USC hit hard by NCAA sanctions

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The NCAA has ruled that the University of Southern California athletic department exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009 for a wide array of rules violations committed in its football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs.

The findings of its investigation, spurred by a 2006 Yahoo! Sports probe, came in a 67-page report released Thursday.

“This case,” said Paul Dee, the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, “strikes at the heart of the principles of amateurism.”

USC officials said in a statement they planned to appeal the decision.

“We acknowledge that violations occurred and we take full responsibility for them,” Todd Dickey, USC’s senior vice president for administration, said. “However, we sharply disagree with many of the findings in the NCAA Committee on Infractions Report. Further, we feel the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified in the report.

“We will accept those sanctions we believe to be consistent with penalties imposed upon other NCAA member institutions found guilty of similar rules infractions. We are hopeful that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will agree with our position on appeal, and reduce the penalties.”

As a result of the violations – which mainly centered on Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and basketball star O.J. Mayo – the NCAA’s probe resulted in USC being hit with multiple penalties. Among them:

• A postseason ban in football following the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

• A loss of 30 total football scholarships over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

• A vacation of all football victories starting in December 2004 and running through the 2005 season. This includes the national championship win over Oklahoma on Jan. 4, 2005.

• All statistics vacated for Bush, Mayo and women’s tennis athlete Gabriela Niculescu in the games which the NCAA deemed them ineligible due to rules violations.

• Bush and Mayo must be disassociated from USC athletics.

• An acceptance of USC’s self-imposed penalties on its basketball program, which included a forfeiture of all wins in 2007-2008 and a one-year postseason ban.

• All titles won during ineligible games must be vacated and trophies and banners must be removed.

• A vacation of wins in the women’s tennis program from May 2006 to May 2009, for long-distance telephone violations committed by a student-athlete.

• A reduction of recruiting days for the men’s basketball program in 2010-2011.

• Four years of probation.

Bush, now a standout in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints, issued a statement.

“I have a great love for the University of Southern California and I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players,” it read. “I am disappointed by today’s decision and disagree with the NCAA’s findings. If the University decides to appeal, I will continue to cooperate with the NCAA and USC, as I did during the investigation. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on making a positive impact for the University and for the community where I live.”

Former USC football coach Pete Carroll, who departed for a job with the Seattle Seahawks in January, also issued a release to the media.

“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed at the findings of the NCAA,” Carroll said. “I never, ever thought it would come to this. … The agenda of the NCAA infractions committee took them beyond the facts. And the facts don’t match the sanctions. I absolutely support the appeal by the university and will do everything I can to contribute to their efforts.”

USC atheltic director Mike Garrett was not made available for comment by the university. Mayo did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

The investigation was split into four primary parts: Bush and the football program, Mayo and the basketball program, Niculescu and the women’s tennis program, and finally, the failure of the athletic department’s infrastructure when it came to overseeing and policing its programs and athletes.

Absorbed in its entirety, the report called the USC investigation “a window onto a landscape of elite college athletes and certain individuals close to them who, in the course of their relationships, disregard NCAA rules and regulations.”

The NCAA’s findings were largely built around Bush, Mayo, and USC’s oversight of the pair, with investigators determining the athletes disregarded NCAA rules with a full awareness of their indiscretions.

Among the report’s findings concerning Bush, the NCAA detailed 18 specific instances of violations by the running back and his family. Based largely on the relationship with several marketing agents, the violations included multiple cash payments, a house for Bush’s parents, an automobile outfitted with rims and a stereo system, airfare, hotel stays, limousine service, meals, auto repairs, clothing, furniture and appliances.

The NCAA detailed at least 12 instances of violations by Mayo, based on his relationship with a runner for a sports agency. Those violations included the receipt of cash, airfare, meals, training sessions, merchandise, wireless phones, the payment of phone bills, a television and other gifts and favors.

The report indicates that Bush and Mayo were able to engage in rule-breaking at least in part because of USC’s negligence, which included lack of staffing in the area of compliance, lax regulation on the sidelines and in the locker room, and, in at least one instance, a rebuke of running backs coach Todd McNair, who the NCAA cited for lying during the investigation.

Said the report, “[McNair] knew or should have known that [Bush] and [New Era Sports marketing agents] were engaged in violations that negatively affected [Bush’s] amateurism status. The assistant football coach provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff concerning his knowledge of [the marketing agents’] activity and also violated NCAA legislation by signing a document certifying that he had no knowledge of NCAA violations.”

McNair did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Among the fallout from the sanctions, Dee said, is that current USC football players can request to be released from their scholarships prior to the start of the 2010 football season. Dee also said that any sanctions appealed by USC will not take effect until any appeals have been ruled upon.

USC and any individuals punished in the report can appeal the NCAA’s findings in the coming months. Those appeals are heard by the Infractions Appeals Committee, which meets at various times over the course of the year. Dee said he could not speculate how long any appeal could stretch out, but he said the NCAA’s documentation in this case is over three-feet tall when placed on a table, and all or part of that would have to be reviewed in such an appeal.

Dee said in light of the findings, USC now must severely limit the access to its football and basketball programs as they pertain to individuals outside of the university. He noted the NCAA was “troubled” by USC’s failure to monitor environments around practices in both programs, which often included the presence of individuals whose interest ran contrary to that of the NCAA. The Committee on Infractions also considered imposing a television ban on USC, in what already appears to be the harshest non-“death penalty” sanctions leveled by the NCAA.

Dee said the investigation stretched on nearly four years for a multitude of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that it encompassed so many different facets, including three different sports, two major athletes, multiple individuals outside the USC program, and eventually, the majority of USC’s athletic administration. The report also notes that a lack of cooperation by the subjects – Bush and his family and Mayo – slowed the progress of investigators. Dee also noted that the NCAA was extremely meticulous in its process, evidenced by the three-day infractions hearing. Dee noted that many infractions hearings will take approximately six hours. USC’s hearing lasted more than 30 hours.

Whether the NCAA’s findings will have an impact on some of the football program’s awards remains to be seen. The NCAA has no jurisdiction over the 2004 BCS national championship trophy, nor Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy. Dee said it will be up to the BCS and Heisman Trust to determine whether to vacate those postseason trophies.

Contact Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson at windycityscribe@yahoo.com