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Why is USC waiting to fire bumbling athletic director Mike Garrett?

"I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans. As I told my staff, I said, 'You know, I feel invigorated by all this stuff ... with the penalty we got today I know we're bigger than life.' " -- USC athletic director Mike Garrett last week, after the NCAA Committee on Infractions whacked the Trojans, according to the Los Angeles Times.

*****

This is Mike Garrett's world, and nobody else is living in it. In Garrett's world, all logic is circular: USC is never wrong, therefore USC is never wrong.

Nobody else is buying the denials anymore. Nobody else is buying the delusions. USC went on a cheating spree, got caught and got sentenced, and Garrett is still playing the victim.

Judging from the way he has handled this USC scandal from the beginning, Garrett seems like the kind of guy who would sucker-punch you in a dark alley, then sue your face.

USC should have fired Garrett long ago, but the delay is getting absurd. What is USC waiting for? Yeah, sure, canning the AD five months after letting him hire a football coach is embarrassing. But is it really more embarrassing than letting Garrett puff his chest up when he should be hanging his head?

If USC cares even a whit about its image, or about responsibility -- and I don't mean USC athletics, I mean the University of Southern California -- then the choice is obvious.

The NCAA dropped the hammer on USC, issuing a two-year postseason ban, docking 10 scholarships per year for each of the next three years and vacating a bunch of wins from the Pete Carroll era, among other penalties. You can measure any punishment with this question: Knowing what the punishment would be, would you still commit the crime? In this case, I think the answer is no, you would not commit that crime.

But understand this: The punishment was so severe because USC was so arrogant. Garrett engineered years of stonewalling and minimizing. He let his basketball coach, Tim Floyd, sign O.J. Mayo even though his own compliance department knew Mayo and his delivery man Rodney Guillory were major violations waiting to happen. When the NCAA publishes its next rulebook, there should be a picture under "lack of institutional control" of Mike Garrett giving the finger.

This says everything about USC: The Trojans are apparently keeping running backs coach Todd McNair on the payroll, even though McNair should be kicked out of college coaching, period. The NCAA says McNair was well aware of Reggie Bush's transgressions and did nothing about them. From the infractions committee's report:

"On January 8, 2006, one of the agency partners called the assistant football coach asking for assistance in convincing the former student-athlete to adhere to the agency agreement or reimburse the partners for the money and benefits they provided. The assistant football coach failed to alert the university compliance staff of this information and later provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff regarding his knowledge of the violations. Based on these actions, the committee found the assistant football coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules and violated NCAA legislation by failing to report knowledge of possible violations."

Now, why would USC keep McNair? There are three possible answers, and not one of them is good.

Answer No. 1: USC does not believe the NCAA's version of events. Considering the mountain of evidence, that is implausible.

Answer No. 2: USC thinks that knowing major violations are being committed, keeping it to yourself and then lying about it is A-OK.

Answer No. 3: USC is scared to let McNair go because then he might spill his guts. If McNair is no longer working for USC (and, presumably, can't get a great job somewhere else), he might feel free to tell the whole truth. And then he might implicate Garrett, Carroll, Lane Kiffin and a whole boatload of other people.

You would think that Garrett, a former Heisman Trophy winner himself, would be embarrassed at the idea that another Trojan running back might have to forfeit his Heisman.

But Garrett obviously doesn't care. He was a bumbling athletic director before Carroll saved him -- the now-tarnished era is still his only real success in the job. Garrett is not going to suddenly gain a conscience about this stuff. All of his actions over the last five years have shown that.

And USC football will survive and may even thrive. It still has the three most important characteristics for a major-college football: a storied name, access to prime recruiting territory and (obviously) an overwhelming institutional desire to win.

But whether Garrett realizes it or not, there is actually a university attached to his football team. UCLA grads and Cal grads like to mock USC, but it is the 26th-ranked national university in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

How can the school still play the victim? If a professor let students cheat, then lied about it, would he get tenure? What kind of message does this send -- not just to the rest of the country, but to the students and faculty at USC?

Even the finest institutions lose their way sometimes. But if USC keeps Mike Garrett, it's time to order new stationery. It will be the University of Sanctioned Cheating. And everybody else at the school deserves better than that.

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