to it. You cannot control people from the outside. You cannot control agents. You cannot control runners. Those kinds of things get away from you sometimes because you have no way of knowing. I do know this. We do the right thing every single day by the university, by the athletic department, by the student-athletes."
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 vacation 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 athletic director Mike Garrett, speaking at a previously scheduled USC Coaches' Tour at the Airport Marriott in Burlingame, Calif., had this to say to boosters: "As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was ... I read between the lines, and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans."
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.
While the bowl ban is the most damaging to Kiffin, who will have to ratchet up his formidable recruiting skills to tempt players with no hope of postseason play before 2012, USC also will lose 30 scholarships over a three-year period, 10 annually from 2011 to '13.
Living with scholarship cuts and bowl bans is severe. But the coaches who have endured those conditions say there are steps USC can take, writes ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel. Story
The NCAA threw down the gauntlet, as ESPN.com's Ted Miller details. The penalties exceed in severity sanctions Alabama received in 2002 and Washington in 1993. Blog
A whole lot of people didn't see the shock-and-awe punishment coming, but the NCAA's message was thunderous. There's a smoking crater in L.A. to prove it, Pat Forde writes. Story
• USC basketball deals with sanctions
"We've had contact with a number of our signees today, a number of their families," Kiffin said. "We have had great response from them about their excitement about joining our program and continuing USC's championship level of play.
"I told the team, and I made sure they understood, that this is something happening to them that's adversity. Football, we talk about all the time, is about adversity, as is life. Our older players have played in a lot of bowl games. Our fifth-year seniors, a number of them have won a number of bowl games already, have played in three Rose Bowl championships."
USC quarterback Matt Barkley said: "We're doing a great job as a team of sticking together. Even our morning workout this morning was one of the best we've had. Guys were hyped up. We kind of took it as a challenge. We're excited. It does stink to not be able possibly to play in a bowl game, 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."
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 nonuniversity personnel, except media and a few others, from attending practices and camps -- or even standing on the sidelines during games, a favorite 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 postseason 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.
Scott Van Pelt
Bruce Feldman thinks the NCAA's punishment of USC is much stiffer than expected. Feldman says it won't be easy for the Trojans to navigate the numbers and recover as quickly as possible.
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 $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 attorney 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.
According to the committee chair, Paul Dee, McNair "attested falsely that he had no knowledge of NCAA violations."
Kiffin was asked about McNair's future at USC in the wake of the report.
"Any questions about Todd McNair, Todd and his attorney will be answering," Kiffin said.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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