Three Trojans to miss bowl game, and a fourth, Joe McKnight, is iffy

Joe McKnight’s chances of playing for USC in the Emerald Bowl appeared to dim Monday when the junior tailback did not accompany the Trojans to the Bay Area for the start of practices and activities leading into Saturday’s game against Boston College.

USC is investigating McKnight’s use of a sport utility vehicle that is owned by a Santa Monica businessman. It may constitute a violation of NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from accepting benefits from marketing representatives or agents, or “extra benefits” from anyone based on athletic ability.

The Times published a story last week about McKnight’s use of the 2006 Land Rover. McKnight said he never drove the vehicle, which a Department of Motor Vehicles official said carried a purchase price of about $27,000. But McKnight has been observed driving the SUV.

On Monday, after starting tight end Anthony McCoy, starting right tackle Tyron Smith and defensive lineman Averell Spicer were declared academically ineligible, McKnight was among those left behind when the Trojans boarded buses for the airport after a morning practice on campus.

McKnight participated in the workout but was not made available to reporters.

Coach Pete Carroll said afterward that the Trojans were preparing as if their 1,000-yard rusher would be available for the game at AT&T Park.

“We’ll just go one day at a time and see where it stands,” Carroll said.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, however, Carroll said in statement posted on the school’s website that McKnight remained at home to complete “compliance-related” business.

“He has some paperwork he needs to do and it’s best for him to stay in L.A. so he can be available to finish it,” Carroll said.

Carroll did not provide a timetable for when McKnight might join the Trojans.

“We don’t know right now how long this will take,” he said.

Todd Dickey, USC’s senior vice president for administration, has said that school officials planned to speak this week with the vehicle’s owner, Scott Schenter. Schenter, 47, owns and has worked for several companies with marketing interests, but he has said that he “has nothing to do with agents, marketing players or representing athletes.”

Schenter said he registered the Land Rover because McKnight’s girlfriend, Johanna Michelle Beltran, was a longtime family friend who could not qualify for a loan. Beltran makes payments on the loan and is responsible for insurance, he said. McKnight has said that Beltran is Schenter’s secretary.

Dickey and McKnight did not return phone calls Monday.

USC’s athletic program is already under investigation by the NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference regarding allegations that former tailback Reggie Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo received improper benefits while playing for the Trojans. The NCAA combined the investigations to examine whether the school failed to exert proper institutional control.

In the wake of McKnight’s situation and the announcement regarding the ineligible players, Carroll said after practice that USC was attempting to be vigilant in its oversight.

“You won’t hear me say one word about trying to back off the fact that we have to work to keep control of what’s going on as much as we can, and we learn as we go,” Carroll said. “Relationships can extend beyond and beyond and beyond. We have to keep digging and working and making sure that we know stuff.”

Of McKnight’s situation, he said, “If it comes out where this is just a normal relationship and everything is OK, we’ll have taken a lot of time and lot of effort and all that to chase down a very normal situation, possibly.”

If McKnight were ruled ineligible, junior Allen Bradford probably would start in his place. Bradford said he would welcome the opportunity, but he felt for McKnight.

“He’s got to handle the situation that got brought up,” Bradford said. “I haven’t talked to him about it, but I wish him the best.”

Sophomore Rhett Ellison will start in McCoy’s spot at tight end. Redshirt freshman Matt Kalil is on track to start in place of Smith at right tackle.

Klein reported from Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pugmire from Los Angeles.