Carroll’s legacy TBD

So Pete Carroll has reportedly resigned and appears headed back to the NFL, this time with Seattle. What he left behind at Southern California is anyone’s guess.

There will be memories of his exuberant personality, joyfully pacing the sidelines during nine dominant seasons. And there will be questions about how he accomplished it.

Pete Carroll has reportedly resigned from USC and is expected to rejoin the NFL coaching ranks with the Seattle Seahawks.
(Lori Shepler/AP Photo)

Sources with knowledge of the situation say the NCAA is in the final stages of what has become a two-sport, department-wide investigation into USC athletics. A source told Yahoo! Sports that Reggie Bush voluntarily met with NCAA investigators last summer to discuss allegations of receiving extra benefits from marketing representatives.

The NCAA is expected to finalize its investigation in the next couple of months, if not sooner.

Details in the case date back to 2004, when Bush allegedly began receiving cash, clothes, cars, travel and a rent-free home for his mother and stepfather from marketing companies. The case could run through last month’s revelation that Joe McKnight (“the next Reggie Bush”) was driving a SUV registered to an L.A.-area businessman. It also includes agent activity surrounding former basketball star O.J. Mayo that led to the resignation of coach Tim Floyd and the school sanctioning itself last month.

If the NCAA declares Bush retroactively ineligible for the 2004 season, the Bowl Championship Series has said it will consider stripping the Trojans of their lone BCS title during Carroll’s era.

By the end, who knows what will be left.

Carroll never has publicly offered detailed answers to myriad questions that surround how the program handled its off-field business. Whatever, if anything, he’s told the NCAA thus far may be his final comment – as the Seahawks coach he no longer is obligated to speak to investigators.

At issue aren’t just specific details about Carroll’s knowledge of various dealings but the overall personality of his program.

There’s no denying Carroll ran a loose ship. At its best it perfectly represented his fun-loving ways and the laid-back L.A. lifestyle. At its worst it opened the program up to all sorts of trouble.

There were celebs on the sidelines, practices open to nearly anyone, and agents and runners rummaging around Heritage Hall like perhaps no place else in college football. The compliance department appeared to be compliant to the wishes of the football program. And it was all headed by a bumbling, if image-conscious, athletic director in Mike Garrett.

In each of the investigations, the NCAA will ask not just whether a coach (or his assistants) knew about agent or booster activity with a player but also whether he or they should’ve known.

Troubling for USC is that the people who allegedly – or in some cases admittedly – supplied Bush and his family with extra benefits weren’t anonymous to the program.

Two founders of a fledgling San Diego marketing company were given postgame locker room access at the L.A. Coliseum, and one, Lloyd Lake, said USC assistant coach Todd McNair had knowledge of the benefits received by Bush.

Another marketing company that was alleged to have made direct payments to the player and admitted providing travel for Bush and his parents (its claim of restitution doesn’t make it any less of a NCAA violation) actually employed Bush as a summer intern. They did it only after filing paperwork with the USC compliance office.

This means that in the months before his Heisman Trophy season, not one person at USC, let alone Carroll, considered that it might be risky to have a potential top-five pick spend the summer interning at a marketing company desperate to sign him as a client?

In the post-Bush era, the school doesn’t appear all that more diligent. When McKnight registered a SUV with the athletic department during his junior season, red flags apparently didn’t fly. The Los Angeles Times quickly figured out that the car was registered to a local businessman who also employed McKnight’s girlfriend and had secured a web domain that could be used to market McKnight. USC either didn’t check or didn’t act on it.

How isn’t all of this a lack of institutional control?

And how couldn’t Pete Carroll be aware of at least some of it? Can all of it be brushed off as a coincidence?

The perception is that the NCAA has been standing around doing nothing on this case as part of a conspiracy to sweep it under the rug. While its long history of selective enforcement creates reasonable doubt about its motives regarding a cash cow such as USC, in this situation I’m inclined, at least partially, to believe the opposite.

The Trojans represent a must-get for the NCAA, a case that is so over-the-top, so well-publicized and so blatantly against the most obvious of rules that it can’t allow the Trojans to escape without losing all credibility and dealing with an avalanche of national criticism. Many in college athletics wonder that if the NCAA can’t get USC, what’s the point of the operation?

Part of it is jealousy of the juggernaut Carroll built. Part of it is because of the huge financial numbers, the documents, taped conversations and a tell-all book. Part of it is because Bush hasn’t helped his cause. That includes paying a reported $300,000 to Michael Michaels, the man who owned the rent-free home, in a settlement that included an unusual clause that prohibited Michaels from speaking with the NCAA.

All of this is why the NCAA has been so slow and cautious. Here’s how the system works: The NCAA enforcement staff (the cops) get one chance to present their findings to the infractions committee (the jury). That jury has built a recent reputation for turning a blind eye on even obvious violations, in part because it’s mostly made up of sympathetic athletic directors.

In the Bush case, the enforcement staff patiently has waited for all the possible facts to come out. This includes Bush’s potential under oath testimony in a lawsuit filed by Lake. If the NCAA acted swiftly, it would’ve missed out on speaking with Bush (or getting sworn testimony) and thus presented a weaker case to the jury.

In this situation, the delay actually was a sign of serious intent. It’s trying to deliver a thorough case to a jury that knows college sports’ credibility is on the line.

While some of that may not be fair to USC, and Carroll’s Trojans may have done nothing that dozens of their competitors also have not done, the stonewalling, gag-order settlements and circumstances have helped make this what it is.

USC was able to delay things through the years, but doing so may not have helped its cause in the long run.

Now Pete Carroll is all but gone, but the questions remain and his legacy isn’t close to determined.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 10, 2010