Carroll addressed a crowd of about 1,200 at Bovard Auditorium as part of an event sponsored by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the upbeat evening taking on a lighthearted feel when actor Will Ferrell came on stage and kicked a football into the balcony.
But after the two-hour event, in which Carroll shared stories and philosophies about creating a winning environment in the sports and business worlds, he spent a few minutes taking questions from the media.
USC is in the final months of four years of penalties that included a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. The sanctions resulted, in large part, because of extra benefits received by former tailback Reggie Bush and his family and former basketball player O.J. Mayo.
Carroll, who guided USC to two national titles and seven Bowl Championship Series bowl games, has long maintained that the NCAA unfairly punished USC.
“We made some mistakes along the way but I don’t think it was dealt with properly,” he said. “I thought it was dealt with poorly and very irrationally and done with way too much emotion instead of facts.”
Carroll was asked to elaborate on what he meant by mistakes.
“We just didn’t know what was going on," he said. "Had we known I would like to think we would do the right thing and would have stopped everything and fixed it by doing what we should have done. But unfortunately, because we didn’t know, the university gets killed over the deal.
“I just think it was not handled well," he added of the NCAA. "I sat in the meetings. I listened to the people talk. I listened to the venom that they had for our program. They didn’t understand a thing about what we were all about….They never were here. And they didn’t want to hear it. They never even got close to hearing what we're all about….
“They tried to make it out like it was something else. They made a terrible error.”
Carroll added that the NCAA punishes schools for problems and issues caused by “people that have nothing to do with the university.”