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USC Gets College Football's Death Penalty
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
If you thought the mighty had fallen at USC last year, it was nothing like the fall that they just had when the NCAA dropped a bomb on the Trojans. The penalty, a two-year bowl band and the loss of 10 scholarships a year for the next three years, is pretty much the death penalty in college sports.
One of the nations premier programs has come to a crash landing. There are so many layers and moving parts to this story, but it comes down to one player. Reggie Bush.
There were other parties involved, such as Bush's parents, who lived in a San Diego house for free and received other benefits. There iare Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, who fronted the money to the Bush family. And there is USC, who pretty much looked the other way while all of this was going on.
The bulk of the blame falls on the feet of Bush. He is the one guy who could have saved USC. Obviously by not taking extra benefits. But even after that all of this could have stayed on the hush hush. After declaring himself for the NFL Draft he could have simply paid off Michaels and Lake and this story would have never come to light. But he stiffed them and then ended up paying more in legal fees and settlements to the two of them than what he received.
Even after the story came to light Bush could have saved the program if he has simply cooperated with the NCAA. But Bush had no reason to. He was long gone and the NCAA could not touch him. He could have taken all of them blame and saved the program but he must have thought that the NCAA did not have any legitimate evidence in the case.
For years that was true. The NCAA did not have a smoking gun that would link USC to Michaels or Lake. USC could simply say that nobody in their athletic department knew anything about it. But after years of digging NCAA investigators finally found the damning evidence.
Players are usually extremely close to their position coaches. The position coach works closer to the players in his unit than any other coach. The relationship between USC running back coach Todd McNair and running back Bush was no different.
On January 8th, 2006, four days after Bush's final USC game, phone records show that McNair spoke to either Michaels or Lake, and that they were trying to convince McNair that he needs to tell Bush that he needs to live up to his end of the business arrangement.
McNair lied to NCAA investigators about having any knowledge about Bush's business deals. The NCAA severely punishes individuals who lie to them in an investigation, and the phone records, along with Lake's testimony to NCAA investigators, shows that somebody within USC's athletic department had knowledge about the extra benefits that Bush received.
USC administrators may have also implicated themselves by looking the other way when Bush purchased a mid 1990s Chevy Impala, which had rims and was fully loaded. The value of the car was estimated at $30,000. Somehow the paper work that is turned into the NCAA when an athlete makes a large purchase was not properly submitted on Bush's purchase. It appears that the purchase would have drawn a lot of attention, so it was easier to avoid a problem by not properly submitting the paperwork.
USC has maintained that they did not know that anything was going on, but after the NCAA's investigation it is hard to believe that.
NCAA officials said that USC knew that there were problems going on and they did nothing about it.
There is no question that a penalty was in order, but the severity of the penalty has come into question. Alabama received a similar punishment in 2002 when they received a two-year bowl ban and lost 21 scholarships for paying players. It can be argued that their violation was much worse because they were caught paying players, but they lost fewer scholarships than USC, who had issues from individuals from outside of the program.
The punishment to USC's football program is also harsher than what the basketball team received. USC gave itself a self imposed one year postseason ban in basketball when it was found out that then basketball coach Tim Floyd paid Rodney Guillory to insure that OJ Mayo signed with the Trojans. Mayo has maintained that he never received any money, but there was certainly money paid to get him.
The NCAA accepted the USC's one-year band and loss of scholarships, which was a lesser punishment than what the football team received. It appears that what the basketball team did was much worse because the head coach was directly involved. It was not somebody from outside of the program who was giving players gifts. It was not an individual who the school does not have control of. It was the head coach. And the program had gotten in trouble with Guillory in the past. Having him around the program was just asking for trouble.
USC will appeal the penalty, but that could be an uphill battle. In the meantime they do have to worry about losing current players and recruits. Because of the punishment current players can transfer to another school without sitting out a season, and players in their incoming class could decide to go elsewhere.
But it does not appear that there will be a mass exodus from the program.
This will affect their recruiting over the next three seasons. The postseason ban will only affect the incoming class and next year's class. But losing 10 scholarships a year for the next three years can really do damage to the program. They will have no room for error.
All of this could have been avoided if one player had stayed on the straight and narrow, paid off what he had taken, or simply cooperated with the NCAA investigation.
Bush and parents have brought down an entire program because they could not wait a little over a year to cash in. Investigators found that he started receiving extra benefits in December of 2004. He declared himself for the NFL draft a little over a year after that. If Bush and his parents could have waiting a year before cashing in USC would not be in this situation.
The Pete Carroll era will no longer be remembered as one of the greatest runs in college football history. The teams will be remembered as having at least one dirty player, if not more.
USC has had to vacate the final two wins of 2004 and all of the wins in 2005. The BCS could strip them of their 2004 national title and Bush could be stripped of his Heisman trophy. The Associated Press (AP) has said that they will not strip USC of their 2004 title.
Whether Bush is stripped of his Heisman trophy award has yet to be seen. But that is the only way that he can be punished. Seeing that the current USC players are being punished, something should happen to Bush.