USC’s BCS crown to crash?

USC’s Reggie Bush dives over the goal line as he scores a 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the BCS national championship game against Texas on Jan. 4, 2006.
(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The NCAA’s decision to have the USC football team vacate victories from its national championship season in 2004 could result in the school being stripped of its title under a rule adopted by the Bowl Championship Series in 2007.

However, any such ruling by the BCS, which is independent of the NCAA, would wait until any appeals by the school are exhausted.

“In accordance with the findings released today by the NCAA, the University of Southern California’s 2005 Orange Bowl game victory has been vacated.” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “We take the integrity of NCAA rules seriously. As a procedural matter, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee (POC) must meet to formally consider vacating USC’s championship title and the game records. If the POC takes such action, there would be no BCS champion for the 2004-05 season. The POC will meet shortly to discuss this matter.

“In light of USC’s statement that it intends to appeal, we want to make it clear that no action will go into effect until the appeal is heard and decided by the NCAA.”

Hancock said the rule applies retroactively, meaning any team participating in a BCS game prior to 2007 is subject to it.

USC appeared in the BCS title game after both the 2004 and 2005 seasons, defeating Oklahoma for the title in the Orange Bowl in January 2005 and losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl in January 2006.

Hancock also said the BCS understood that NCAA investigations are often time-consuming, meaning that the rule would have to operate retroactively to be effective. In the case of USC, the NCAA has been working on its investigation and hearings process for more than four years.

The decision by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions to vacate victories from USC in 2004 and 2005 after running back Reggie Bush was ruled ineligible on Thursday set in motion a difficult precedent for college sports. This would be the first time that a championship in football, the NCAA’s biggest sport, has been stripped.

In 2006, Yahoo! Sports reported that Bush and his family received approximately $300,000 in cash and other benefits from two men trying to start a sports marketing company. Reports of the benefits initially surfaced in April 2006 and led to a further investigation published by Yahoo! Sports in August of that year that prompted the NCAA to investigate.

In 2007, the BCS adopted its rule under the lengthy title of, “Principles for addressing the post-bowl imposition of NCAA sanctions on a team participating in a Bowl Championship Series Game.” Within the 1,600-word policy is a key paragraph that lays out the punishment.

“Accordingly, if, after the playing of a BCS bowl game, the NCAA (1) finds that an institution has violated the rules governing intercollegiate athletics in the period in which it played in a BCS game and (2) imposes sanctions for those violations, then we will consider whether such institution’s participation in the BCS game should no longer be recognized, i.e., the institution’s participation in the BCS game should be deemed vacated for purposes of the BCS game records that the conferences and institutions compile each year,” the rule reads. “Vacation of a team’s participation in a BCS bowl game could also include withdrawal of recognition of a team as the BCS national champion if such team has won the national championship game. Such action, we believe, reflects the narrow scope of the BCS arrangement and is consistent with the NCAA’s approach when it subsequently discovers infractions by institutions whose teams have played in NCAA championship events.”

Reggie Bush evades Oklahoma defenders in the 2005 FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, 2005. USC defeated Oklahoma 55-19 to win the national title.
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

What’s unclear is what would happen to the money USC earned for appearing in those BCS games. Hancock said there are “no provisions” in the BCS rules about repayment of money.

USC earned approximately $3 million from its two appearances and other money was shared with teams from the Pac-10.

The NCAA generally forces teams found to have had committed violations to repay money earned in events such as its men’s basketball tournament. However, the NCAA has no control over the money dispersed by the BCS.

“Because the BCS games are not NCAA championships, the Committee on Infractions cannot mandate that an institution return any repayment of the money received for participation in a bowl game,” NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn wrote in an email.

Pac-10 Associate Commissioner Jim Muldoon said he wasn’t sure what would happen.

“Right off the top of my head, I don’t see the NCAA being involved,” Muldoon said. “Ultimately, it’s probably something that would have to go to the Presidents Committee of the BCS and see what they decide,” Muldoon said.

The difference with the BCS is that revenue from those games would have gone to a team from the Pac-10 regardless of whether USC was eligible because the conference is guaranteed a spot in one of the BCS bowls.

“I really don’t know what the conference or the NCAA will do about that, but the conference would have had another team play even if USC wasn’t involved,” Hancock said. “They would have gotten the money anyway.”

There have been eight instances in which the NCAA has rescinded titles awarded in sports other than football. Those eight were initially won by Arkansas (outdoor track and field in 2004 and 2005), Hawaii (men’s volleyball in 2002), Lewis (men’s volleyball in 2003), Syracuse (lacrosse in 1990), Texas-El Paso (cross country in 1983), San Francisco (men’s soccer in 1978) and Howard (men’s soccer in 1971).

All eight were rescinded after the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions ruled the schools had broken rules. A title in a major sport such as basketball or baseball has never been rescinded.