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The Sports Report: USC and UCLA athletic programs caught up in scandal

Howdy everyone, and welcome to the Wednesday edition of the Los Angeles Times daily sports newsletter. My name is Houston Mitchell and I’m your host for the festivities. Subscribe to this newsletter by clicking here.

Let’s get to it.

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Scandal

As I am sure you have heard by now, several colleges, including UCLA and USC, were caught up in a scandal involving wealthy people allegedly using bribes, fraud and lies to get their children into the schools.

The scheme centered on the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company that wealthy parents paid to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and to falsify athletic records of students.

Basically, while most kids were working hard and praying their SAT score and grades were good enough to get them into the college of their choice, these people cheated by allegedly paying to get their child admitted, taking a spot away from a kid who really earned it.

Suddenly, leading the newsletter with pro wrestling yesterday doesn’t seem so bad.

This has had a strong impact already on UCLA and USC. Here are the lowlights:

--Two USC athletic department employees — senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic — were fired after being indicted in federal court for their role. Heinel allegedly received over $1.3 million in bribes and Vavic allegedly received $250,000 to help parents take advantage of the relaxed admissions standards for athletes at USC even though their children were not legitimately being recruited as athletes. Former USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, who was fired in 2013, and his former assistant coach, Laura Janke, who left the school in 2014, were also named in the indictment for allegedly fabricating athlete profiles for the prospective students. Khosroshahin and Janke allegedly received payments totaling nearly $350,000 sent to their private soccer club.

--Longtime UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was placed on leave by the school after being indicted. Salcedo has been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering after allegedly accepting $200,000 in bribes for his role in facilitating the enrollment of one female student and one male student to the school under the pretense of being soccer players even though they did not play the sport competitively.

--Dylan Hernandez gives his take on everything here.

Clippers

The surging Clippers stumbled on Tuesday with a 125-104 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

The team was without Danilo Gallinari, who had tweaked his ankle in Monday’s game and was given the day off. As Dan Woike put it in his story,

“Arguably the team’s best player, Gallinari could’ve helped stifle the Trail Blazers’ momentum as it steadily picked up in the second half.

“Not having Gallinari wasn’t –and isn’t – a good enough reason for Doc Rivers’ team to stumble.

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“We told our guys from day one, we’re not going to use all the excuses – youth, whatever,” Rivers said before Tuesday’s game. “We’re just not going to use that.”

So, it was execution, not fatigue, that cost the Clippers. It wasn’t being out-talented; it was being out-performed.

In the same pregame press conference where Rivers said the Clippers weren’t going to make excuses, he also predicted that his team would have a tough time slowing down the Trail Blazer’s backcourt.

“As long as they have those two guards there, they’re going to do some winning. They’re very, very difficult to guard,” Rivers said. “If you put that plus the system that they’re in, it makes them very difficult to match up to. It just does.

“You know it’s coming. We just walked over it. And you know it’s going to be hard to stop.”

Rams

The Rams had an introductory news conference for Eric Weddle on Tuesday, but the big topic of discussion was running back Todd Gurley. Rather than run it all down for you, I’ll just quote Gary Klein’s excellent article:

“The Rams must come up with a plan about how to manage Gurley as he enters his fifth NFL season. After receiving a $60-million extension last July, the 24-year-old helped lead the Rams to their second consecutive NFC West title. But his left knee — which underwent reconstructive surgery in 2014 while Gurley was in college at Georgia — required medical attention during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles and he had to sit out the final two games.

“After Gurley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, he got only five touches in the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints, and gained only 35 yards in 10 carries in the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

“Asked Tuesday if Gurley was suffering from arthritis or another degenerative condition, coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead did not provide a definitive answer.

“I don’t know exactly, medically, when you categorize what arthritis is, but I’ve never seen a guy on the medical report or on the injury report with that,” McVay said after a news conference for Weddle. “And I think If you just said, ‘Is there a wear and tear? Was there a pounding that that knee took?’ Absolutely. … He’s the only one that can really talk specifically about how his body feels.”

“If it were arthritis, “all you got to do is take Aleve,” Snead quipped.

“I think that with all NFL football players, that when it comes to trying to be fresh at the end of the year, there is an element, probably, of shades of gray of how fresh you are and what that reason is,” he said.

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:Asked if the Rams were concerned that Gurley might not be the same player he was during his first four seasons, when he rushed for 4,547 yards and scored 56 touchdowns, McVay said, “you got to let it play itself out. ... Like anything else, it’s an ongoing evaluation.”

Tennis

It was a strange day at Indian Wells as the men’s and women’s top seeds, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, both lost.

Djokovic lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber, a 35-year-old German who has never ranked better than 16th in the world, 6-4, 6-4.

Osaka lost to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, once a promising junior player whose progression was stalled by a succession of debilitating injuries, 6-3, 6-1.

Odds and Ends

Linebacker Thomas Davis agrees to two-year deal with the Chargers…. UCLA will need wins — not just faith — to reach the NCAA tournament…. A shortage of linebackers doesn't figure to be a problem for UCLA this season…. LeBron James scores 36 as Lakers beat Bulls to snap five-game losing streak…. Dodgers' Kiké Hernandez tinkered with his swing despite career year…. Angels prospect Jared Walsh adjusting to life as a two-way player…. U.S. national soccer team names 24-man roster ahead of upcoming friendlies….Former Galaxy defender Leonardo signs with USL's Orange County Soccer Club…. Errol Spence feels at home as he faces biggest boxing challenge against Mikey Garcia in Texas…. Earl Thomas and Ndamukong Suh among NFL's free agency mysteries…. USC’s Bennie Boatwright makes All-Pac-12 first team…. The Ducks defeated Nashville, 3-2…. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer restore order in the desert

Scheduling note

Unless something major happens, I will be taking this weekend off, so no newsletter Sunday or Monday. Talk amongst yourselves while I am gone.

Today’s local major sports schedule (all times Pacific)

Dodgers vs. Chicago White Sox, 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Angels vs. San Diego, 7 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

Pac-12 men’s tournament (in Las Vegas, all games on Pac-12 network)

Noon: No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Arizona

2:30 p.m.: No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 California

6 p.m.: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Colorado

8:30 p.m.: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State

Born on this date

1886: Baseball Hall of Famer Home Run Baker

1963: Former Dodger Mariano Duncan

1964: Baseball player Will Clark

1971: NFL player Curtis Conway

1972: NFL player Trent Dilfer

And finally

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me here. If you want to subscribe, click here.

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