Having received official word that its appeal of some of the harshest penalties in college sports history had failed, USC officials on Thursday tempered their disappointment by focusing on the future.
“It’s not an unexpected result,” Athletic Director Pat Haden said of the NCAA’s decision to deny USC’s arguments. “We’re going to move forward.”
However, an executive from outside the university wasn’t ready to immediately move in that direction.
Larry Scott, the commissioner of the soon-to-be Pacific 12 Conference, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision -- and challenged the NCAA to be consistent in its rulings.
“I fully expect that every NCAA member institution be held to the same high standards,” Scott said in a statement. “These sanctions, notably the postseason ban, have a devastating effect on current student-athletes, most of whom were in elementary and junior high school at the time of the alleged violations. To me, that is a source of great frustration and disappointment.”
USC will be banned from participating in a bowl game for the second year in a row and, starting in 2012, faces three years of playing with a roster no larger than 75 scholarship players, 10 below the maximum. The Trojans also will not be eligible for this season’s inaugural Pac-12 championship game and still could lose seniors choosing to play their final season elsewhere.
That is the immediate fallout from the decision by the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee to deny USC’s request to cut the bowl ban to one year already served and to reduce by half the loss of 30 scholarships over three years.
“We have been operating with these sanctions for a year now and have felt their effects on multiple fronts,” Coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “We will continue to execute the plan we have in place to make the most of the hand with which we have been dealt.”
Kiffin, 8-5 in his first season, met briefly with USC players Thursday morning. The players met by themselves afterward.
“This is not uncharted territory for us, for this team, having dealt with the same situation last year,” quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I think we can only improve on how to handle this.”
Receiver Brandon Carswell, a fifth-year senior who contemplated transferring after the sanctions were handed down last summer, does not anticipate that seniors will leave despite another year of bowl ineligibility.
“‘We all came here for a reason and bought into the program,” he said. “All the seniors are in a good place right now.”
In its appeal, USC had argued that the penalties arose “largely from the actions of institutional outsiders who clandestinely provided improper benefits” to former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his parents when he was playing for USC. It also argued that the penalties were inconsistent with comparable cases, including those involving Miami, Texas Tech, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, Florida State and Oklahoma.
But in a release and accompanying 23-page report, the NCAA said it found “no basis on which to reverse the pertinent findings.”
USC said in a statement that it “respectfully, but vehemently” disagreed with the findings. President Max Nikias said in a statement that the university was “very concerned that the historical value of case precedent and the right to fair process in the NCAA adjudicative process, both in terms of the ability of an institution to defend itself or prove an abuse of discretion on appeal, have been substantially eroded.”
Last June, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions cited USC for a lack of institutional control after a four-year investigation centered on Bush and former Trojans basketball player O.J. Mayo. USC did not appeal sanctions to its basketball program because the NCAA punishment did not exceed penalties the school placed on itself.
USC fans had hoped that disclosures and the handling of incidents and allegations at Auburn and Ohio State would help the Trojans’ cause. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was allowed to play for Auburn despite his father’s having allegedly shopped him to Mississippi State while he was being recruited from a junior college. Several Ohio State players were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl after it was discovered that they had sold awards and memorabilia.
But the appeals committee -- which has granted relief in only one of the last 12 appeals -- did not budge.
Haden reiterated that USC would not pursue a legal remedy and said he expected the Trojans to be stripped of the 2004 season Bowl Championship Series trophy it won by routing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Associated Press had previously announced that it would not vacate the AP version of the national title won that season.
Despite the scholarship limitations -- the Trojans can sign a maximum of 15 players each of the next three years -- Haden said Kiffin could be successful.
“He’s going to have challenges that other coaches haven’t had here but I think we’re up to the task,” he said. “There’s not a reason we can’t be competitive.”
Haden also said that USC might take a more active lead in monitoring and crafting NCAA legislation.
“I think we need to have a better relationship with the NCAA,” he said. “Like them or not, they are our governing body.”