Thursday was a tough day for the Trojans. The governing body for college sports, the NCAA, slapped the University of Southern California with sanctions for violations in its football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs.
College sports are supposed to be played by amateur athletes — not pros. A lot of the fans might be professionals, and college coaching is certainly a profession, but the competition, teams and players are amateur. After a long investigation, the NCAA has determined that the goings-on around football tailback Reggie Bush and basketball forward O.J. Mayo strike at the heart of its principle of amateur athletics.
"The real issue here is if you have high profile players, that your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level," said Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, during a conference call with reporters.
The committee’s report doesn’t name Bush or Mayo, but refers to their “high profile” status. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005. OJ Mayo was a so-called “one-and-done” player, meaning he was so good that he could leave college after just one year for the pros.
The NCAA says Bush, Mayo and some family members received illegal gifts from prospective business partners or agents while playing at USC: money, a car, housing, air travel. The NCAA says in both cases, USC didn’t do enough to stop it.
"High profile players demand high profile compliance," Dee insisted.
USC has voluntarily sanctioned its basketball team, but the NCAA’s sanctions hammer the powerhouse football team. The Trojans can’t play in any post-season bowl games for the next two seasons. They’ve also been stripped of all the victories in which Reggie Bush played. The team also loses about 30 scholarships over the next three years.
In a videotaped statement on www.usctrojans.com, USC Senior Vice President Todd Dickey said the university would appeal some of the penalties.
"While we acknowledge that some violations did occur, we sharply disagree with a number of the findings in the committee’s report," said Dickey. "We feel the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified."
Dickey also said the university's hired a security firm headed by former FBI director Louie Freeh to help find ways to protect student athletes from sports agents and marketers looking to use them to make a buck.
At USC’s Heritage Hall, Trojan fans snapped photos of Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy — a trinket that USC might also lose. A glum-faced but resolute head football coach Lane Kiffin reminded reporters that in its history, USC’s football team has suffered bans from bowl games and bounced back.
"USC’s been through a lot before. We will continue to play championship football, and we will continue to recruit the best players in America to come here," Kiffin said.
The question is: will they still want to come? Kiffin was confident they will. USC's quarterback Matt Barkley also told reporters that earlier in the day, the team had one of its best workouts ever.
USC junior Trevor Baruh co-hosts a radio show called “Unsportsmanlike Conduct”
"It’s obviously upsetting, but it’s not a big deal to me. If we can play exciting and win all our games and people know that we are the best team in football whether or not we have a championship, I don’t really care," said Baruh with the speed of a sports talk radio host. "I’m just more worried about players leaving and that could turn us into a six-seven loss team."
Fellow junior Cassie Jasso wasn’t so optimistic.
"These are my last two years, and. … no postseason," she lamented. "Kind of glad I got my Rose Bowl sweatshirt while I could back in freshman year. I thought I could get it a few more times, but guess not."
Jasso works in the campus bookstore. She says on football game days, it’s packed with fans buying sweatshirts and stuff. But she didn’t know if would be the same next season.