Having Faced The Music, Now The Trojans Wait

USC's late February court-type date has come and gone with little in ↵the way of public payoff. Participants are barred from commenting ↵publicly and the NCAA committee on infractions' gears turn ponderously even when the cases are ↵small and simple. USC's case is not. USC's case ↵requires ↵the services of grunting bellhops: ↵
↵⇥But there were signs from the hearings that make it highly improbable ↵⇥U.S.C. football will leave this multimillion-dollar, four-year ↵⇥investigation with a wrist slap. The first and most glaring hint came ↵⇥from a hotel bellhop, who practically grunted while pushing an ↵⇥industrial luggage cart full of documents out of the meeting room. There ↵⇥were seven boxes on the cart, including a six-inch-thick binder labeled ↵⇥U.S.C. Response Volume 1. ↵
↵

↵Poring through USC Response Volumes 1 through N will apparently take ↵about two months. During that time, people associated with USC will ↵provide voluminous quantities of "no comment" on the record. ↵Off the record, they will assure everyone willing to listen that they ↵are going to get off easy. ↵

↵

↵A couple months ago, that assertion seemed preposterous. Pete Carroll ↵had suddenly ↵and unexpectedly flown the coop for a Seattle Seahawks job that lacked the total control he had repeatedly claimed was necessary if he ↵was to leave his perch as sultan of the country's most consistently ↵successful college football program. The USC basketball program had ↵imposed a meaningful-if still ↵too weak-postseason ban on itself. USC, which if free of sanctions ↵is probably the best job in the country right this second, had to hire ↵a ↵neophyte with a career losing record to replace Carroll. And most ↵damning of all, when USC asked the NCAA to self-apply sanctions like ↵they did to the basketball program they ↵were turned down. ↵

↵

↵Today the idea that USC could escape serious punishment is ↵considerably more plausible. The Trojans brought in their usual array of ↵uber-recruits. Seantrel Henderson may be spooked enough to forgo signing ↵his letter of intent, but he's the only one. And though the fact that ↵Reggie Bush was spectacularly ineligible has been meticulously ↵documented by Yahoo! Sports, drawing a line between those documents ↵and Pete Carroll is considerably more difficult. Maybe it's in those ↵binders. Maybe not. Doctor ↵Saturday sums up the issues: ↵

↵
↵⇥

↵⇥The most damning claim against USC is [Lloyd] Lake's allegation in [Don] Yaeger's ↵⇥book that he was in the room with Bush's stepfather as he discussed ↵⇥the sketchy housing arrangement with Carroll over the phone. Other ↵⇥evidence is similarly vague and circumstantial, such as various rumors ↵⇥that coaches and administrators (including Carroll and athletic director ↵⇥Mike Garrett, another former Heisman winner) were tipped off about ↵⇥Bush's arrangements, were well-acquainted with the sleazier elements on ↵⇥the fringes of the program and were often in position to notice Bush and ↵⇥his family spending well above their means. ... ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥Even if you could prove that kind of chatter, it doesn't amount to ↵⇥much in the way of a smoking gun. So far, there is no firm evidence in ↵⇥any published reports to date that anyone at USC had direct knowledge of ↵⇥improper benefits to any football player, which probably means the NCAA ↵⇥doesn't have it, either. ↵⇥

↵
↵

↵The NCAA's response would seem to vary wildly based on what judicial ↵standard they use. Is it certain that USC coaches had knowledge Bush ↵was getting paid very large amounts of money? Probably not. This Lake ↵guy has a clear motivation to strike back at the guy who took his money ↵and ditched him for a real agent and the corroborating evidence is likely to ↵be scant. But is it reasonable to believe that no one at USC noticed ↵Bush driving a shiny new 2005 Impala around and wondered where the ↵not-particularly-wealthy kid got it? That, too, gets a "probably ↵not." The NCAA is not a court and does not have to find something ↵beyond a reasonable doubt. A lower standard for conviction is the Trojan ↵hater's best hope. ↵

↵

↵A lower standard and the ↵desire ↵to make that much paperwork relevant, anyway: ↵

↵
↵⇥

↵⇥[NCAA vice president for enforcement services David] Price also said that most times the committee met, it heard cases ↵⇥from several universities, and this one was dedicated to U.S.C. In ↵⇥contrast, Alabama's case before the N.C.A.A. in 2002, which resulted in ↵⇥five years of probation, a two-year postseason ban and crippling ↵⇥scholarship reductions, took two days. ↵⇥

↵
↵

↵That evidence is circumstantial in the extreme, but it's all we've ↵got until spring. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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