June 10, 2010
Now that he's the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, people have been intimating for months that Pete Carroll left USC just in the nick of time. As the NCAA investigated the alleged violations that have now led to what amounts to a near-death penalty against one of college football's most storied programs, people in and around Seattle are doing an interesting dance with all of this information. On one hand, the penalties against the USC football team comprise a major advantage to any other competitive Pac-10 team, and the Washington Huskies (currently coached by former SC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) are one of those teams. And any blight on the hated Trojans will go over well at Montlake. On the other hand, there is absolutely no way that Carroll wasn't aware of what was going on with Reggie Bush(notes) and others during his nine-year tenure with the university. Right?
A quick glance at the Public Infractions Report, which was released Thursday, unveils the following (pg. 30):
There was information in the record that the former head football coach encouraged sports marketer A to hire student-athletes as interns. A current NFLPA certified agent ("sports agent B") is the chairman of a sports agency and a colleague of sports marketer A. He reported that the former head football coach asked sports marketer A to consider hiring football student-athletes as interns in his agency. Sports agent B reported:
(Sports marketer A) was like, `yeah, here's (the former head football coach) and the year before, he, he's tryin' to get me to hire, you know, three players, you know.'
...How many players, I don't even know, maybe he tried to get him to hire ten....but it was totally agreed upon between (the former head football coach) and (sports marketer A) that there was an internship program for that summer. That's all I do know.
At the hearing, the former head coach denied that he asked sports marketer A to hire football student-athletes as interns, although he acknowledged that he knew sports marketer A and that he (sports marketer A) had "something about his past the years before that had gone wrong . . . (and) it was related to the NFL." [Note: At the hearing the institution's general counsel reported that, in 1995, sports marketer A had "pleaded guilty to mail fraud for defrauding the NFL."]
We've confirmed that "Sports Marketer A" is Michael Ornstein, who made millions in marketing dollars for Reggie Bush and did, according to this article written by Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson and Jason Cole, hire Bush as a summer intern, earning the princely sum of $8 per hour. Yahoo's timeline then outlines how Ornstein advised Bush on potential agents, which sounds a lot like the kind of thing that cost Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant(notes) most of his 2009 season, with Ornstein ostensibly playing the part of Deion Sanders. (Note: Bush fired Ornstein in late 2006). And in that Robinson/Cole article, there's the first brush of the problems that have now come home to roost:
The benefits, which could lead to NCAA sanctions for USC and retroactively cost Bush his college eligibility and Heisman, were supplied by two groups attempting to woo Bush as a client. Current Bush marketing agent Mike Ornstein and one of Ornstein's employees were involved. So were Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, who attempted to launch an agency called New Era Sports & Entertainment, pursuing Bush as their first client.
Bush declined comment to Yahoo! Sports, and Ornstein denied any wrongdoing on his and Bush's behalf.
But documents and on-the-record interviews with sources close to the situation reveal that Bush and his family appear to have received financial benefits from Ornstein and a business associate.
If the charges in the Infractions Report are correct, it's tough to dispute that Carroll was skirting the truth. And if Carroll not only knew about allegedly inappropriate dealings with marketing companies possibly attached to agents, but helped to establish those relationships — well, yikes. And that's what the report makes it sound like. We don't know who "sports marketer B" is, but at this point, things just get weirder.
More from the report (pg. 31):
In the spring of 2005, sports marketer B contacted the associate director of athletics to determine if student-athletes would be interested in an internship with his (sports marketer B's) agency. [Note: sports marketer B and the associate director of athletics had been at another NCAA member institution at the same time and were acquainted with each other both there and subsequently in Los Angeles] The associate director of athletics confirmed that sports marketer B contacted him about employing student-athletes in paid internships at the agency. Ultimately, three student-athletes, including student-athlete 1, worked as interns at the agency in the summer of 2005.
The former director of compliance confirmed the associate director of athletics' account of how the internships came about and added:
. . . it was initially set up while I was there, and the talk was it was gonna be a continuing thing . . . to offer the opportunity to USC student-athletes.
And finally, the NCAA's problem with the way this was handled (student-athlete 1 is pretty obviously Bush):
It is permissible to hire student-athletes, as long as the circumstances under which they are hired, work and are paid comport with NCAA legislation. In this instance, the circumstances under which the three student-athletes, including student-athlete 1, were hired constituted a special arrangement made through the sports marketing agency and the institution's athletics department. Despite sports marketer B's claim to the contrary, there is no evidence that the internship positions provided to the USC student-athletes in the summer of 2005 were solicited externally. USC student-athletes and only USC student-athletes were hired for these positions. The circumstances surrounding the hiring of these student-athletes made sports marketers A and B, as well as their agency, representatives of the institution's athletics interests. This, in turn, gave rise to a heightened institutional responsibility to assess and monitor the employment situation and the relationship between student-athlete 1 and sports marketers A and B.
This leads right back to what could be the smoking gun in Pete Carroll's hand — per the same report, Carroll was going out of his way to try and provide internships, and possible agent opportunities, outside the NCAA's preferred ways of doing things. With two marketing agents involved, it's not known whether Carroll's involvement led directly to any hiring or possible illegal agent communication. But the larger issue expressed by the NCAA — a lack of institutional control — seems to have this at its root.
One wonders how the Seahawks, who chased and caught Carroll to run their franchise with all the ardor they could muster, feel about their new head man right about now. Perhaps it will be water under the bridge to them, as it will no doubt be to most of the team's fans. But if there's isn't a higher level of "institutional control" around Carroll than there was at his last job — well, the Seahawks should look into that.
UPDATE: Carroll has now responded to the findings in a public statement (video below). Expressing his disappointment, Carroll said that he fully supports the university's decision to appeal, and points to other factors. "The agenda of the NCAA Infractions Committee took them beyond the facts," Carroll said in his statement. "And the facts don't match the sanctions ... this is a clear-cut case of external forces outside of the university setting, entering in and disrupting the process of young student-athletes going to college, for their gain."
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