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Whitewashing Mayo Not Enough for USC

Jul 24, 2010 – 8:30 PM
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O.J. MayoThe NCAA's big finish is a bucket of paint.

Incoming USC school president Max Nikias said this week that Southern California will take down all representations of O.J. Mayo, including jerseys, photos and even a mural.

The initiative follows along with the NCAA mandate (and USC self-sanction) to disassociate with Mayo, after the NCAA found that the one-and-done's single year on campus came with more extra benefits than a Wall Street CEO's pension plan.

So, with a couple brush strokes, the O.J. Mayo legacy will be gone.

And that's more problem than solution.

In no way should Southern California face the sort of light punishment a few gallons of paint and a couple asterisks can wipe away.

USC basketball and Mayo have received less attention in the scandal than Reggie Bush and the football infractions, partially because basketball is generally the tag-along little brother in college athletics and partially because Mayo's tenure at SC was ultimately inconsequential compared to the national championship and Heisman ramifications facing Bush.

(Frankly, if there's anything that screams for a four-year investigation and the hiring of a Rhodes Scholar like Haden, it's why Mayo had a mural in the first place, unless anyone wants to remember a first-round upset in the NCAA tournament. In fact, USC was better off without Mayo. The prior year, the Trojans advanced to the Sweet 16. One year after Mayo, they'd win the first Pac-10 conference tournament title in school history. But, hey, Mayo is on television. There's probably a Spencer Pratt mural coming in its place.)

Yet while the USC football team has been saddled with the double curse of a two-year bowl-ban and a ridiculous $4-plus million contract for Lane Kiffin, the basketball team is ready to go about business as usual, at least once they pay the painter's bills.

Yes, the school self-imposed sanctions. It disqualified itself from the postseason, but unless the NCAA tournament had expanded to 128 teams, all from the West, it was academic for the 16-14 Trojans.

In fact, we'll sanction ourselves. Next typo we make, we'll ban ourselves from Pulitzer contention.

USC also paid back just over $200,000 for participating in the tournament and will lose something in the neighborhood of $1.4 million for not taking its yearly share from that appearance. But to USC, $1.4 million is what Reggie Bush kept in his left shoe.

And there were recruiting restrictions, the loss of a single scholarship last year and this year, and a few recruiting days removed from the calendar.

However, by and large, all it's really going to cost USC basketball is a few minor concessions and a coat of paint.

Yet USC basketball should be suffering an even stricter punishment.

After all, the basketball coaching staff didn't stick their fingers in their ears during Mayo's recruitment, like a Justin Bieber song started playing, and act dumb. They knew full well they were using a runner who was considered a booster of the program as early as 2001, during a previous NCAA investigation. They simply didn't care.

We know they knew, because an assistant coach handed an article he found on the Internet about Guillory to then-coach Tim Floyd. Floyd disputes ever receiving the article, but if you believe the coach didn't know Guillory was dirtier than gym socks, there's some lovely beach front property in El Paso, Texas, where Floyd is again coaching without sanction by the NCAA, we'd like to interest you in. Heck, the staff even wrote that Guillory had previously run afoul of the NCAA in the recruiting log.

Same guy, same story, same violations.

Yet Guillory and the USC staff racked up calls like a couple of teenage girls debating between Team Edward and Team Jacob. The staff and Guillory swapped 125 calls over the span of two months alone in 2006, according to the NCAA's findings.

Meanwhile Guillory kept the gifts coming for Mayo, during his recruitment and his single-year tenure. There was a $1,400 television set. A new smart phone and wireless service for both Mayo and his brother, valued at $171 and $173 a month. (Apparently opting for a family plan is too economically sensible when violating NCAA rules.) There was a trip to LA and other flights, expensive watches, and money wired directly to Mayo's girlfriend.

Guillory even gave the brothers 10 jogging suits, apparently in case they wanted to do an independent film about Steve Prefontaine or work their way into Al Davis' posse.

And for all the blatant violation of NCAA rules, for its cozy relationship with a known NCAA scofflaw, the Trojans simply wipe their hands and move on.

Floyd is coaching again. Mayo is in the NBA. USC basketball is hoping to contend in the Pac-10. Athletic director Mike Garrett lost his job, but it's hard to imagine that putting a scare in many coaches.

Yes, the media guides will carry a few asterisks, but with little lasting impact. It'll be whitewashed, forgotten and the repeated again.

How do we know? It's already happened.

Perhaps the best argument for tougher punishments was in the NCAA's report itself. What were the schools involved in the previous NCAA violation with Guillory, that the assistant coach had to Google and present to Floyd? Fresno State and a familiar name: Southern California. In just five years, the violation and suspension of Jeff Trepagnier for nearly a third of the season had apparently already been forgotten.

So too will these -- at least until the NCAA toughens up and makes the risks too great for the possible rewards. Judging by recent NCAA sanctions, in the best-case scenario, you take a player like Mayo to the Final Four and cash million-dollar paychecks. Worst case scenario, you wind up coaching elsewhere and the school takes a small, forgettable hit.

Move along, everyone, there's nothing to see here. At least once the painters get done.
Filed under: Sports