The eight young men above represent the quality of athletics at the University of Southern California, a school where that quality is high indeed. But sports fans of USC, and the athletes themselves, are at present gloomy, not cheerful, about the 1959 season. The reason is that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as punishment for two rather minor recruiting violations in football, has banned USC for a year from NCAA championship competition in 15 sports, and from 28 important sports events (including all the major bowl games) which cooperate with the NCAA. This means that USC's baseball, tennis and track teams, which hold NCAA championships right now, will not be able to defend their titles. It means that the swimming team, which includes Australian Olympic stars Murray Rose and Jon Henricks—who are now USC sophomores—will not be able to challenge Michigan for the NCAA championship. It means, over-all, that USC's horizons in all sports are drastically narrowed for 1959. And there is, in addition, a two-year ban on Southern California's participation in any sports event televised under the authority of the NCAA.
The shocked reactions of Southern Californians generally include two strong complaints: that the enormity of the NCAA's punishment is out of all proportion to the crimes; and that the punishment is spread around far too generously among those who committed no offense at all. "This seeming condemnation of the unquestionably innocent along with the presumably guilty is itself a curious version of fair play," said the Los Angeles Examiner. An official at USC put it less formally: "I just feel sorry for the kids." Still another Californian said the penalties "reminded me of a man jailed on a manslaughter charge and then let out on parole. If he ran a red light would you send him to the electric chair?" He was referring to the fact that USC had just finished a two-year probationary period and expected not an additional penalty but a clean bill of health.
From the NCAA point of view, however, it was the fact that USC committed recruiting violations while on probation that justified the extra-stiff punishment just imposed. As for punishing the innocent along with the guilty, the NCAA position is that penalties are given institutions, not individuals. A. D. Kirwan of Kentucky, who is chairman of the NCAA committee on infractions, says, "It is no more unfair to boys in track and tennis than it is to the 67 football players who weren't involved in violations. When it comes to the athletes themselves, you might say that all those punished are personally innocent. Often the boys involved are already graduated, and those who remain are innocent. But we feel that a school should watch all its sports closely to protect them all."
The monolithic—and flintlike—simplicity of the NCAA position can have little appeal to Southern California. Yet it remains an enormous reality that has to be faced. The punishment is hard on USC's fine athletes, but that fact itself is—or should be—the strongest force of all in keeping athletic officials within the rules. California cannot be blamed for its anger. But the anger should properly be directed at those who commit violations, not at those who punish them.