Fri Jun 11 08:57pm EDT
The unusually aggressive sanctions dropped on Southern Cal Thursday showed the NCAA was clearly not interested in letting anyone associated with the program off easy for a long list of major infractions committed by former Heisman winner Reggie Bush in 2004 and 2005. But because the heavy-handed penalties included a two-year bowl ban, the NCAA did see fit to waive all transfer restrictions for juniors and seniors, most of whom were in middle school when Bush was accepting thousands in cash and prizes from would-be agents. That would allow them to play immediately at a new school without spending a mandatory season on the bench. The Pac-10 stepped in today with a provision barring transfers to other Pac-10 schools, but otherwise, it was open season on USC's upperclassmen – if you could find one actually looking to leave in the wake of the penalties.
The transfer provision doesn't apply to Trojan players with more than two years of eligibility remaining, including incoming freshmen, who will have a chance to play in a bowl game when the ban is lifted in 2012 (or 2013, depending on how long the appeal takes). So when blue-chip true freshman Dillon Baxter, openly compared to Bush already for his spectacular debut in spring practice, started getting calls from calls from opposing schools before the end of the day on Thursday – just hours after the NCAA report was released – he sent it up the chain:
... USC true freshman running back Dillon Baxter told the school's director of compliance that five schools illegally contacted him in the wake of USC's NCAA penalties, according to a document reviewed by ESPN's Joe Schad.
In a letter written by USC director of compliance Matt Billings to Pac-10 Associate Commissioner for Governance and Enforcement Ron Barker, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Fresno State and Alabama allegedly contacted Baxter.
The letter states in part: "I just met with (Baxter) and he told me that he received phone calls from five institutions (June 10th.) All of the institutions asked if he was interested in transferring [from] USC due to the NCAA decision. Would you please speak with these schools to remind them they cannot speak to this student athlete?"
None of the offending schools is going to sweat a phone call from the Pac-10 associate commissioner of whatever, especially if bending the rules helps them land a potential star of Baxter's caliber, but the general irony stands: It took less than eight hours, maximum, for the official report of multiple violations of NCAA rules by USC to beget multiple violations of NCAA rules by other schools hoping to capitalize on the situation. (Florida, no stranger to being accused of illegally contacting players by USC coach Lane Kiffin, has already denied contacting Baxter, for the record, as has Oregon. [UPDATE, June 12, 6:52 a.m.] Alabama and Washington have also issued denials, which proves nothing, but raises the specter of what must be – if it could be proven – one of the saddest cases of false accusations on record. I call for an intensive, prolonged investigation. – ed.)
And Baxter, only a semester removed from being hotly pursued by every major school in the country, actually reported it. Either he has a bright future as a whistleblower, or the whole "culture of compliance" meme has finally found its foothold. Score one for deterrence.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.