USC is punishing its men's basketball program because a booster made secret payments to former star guard O.J. Mayo in violation of NCAA rules, the university announced today. Under the self-imposed sanctions, USC will not participate in post-season play this year, including the Pacific 10 Conference basketball tournament or the NIT or NCAA tournaments.
It will also forfeit all of its wins during the 2007-08 season, when Mayo -- who now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA -- was on the team.
The school also will return to the NCAA the money it received from the Pac-10 Conference for its participation in the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament; cut a basketball scholarship for two years; prohibit one coach from recruiting trips; and cut 20 days out of the 130-day period that its coaches could use to
travel to recruit candidates.
Schools penalizing themselves for NCAA infractions is a common strategy, but doesn't always work.
The Los Angeles Times noted that Oklahoma's basketball team and Ohio State's basketball program were hit with additional sanctions by the NCAA after those schools penalized themselves.
An NCAA official told The Times the self-imposed sanctions may be an attempt by USC to show contrition.
"It's a statement of good faith if there is an acknowledgment that violations occurred," said Tom Yeager, former chairman of the NCAA infractions committee. "Sometimes, it's a way of taking your medicine and getting penalties out of the way."
In a statement, USC said it imposed the sanctions "because of Mayo's involvement with Rodney Guillory, whom under NCAA rules became a USC booster because of his role in Mayo's recruitment."
In May 2008, Lewis Johnson, a former associate of Mayo and Guillory, alleged that Mayo received gifts from Guillory, and that former USC coach Tim Floyd gave Guillory money.
Floyd has denied any secret payments and said he resigned as coach because of a lack of support from the administration.
Floyd was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, Jim Darnell, told the Los Angeles Times that the former coach did nothing wrong.
"We don't believe that Coach Floyd did anything improper with regard to O.J. Mayo," he said. "Whether somebody else did something outside of that, he didn't know about it. But as far as Coach Floyd or anyone on his staff doing anything improper with O.J. Mayo, it didn't happen."
Mayo, selected third overall in the 2008 NBA draft, played just one year at USC.
Current USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill said the school did the right thing in self-imposing the sanctions.
"I respect and understand the action that has taken. Our players have risen to many challenges already this season and I am proud of what they have accomplished. I am confident that they will rise to this latest challenge," O'Neill said. "As their coach, I will do everything in my power to make our program better on and off the court every day."
"USC takes allegations of NCCA rules violations very seriously," said USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett in a statement. "When allegations were made regarding our men's basketball program we immediately began an investigation and worked closely with the NCAA and the Pac-10 in an attempt to ascertain the truth.
"We believe the self-imposed sanctions are consistent with penalties imposed at other NCAA member institutions which have been cited with similar rules infractions," Garrett said.
In April 2009, the NCAA combined its investigations of Mayo and former USC football running back Reggie Bush into a single probe of the Trojans' athletic program, and both investigations are ongoing.
A report surfaced in April 2006 raising questions about whether Bush and his family received gifts in violation of NCAA policies. The school has requested that the conference investigate the matter, and Bush has denied any impropriety.
Bush and his family are accused of accepting thousands in cash and failing to pay rent on a home owned by a marketer while he was playing for USC in 2004 and 2005.
Currently, USC is investigating whether Joe McKnight, the football team's leading rusher, has been driving an SUV owned by a Santa Monica businessman in violation of NCAA rules.