Why USC, Arizona playing victim doesn’t really work in NCAA scandal case

Columnist
Yahoo Sports
USC has been involved in numerous NCAA infractions cases through the years and just had a coach and a senior administrator arrested for taking bribes. (Getty)
USC has been involved in numerous NCAA infractions cases through the years and just had a coach and a senior administrator arrested for taking bribes. (Getty)

Just days ago, the University of Southern California cried “victim” and asked federal judge Edgardo Ramos to punish Tony Bland, a former assistant basketball coach. Bland pleaded guilty to accepting a $4,100 bribe to steer any NBA-bound Trojans to the business management company of Christian Dawkins as part of the college basketball fraud scandal.

“The actions of Mr. Bland and his co-conspirators have significantly damaged the reputation of USC as an institution, the USC athletic department, and its men’s basketball program,” wrote Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president for professionalism and ethics (seriously, that’s his title and, seriously, he actually wrote the above sentence).

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On Wednesday, Judge Ramos appeared to have dismissed that line of thought, as well as the government’s request for Bland to spend up to a year in prison. Ramos instead sentenced him to two years probation and 1,000 hours of community service.

“Can the institution be victimized if people at the very highest levels of the institution are corrupt?” Ramos asked from the bench, according to CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander.

The answer should be no (and the issue will be answered in federal appeals court), but don’t tell these whiny athletic departments that just love to play martyr.

It’s embarrassing, except, none of them appear capable of realizing how pathetic they sound.

USC, after all, has been involved in numerous wild NCAA infractions cases through the years and just had a coach and a senior administrator arrested for taking bribes from rich parents to admit their non-athlete students into the school via the water polo team.

Now, that actually was a scandal.

An anonymous assistant hoops coach taking a few grand on an ill-advised side hustle?

Shrug.

USC isn’t alone. Former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson will be sentenced by Ramos on Thursday in New York. Arizona couldn’t help but pout and pile on, of course, claiming in a letter to Ramos that Richardson’s “arrest was devastating news to every student, coach, administrator, staff, trustee, and alum.”

Really? Every single one of them? They were all devastated by this news?

Congratulations to the tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of employees and alumni for soldiering on.

Bear down, Arizona, bear down.

Who the hell writes this stuff?

Sean Miller of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaw/teams/arizona/" data-ylk="slk:Arizona Wildcats">Arizona Wildcats</a> reacts during the second half of a college basketball game during the 2018-19 season. (Getty)
Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts during the second half of a college basketball game during the 2018-19 season. (Getty)

Look, everyone knows competing at the highest levels of college basketball is an intrinsically risky proposition. It is also profitable, fun and can do wonders for alumni and prospective student engagement. But it has been corrupt for, oh, 60-70 years.

As such, having an assistant prone to some shenanigans (and let’s be honest, this isn’t that big of a deal) is just the cost of doing business. Eventually every program gets touched by scandal.

Arizona even tried to claim that due to Richardson’s arrest, “the recruitment effort for future players became substantially more challenging.” While “substantially more challenging” is a relevant term, the Wildcats managed to sign a consensus top-five recruiting class with all five players ranked in the top 100 this year.

So, no, he didn’t bring the place to its knees. Claiming otherwise was a substantial distortion.

Richardson, 46, is by almost all accounts a good guy, a family man and a hard worker. He recruited and coached scores of players in his career (which includes working under Sean Miller since 2007 at Xavier). Almost all of them continue to swear by him to this day.

Yes, he did wrong. He shouldn’t have taken the extra money. He admitted all of that when he pleaded guilty and accepted his punishment. Doing so immolated his career and his ability to support his family.

In court on Wednesday, it was revealed Richardson, a college graduate who worked for J.P. Morgan as a banker before getting into coaching, was recently turned down for a job in retail due to the scandal.

Yet he declined to point fingers at others. He never flipped on Arizona or Miller, both of whom have been enveloped in the smoke of allegations. Had he taken his case to trial, who knows what comes out, but it certainly would have been a nerve-racking period for Arizona and Sean Miller.

Richardson didn’t do that though. He stood tall for his former employer and boss.

Rather than return the favor by either writing the judge and asking for leniency, or at least just sitting it out, Arizona cried about being wronged. It couldn’t help itself.

“Mr. Richardson’s actions caused real harm …” the school wrote to Ramos.

Of course, just when you think USC and Arizona couldn’t take themselves any more seriously or behave in a more hypocritical manner, they still haven’t yet approached the chutzpah of Kansas.

The Jayhawks wailed so much about being victimized by Adidas and executive Jim Gatto that they wrote to his sentencing judge. Then they demanded about $1 million in restitution from Gatto, an act that is financially crushing to a former middle manager with a family.

Once that was done, Kansas promptly went out and signed a new $196 million endorsement deal with Adidas, the supposedly evil company with evil employees that caused them so much harm.

The Jayhawks know full well that they weren’t the victims of anything or anyone. They understand they need Adidas’ money and recruiting connections to continue to field nationally prominent teams.

Everyone in college basketball realizes that. It’s how the game works.

They just don’t tell that part to the judge.

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