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Ohio State’s sanctions have USC loyalists questioning Trojans’ anew

The NCAA, in its infinite bureaucratic wisdom, slapped Ohio State’s football program upside the head Tuesday.

It certainly wasn’t a love tap. Nor was it a kick to the groin, a feeling familiar to those who revere USC.

In Columbus, Ohio, where college football ranks in importance only a tiny notch above visits from the Pope, there is weeping to match the gnashing of teeth. One local news report began by saying that the “NCAA had rocked Buckeye football to the core.”

Out here, USC loyalists can feel Ohio State’s pain. Except that most would testify that theirs has been worse. Most would also wonder aloud, again, why they took such a hard hit when other situations, certainly including Ohio State’s, seemed similarly egregious.

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The comparable pertinent details are that the Buckeyes were penalized a season of no titles, no bowls and a loss of nine football scholarships over the next three years. USC has just finished its second straight no-title, no-bowl season and its scholarship assessment from the NCAA was 30 scholarships lost over three years.

The sins against NCAA doctrine of each school have been well-documented.

The parents of USC’s Reggie Bush got a house in San Diego, based on Bush’s potential to bring a big commission to an agent representing him in the pros. In the 2010 season, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel got 12 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas —both now wiped off the books — out of a group of players he knew were selling Ohio State memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner for cash and discounts on their tattoos.

Tressel is now employed by the 1-13 Indianapolis Colts, where he advises from the press box whether to seek a replay. He cannot be employed by an NCAA school for the next five years without the school persuading the NCAA in formal arguments that there is a compelling reason for the hiring. Edward Rife, owner of the Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor, is now in jail for drug trafficking and money laundering.

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So, let the arguments begin anew. Which school was the bigger sinner? Which punishment best fit the crime? Most interesting, why did the NCAA act as it did in each case?

Ohio State, once caught with Tressel lying, signing false documents and playing a season with players he knew had cheated and were therefore ineligible, self-imposed penalties. USC, with the Bush violations becoming clearly indefensible and with cheating accusations against basketball star O.J. Mayo taking on validity, did so only in basketball.

Pete Carroll, who often said he would not return there, suddenly found the NFL appealing. Mike Garrett sniffed at the NCAA and said at an alumni function after the penalties came down what he had said privately: The NCAA went after USC because it was jealous of the Trojans.

That attitude, of course, cost Garrett his job and may have cost USC some bargaining points. Gene Smith, athletic director at Ohio State throughout this turmoil, remains Buckeye AD today. Neither Garrett’s name nor Smith’s appears in the respective NCAA reports.

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The key difference in how each school was penalized appears to be a matter of semantics. Ohio State lost one year of titles and postseason play because the NCAA said it had “failed to properly monitor” its football program. USC lost two years and 21 more scholarships than Ohio State because the NCAA said it had “lacked institutional control.”

Greg Sankey, associate commissioner of the Southeast Conference and a member of the infractions committee that ruled on Ohio State, served as NCAA spokesman on a media conference call Tuesday. During that, he said that “lack of institutional control” is the “heaviest thing” that the NCAA rules on.

He also said that Ohio State “met its obligation to cooperate.” When asked whether USC had met that same obligation, he said he wasn’t part of that ruling and couldn’t comment.

The future direction of each school remains interesting.

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USC hired Pat Haden to clean things up and keep the Trojans on the high road, which is exactly where he walked Tuesday after the Ohio State news. He reiterated that USC had disagreed with the NCAA rulings but had chances to appeal.

“We had our two shots,” Haden said. “We were disappointed with the results, but we have gotten beyond that and are moving forward.”

USC finished its second and last season of title and bowl bans as one of the best teams in the country. Only the AP poll officially ranked them, but a victory over Oregon, the 50-0 rout of UCLA and an AP No. 5 spoke volumes. During the two appeal processes, the Trojans were able to stall the scholarship ban and stockpile for the future. But starting next season, and for two after that, they will be 10 scholarships shy each year.

Alumni sentiment has been for the Trojans to sue the NCAA and get the sanctions reversed. That would come at an estimated cost of $5 million and USC would, in the opinion of its legal experts, stand little more than a 20% chance of winning.

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Ohio State just hired a new coach, a man named Urban Meyer, with a history of great recruiting success leading to great teams. At Florida, Meyer won two national titles.

Ohio State said Tuesday that, unlike USC, it won’t appeal. That means Meyer will immediately operate a few slots shy, but nothing like USC’s shortfall.

Sankey was asked several times, in several ways, if the Ohio State ruling, set against the backdrop of USC, represents a “new day” for NCAA penalties. He answered in basic NCAA legal doublespeak.

No answer was needed. This is, indeed, a “new day” of NCAA get-tough policies and USC, as the hardest hit, holds a special spot.

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Poster child.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com


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