The NCAA has a problem. For years, sports agents, runners and various other third-party sleazeballs have infiltrated their enterprise, buddying up to 14-year-old phenoms at shoe camps, cozying up to corruptible assistant coaches and making a mockery of the organization's stated adherence to "amateurism." For the most part, the pencil pushers in Indianapolis have been powerless to do anything about it.
On Thursday, however, the NCAA found a way to strike back. The Committee on Infractions used its much-anticipated decision on USC's sanctions as a chance to make an example of ex-Trojans stars
"This case is a window onto a landscape of elite college athletes and certain individuals close to them who, in the course of their relationships, disregard NCAA rules and regulations," reads the introduction to the committee's 67-page report.
The document -- most of which mirrors allegations first reported four years ago by Yahoo! Sports about housing, airline tickets and other benefits given Bush and his family by wanna-be sports agents
Rarely have we seen an NCAA case in which the accused school was so unabashedly defiant toward the investigators. At one point, it accuses the enforcement staff of "pursuing a novel and flawed theory" in defining Ornstein's affiliation with USC. No wonder their February hearing before the Infractions Committee lasted 30 hours.
In response to the sanctions, USC President
The NCAA's take: Oh yes, you could.
"The real issue here is, if you have high-profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level," committee chair
"High-profile players merit high-profile enforcement."
Consider: USC received almost the same exact penalties that Alabama did in 2002 (two-year bowl ban, 21 scholarships) for a case in which the school's own boosters made payments to recruits. The committee even said it "seriously considered the imposition of a television ban" against the Trojans, a penalty it hasn't doled out in more than 15 years.
In other words, in the committee's eyes, USC's failure to monitor a player's relationship with those seeking to cash in on his future earnings is every bit as serious as Alabama's failure to monitor supporters trying to help secure future wins for their favorite team.
If you're a compliance officer at Florida, Texas or any other school teeming with future first-round draft picks, Thursday's ruling should be sending shivers down your spine. If you happen to be the next great quarterback or point guard in the class of 2010 or '11, be prepared to have your every hand-shake, conversation or Facebook post with anyone outside of the school monitored.
Not that that's remotely plausible.
"Monitoring and regulating human behavior is complex at best, and even more so in a far-flung region like Los Angeles, home to a vast entertainment-sports enterprise," said Sample. But he's still going to try. The school is hiring a consulting group led by former FBI director
It's a good to see USC getting serious now, because there are numerous citations in the NCAA's report that show school officials were careless, if not downright negligent, in their handling of Bush and Mayo. Former coach
(McNair, who was retained by new head coach
In another passage, the committee notes that during the 2005 season, a "journalist" started making inquiries about Ornstein's presence on the sideline during games, which USC's sports information director then relayed to its former compliance director (who had signed off on Bush's previous summer internship with Ornstein), its then-compliance director and faculty athletic representative. The former compliance director pledged to follow up with Bush -- but never did.
But that's nothing compared with the astounding carelessness alleged against Athletic Director
"On October 7, 2006, the director of athletics went to the men's basketball office after receiving an e-mail from a sports reporter looking for a response to a report that [Guillory] was a professional sports agent and involved with [Mayo]. When advised by [Floyd] that [Guillory] had on numerous occasions denied he was an agent or runner, the director of athletics responded, 'That's all I need to know,' and left the office. No further follow-up was done."
Are you serious?
In its defense, USC claims it "went to extraordinary lengths in its monitoring efforts both before and after [Mayo] enrolled." But then, the school self-imposed its own basketball penalties so it can't be all that indignant about the findings.
He may be right.
You'd be hard-pressed to find precedent for a school hit so hard over activities by parties with no association to the university. It's not unreasonable to think it will find sympathy from the Infractions Appeal Committee, which, in 2003, overturned the second year of Michigan basketball's postseason ban despite four former players taking $616,000 from rogue booster
If anything, it sure seems the committee is trying to set a new precedent. It's holding USC responsible for the sins of not just Bush and Mayo, Ornstein and Guillory, but all the star athletes and seedy brokers everywhere whose misdeeds go unreported. They spent four years building their case in order to use it as a global deterrent.
"It's time for the NCAA and the universities to come together and elevate the awareness and understand of the vulnerability of athletes and their families," said Carroll. "We need to be proactive in act in every way to protect the college experience for these kids."
It's an admirable goal -- but fortunately for him, it's also no longer his problem.
If you believe the NCAA, this all could have been avoided had USC's athletic director, compliance department and running backs coach done their jobs better five years ago. If you believe USC's defense team, they couldn't have done anything more short of fitting Bush with an ankle monitoring bracelet.
One thing's for certain: After keeping fans waiting in the dark for four years, the NCAA delivered a powerful resolution. But it sure seems the end result was less about the organization punishing USC than it was about flexing its muscle to the rest of the country.