USC Punishments a Flashback to 1982
After a lengthy NCAA investigation, the University of Southern California was slapped with a list of penalties considered much tougher than expected and the Trojans were not pleased.
"Vindictive, unreasonable, unjustified and discriminatory," said USC's school president after the NCAA handed the Trojans a probation that includes no bowl game appearances for the football program.
"We answered everything they asked from us," said USC's athletic director, who was angered that the NCAA reprimanded the school for "lack of administrative control."
Even one of USC's several out-of-state football recruits, who accepted a scholarship with the Trojans earlier this year, said the NCAA was being too harsh and hinted about taking legal action.
"I see what other school's have done and what USC's done, and it seems to me USC's getting penalized more for less infractions," the prep All-American offensive lineman said.
Another high school senior from USC's top-ranked recruiting class added, "I heard about the penalties [before signing] but I wasn't sure it would happen. USC has ways of getting out of things."
The year was 1982, and not 2010. USC's school president was Dr. James H. Zumberge and not out-going current president Steven Sample, and the Trojans' athletic director was Richard Perry, not Mike Garrett.
And the 1982 recruits were James FitzPatrick, a coveted lineman from Oregon, and Dexter Levy, a defensive standout from Los Angeles Crenshaw High; not 2010 recruits Seantrel Henderson, a blue-chip lineman from Minnesota, and Hayes Pullard, a top linebacker from Crenshaw.
Yes, the situation for the Trojans seems very familiar.
That's because USC is no stranger to NCAA investigations. In many ways, it's grown to become part of life for the Trojans, who are expected to hold a press conference Thursday to address possible violations involving the USC football and men's basketball programs.
The Trojans will be banned for two years from postseason bowl games and suffer a loss of 30 football scholarships (divided up at 10 scholarships for each of the next three years). USC will be on probation for four years.
Obviously, it's not the first time that USC has been punished for breaking the rules.
I was a member of that USC 1982 recruiting class. One of 14 clueless athletes who unfortunately got caught up in the game of big money college athletics where winning usually comes with a price.
In April 1982, USC's football program was hit with one of the toughest probations ever handed down by the NCAA, when it was ruled that the Trojans were guilty for various violations, including the selling of tickets by assistant coach Marv Goux.
As punishment, USC received three years probation with no appearances in bowl games for two seasons (1982 and 1983) and no appearances on television (1983 and 1984).
In a letter published by Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1982, I wrote in part: "The people responsible for the 'crime' are the ones who should be punished, not innocent players. It seems to me that the high school seniors who this year picked USC because they thought it was the best school for them are the ones who are being punished the most ... This means that I have to live with a penalty incurred by others or switch to another school and probably lose some of my eligibility. Why should I be punished? There has to be a better way to discipline a school."
After the NCAA's latest investigation, it's clear that college sports' enforcement crew still has not found a way to properly punish cheaters without having a negative impact on innocent athletes still committed to the program in question.
Prior to 1982, USC had one of the most successful programs in the nation under Coach John Robinson, who took over after legendary John McKay left for the NFL in 1976.
In Robinson's first six seasons, USC won one national championship and finished ranked No. 2 twice with three Pac-10 titles. And then came the 1982 probation and things slowly changed for the Trojans.
It's funny, but I will never forget how Robinson sat on my family's living room couch when I was being recruited and told my parents: No. 1, that he didn't expect USC to receive a severe NCAA probation and No. 2, he will remain the Trojans' coach long enough to see me graduate.
Buzzer please? Robinson was wrong on both.
Although USC finished with a respectable 8-3 record in 1982, Robinson was gone and coaching the Los Angeles Rams before I experienced my first spring break in 1983.
Eventually, the 1982 probation wore down the Trojans' program. Ted Tollner and Larry Smith each won a Rose Bowl but suffered more disappointment than success.
In 1993, Robinson returned and also led USC to a Rose Bowl victory, but he failed to get the Trojans back to elite status. The same could be said about Paul Hackett, who replaced Robinson in 1998.
That all changed once Pete Carroll took over as coach three years later. Under Carroll, USC became a dominant program again, winning at least a share of two national championships and appearing in seven consecutive BCS bowl games.
And in true USC fashion, an NCAA investigation followed Carroll and the Trojans' success.
Everything started in April 2006 when the Pac-10 opened up a probe into former USC running back Reggie Bush's relationship with Michael Michaels, a would-be sports marketer who owned a San Diego-area home where, according to reports, Bush's mother, brother and stepfather lived.
Since then, the Trojans have had to deal with one violation accusation after another, including illegal benefits given to former USC guard O.J. Mayo.
In February, a group representing USC, which included Sample, Garrett and Carroll along with school attorneys and compliance officials, spent three days defending itself before a 10-member NCAA's Committee on Infractions.
Although the Trojans reportedly made a strong defense, they supposedly did not make it good enough based on the NCAA's latest ruling.
At least USC has some experience with bouncing back after an NCAA probation setback. And if first-year coach Lane Kiffin needs any help talking to his team, all he has to do is check back to what Robinson said following the Trojans' 1982 NCAA ruling.
"We knew things [penalties] were coming and what we basically said to the players was that we had some things taken away, but we've got a great deal left," Robinson told the Los Angeles Times. "... We're not going to let negative things effect us."
For USC, the more things change, the more they remain the same.