Infractions decision stands for USC
The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee has upheld the findings of NCAA violations and associated penalties for the University of Southern California. The case primarily involved agent and amateurism violations for former football student-athlete Reggie Bush and former men's basketball student-athlete O.J. Mayo.
The findings in this case include a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits and exceeding coaching staff limits.
The penalties include four years probation; a two-year football postseason ban; a one-year basketball postseason ban; vacation of regular and postseason wins for all three involved sports (football, basketball and women’s tennis); scholarship reductions for football and basketball; and recruiting restrictions for men's basketball.
The penalties also include a $5,000 financial penalty; forfeiture of revenue from the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship; and limitations for the access granted to boosters and non-university personnel to team charters, sidelines, practices, locker rooms and camps for men's basketball and football.
The university also must disassociate itself from three boosters involved in this case, as well as Bush and Mayo. As a part of this disassociation, the university will not be able to accept financial contributions or other assistance for the athletics department from these individuals, and is prohibited from providing these individuals with any benefits or privileges.
In its appeal, the university requested the penalties be reduced, asserting they were not supported by the facts and were excessive to an extent that they constituted an abuse of discretion. It also contended that the findings of violations should be set aside as contrary to the evidence.
The Infractions Appeals Committee’s decision to uphold the penalties for the University of Southern California means the penalties are now in effect. The appealed penalties are placed on hold until the appeals process is completed. The penalties appealed by the university include a reduction in football scholarships for three years and the second year of the postseason ban.
In this case, USC requested they be able to immediately enact the first year of the postseason ban during the appeals process. The appeals committee granted this request and the first year of the postseason ban was applied to the 2010 season. The remaining year will be applied to the upcoming 2011 season.
The reduction in football scholarships will begin with the 2012-13 academic year. USC will be able to offer 15 initial scholarships (instead of the maximum of 25) and 75 total scholarships (instead of the maximum of 85) for each of the next three academic years. This reduction will not impact those student-athletes who have already signed for the 2011-12 academic year.
Since 2008, only one appeal of NCAA sanctions has been successful. Another 10 appeals failed, and USC athletic director Pat Haden wasn't terribly optimistic about his alma mater's chances after the NCAA cited the Trojans for a lack of institutional control following a four-year investigation.
The NCAA ruled Heisman Trophy winner Bush and basketball player Mayo had received improper benefits under the administration of athletic director Mike Garrett, football head coach Pete Carroll and basketball head coach Tim Floyd, who have all left the university. In addition to the football sanctions and self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, USC was put on four years of probation.
Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy two months after USC removed its replica of the trophy and Bush's jersey from places of honor in Heritage Hall.
USC's seniors also were allowed to transfer to another school without sitting out a year, a sanction that Kiffin criticized as "free agency." A few players left the Trojans after the sanctions were handed down, but most were backups unhappy with playing time.
The appeal's rejection apparently means USC's seniors still could transfer without sitting out a year.
"We respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with the findings of the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee," the university said in a statement Thursday. "Our position was that the Committee on Infractions abused its discretion and imposed penalties last June that were excessive and inconsistent with established case precedent."
Haden, who took over the athletic department last July, and other USC officials went before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee in January. They asked the panel to reduce by half the harshest penalties handed down against the football program, arguing that the bowl ban and loss of scholarships was excessive.
Haden has said he won't sue the NCAA if the appeal fails, which means the formidable recruiting skills of head coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron will be tested by scholarship limitations for the near future. Kiffin replaced Carroll five months before the NCAA imposed the penalties last June.
While the university stated that the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions erred in concluding that sports marketers in the case were Southern California boosters, the appeals committee disagreed, “We are persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to support the Committee on Infractions’ conclusions regarding these issues, and find no basis on which to reverse the pertinent findings,” the appeals committee said in its public report.
The university also argued the lack of institutional control finding should be set aside because some of the facts found by the Committee on Infractions did not constitute rules violations and that the Committee on Infractions did not consider a number of mitigating factors. The appeals committee, however, did not find any basis to reverse the finding.
The appeals committee also upheld all penalties in the case, noting there was no basis to conclude the Committee on Infractions departed from prior decisions.
Critics of the original NCAA ruling against USC thought the NCAA's recent decisions involving football programs at Auburn and Ohio State would help the Trojans' appeal.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was allowed to keep playing despite an NCAA ruling that his father had asked Mississippi State for cash when his son was being recruited out of junior college. Five Ohio State players then were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season after the NCAA ruled they had sold their championship rings, jerseys and awards and received improper benefits from a tattoo parlor.
USC also made wholesale changes in its athletic department, including a dramatically beefed-up compliance unit.
USC will be limited to signing no more than 15 players to football scholarships during the next three years, 10 fewer than the standard limit.
Haden's pessimism was grounded in a ruling last month when the NCAA upheld its punishment of former USC assistant Todd McNair for his role in the Bush case. McNair was Carroll's assistant for six seasons, and the NCAA claimed McNair knew about some of the gifts lavished on Bush's family by two aspiring sports marketers hoping to land Bush as a client.
McNair and USC's attorneys hotly disputed the charge, but McNair's contract wasn't retained on Kiffin's staff.
In considering the university’s appeal, the Infractions Appeals Committee reviewed the notice of appeal; the transcript of the university’s Committee on Infractions hearing; and the submissions by both the university and the Committee on Infractions.
The Infractions Appeals Committee may overturn a determination of fact or finding of violation if the Committee on Infractions’ finding is contrary to the evidence presented; the facts found by the Committee on Infractions do not constitute a violation of NCAA rules; or a procedural error affected the reliability of information that was used to support the findings. A penalty by the Committee on Infractions may be set aside on appeal if the penalty is excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion.
The members of the Infractions Appeals Committee who heard this case were: Christopher L. Griffin, Foley & Lardner LLP, chair; Jack Friedenthal, professor of law at George Washington University; William Hoye, executive vice president for administration, planning and legal affairs at the Institute for the International Education of Students; Patti Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs at University of Texas at Austin; and David Williams, vice chancellor and general counsel at Vanderbilt University.
Also on Thursday, Bowl Championship Series officials said they will consider whether to strip the Trojans of their 2004 title. BCS executive director Bill Hancock says there is no timetable for that decision, but he expected it to happen "sooner, rather than later.'' The championship would be left vacant and not awarded to another team.
USC won the 2004 national championship by beating Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl to complete a perfect season. Auburn and Utah also finished the '04 season unbeaten.
The AP will not vacate the championship it awarded USC for 2004.
The Associated Press contributed to this repoort.