clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Mainstream Media Revisionism of Southern Cal's NCAA Violations

As Southern Cal's 4 years of NCAA probation came to a close this week, many of the usual suspects in the media and around USC have come out in an attempt to revise the history of the Trojans' recent checkered history of following the rules.

The new crew at USC. Different enough from the old crew that got the Trojans in NCAA trouble?
The new crew at USC. Different enough from the old crew that got the Trojans in NCAA trouble?
Stephen Dunn

The period of sanction against Southern Cal for its violation of NCAA rules regarding the actions of a number of student athletes including Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo is coming to a close. The 4-year period of probation levied by the association's Committee on Infractions ended just after midnight on Tuesday morning, leaving just the final (delayed) year of scholarship reductions applied to the football program along with one more year in which a new violation would again have USC tagged as a "Repeat Violator" with the enhanced penalties that follow.

Of course, this milestone led to usual suspects in the local and national media to come out to praise Southern Cal and to again pull out the tired, discredited victim card that the Trojans and their friends have shamelessly pulled out during every step of the investigation of and sanction for the institution's misconduct.

With Donald Sterling now too toxic for so much as selling a used car in a Los Angeles newspaper, the ending of Southern Cal's NCAA-imposed sanctions could not have come at a better time for the LA Times' newfound need to fill column inches by defending a controversial local institution. Chris Dufrense got the call to ring in the end of the Trojans' period of probation by whining about the harshness of the penalties handed down for the major violations found to have occurred in three different sports during the period being investigated at USC.

To be fair to Chris, he actually made a reasonable point toward the end of the story, acknowledging that USC's athletic department had committed NCAA violations and deserved sanctions along with a deep cleaning out of Heritage Hall.

USC deserved to be sanctioned and punished for its mistakes. USC needed to be cleansed from systemic administration failure. It needed to tighten a leash that had become loose under Pete Carroll. It needed to rid its sidelines of rap stars, freeloaders, interlopers and street agents.

But we all know that no LA Times editor would allow a statement like that to be published about USC football without some big time 'buts' all around it. And the story does well in that paper's long tradition of whitewashing the many transgressions of the football program based a couple miles south of downtown.

Along with the usual whining about how hard the sanctions were together with the claim that the Trojans' really were not harmed that much by them, Chris makes a statement that while inaccurate, is in varying forms not uncommon in the media treatment of these sanctions - particularly those coming from USC apologists.

The infractions committee recklessly conflated USC football's defiance, arrogance and lack of contrition into punishment points.

While I am sure that Dufrense wrote that line with the idea that it was a cute way to undercut the NCAA's credibility, the concept which he mocks actually has an established history with well documented support in the association's archives.

In nearly every discussion of USC's sanctions that I have found in the media - but particularly those from USC apologists - the precedent in the NCAA's enforcement actions which state that cooperation with and conduct toward the NCAA's investigation is a factor in the determination and imposition of sanctions have been ignored. To be fair to the reporters who have written on and covered this story over the past 4+ years, it is not an obvious point to raise because it so rarely comes up in enforcement actions - because schools pretty much always cooperate as soon as the NCAA gives notice that it is conducting an investigation.

While the NCAA was deciding its case against Southern Cal, I researched and wrote a lengthy post on the association's enforcement process and how that was likely to apply to USC. In that post, I discussed the impact of cooperation by an institution during an investigation on the NCAA sanctions which resulted from the wrongdoing discovered. The NCAA has a basic requirement for its member institutions to cooperate fully with any investigation. Beyond this, published infractions reports dating back decades describe greater levels of cooperation and self-investigation by member schools, with a well documented history showing that institutions that take investigationsseriously and go above and beyond in cooperating with investigations have those actions taken into account when sanctions are formulated. As an NCAA appeals committee which handled an appeal of sanctions by Ole Miss wrote in 1995:

Where an institution cooperates only to the extent necessary to meet its basic membership obligation, its conduct does not warrant special consideration in determining or imposing penalties. However, where an institution fully accepts its membership obligations and makes every effort to participate in and assist the enforcement process, its conduct must be a significant factor in determining and imposing penalties.

In fact, over the dozens of enforcement cases that I reviewed back in 2010 and 2011, only one school other than USC was found not to have cooperated with an investigation to a degree to warrant 'special consideration' in levying sanctions - and that school went on to win an appeal and have its sanctions reduced on that point after demonstrating that it had in fact in fact substantially cooperated with NCAA investigators.

The fact that Mike Garrett aired an arrogant, defiant tone toward the NCAA while dealing with alumni and reporters does not itself justify an enhanced level of sanctions. But several decades of NCAA investigations and enforcement actions have given notice to all member institutions that defiance and lack of contrition during an investigation will lead to more severe penalties than those given to those who cooperate and self-correct. The fact that USC is the only school to have risen to that level of arrogance and defiance toward the NCAA has confused reporters and members of the public alike, who likely do not even realize that such a precedent exists. But such ignorance does not excuse Southern Cal from the sanctions that it earned, nor the paid reporters who could have found and shared that particular rule just as easily as I did nearly 4 years ago.

Not to be outdone in this summer's Trojan apologist competition, Ted Miller wrote a post for ESPN's Pac-12 blog on Monday, titled: USC's political imprisonment ends Tuesday. Because when you think of political prisoners, the crew from Heritage Hall fit right in there with people like the late Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa, right?

There really is nothing new in this most recent post; Ted simply rehashed the same hate for the NCAA and excuses for Southern Cal's conduct that he has been giving - and that we have been debunking - for the past 4 years with ignorance of the evidence found by the NCAA and the precedent (which the member schools all have notice of and could push to change through organizational process, btw) that supported a strong set of sanctions against USC.

Over the weekend, Pete Carroll told reporters that when he quit as Southern Cal's football coach in January 2010, he had no idea that his program was at risk of being sanctioned by the NCAA. The full quote courtesy of Pro Football Talk (PFT):

"The truth was, an opportunity came up and it was one I couldn't turn away from," Carroll told the Los Angeles Times. ". . . The NCAA came back at the university . . . ‘Now we're going to revisit after five years.' I had no knowledge that was coming. We thought maybe it wasn't coming because they didn't have anything to get us with. It wasn't five days, it wasn't five weeks. It was five years. Had we known that that was imminent . . . I would never have been able to leave under those circumstances. When I look back now, I would have stayed there to do what we needed to do to resolve the problem."

Carroll officially left USC on January 11, 2010. On that same day, Yahoo Sports reporters Jason Cole and Charles Robinson broke the news that the NCAA's Committee on Infractions would meet the following month to hear the long-investigated case against Southern Cal. As reported by ESPN's Dana O'Neil and noted by us at the time, the USC athletic department and administration would have received a notice of allegations no later than the end of November 2009.

The University of Miami - no stranger to NCAA violations and resulting investigations - has posted a brief but helpful breakdown of the NCAA's investigative and enforcement process. Here is how Miami describes an NCAA Notice of Allegations (emphasis/bolding is mine).

At the conclusion of the investigative process for any NCAA case, the enforcement staff makes a determination of what, if any, NCAA bylaws and rules it believes have been broken by the institution, its staff or student-athletes or associated parties. If, in their determination, violations did occur, the NCAA staff issues a Notice of Allegations to the institution, detailing the bylaws alleged to have been violated and providing supporting evidence. The issuance of the Notice of Allegations is not announced publicly by the NCAA nor is it released by the NCAA. Member institutions may, at their own choosing, release parts of or all of the Notice of Allegations to the public.

Any individual alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the Notice of Allegations will also receive a copy of the allegation(s), whether still employed by the institution or not.

Now maybe Pete Carroll was entranced and confused by the sort of bluster that then-AD Mike Garrett was used to directing at Trojan alumni groups, but looking at the timeline and the known pace of the NCAA"s process, there is no credible way to believe that Pete did not know that USC was facing a significant enforcement action when he decided to skip town. Heck, Mike Florio at PFT called that idea BS right from the start:

The idea that Carroll leaving USC had nothing at all to do with the looming NCAA sanctions is hard to believe. Maybe the Seahawks job is an extraordinary opportunity, but Carroll likely started looking for extraordinary opportunities after USC's 2009 season because he expected USC's 2009 season to be the last for a couple years in which it wouldn't be dealing with NCAA sanctions.

... Uh, you didn't leave some other time because you knew NCAA investigations can take years and USC wouldn't have to deal with the result of the investigation "some other time." USC has to deal with the result of the investigation now, after Carroll has left.

Even USA Today's coverage of Pete's last day at USC included skepticism from members of the student body.

And some were cynical, viewing Carroll not so much as pursuing a dream but escaping the nightmare of possible NCAA sanctions.

"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card," freshman Conrad Wilton said. "If I were Pete Carroll, I'd be on my way, too."

If even a USC freshman knew that the Trojans' were about to get sanctioned, it is hard to believe that Petey didn't have a clue.