Biggest loser in Miami’s NCAA football sanctions case? It’s USC, again

The NCAA has made it clear it isn’t giving football scholarships back to USC, or presenting Matt Barkley with an honorary Rose Bowl participation plaque.

Being the NCAA means never having to say you’re sorry. The governing body of college athletics keeps saying it was wrong, though, every time it releases a sanctions report on another school.

First it was Ohio State, then Oregon, and now Miami.

The NCAA on Tuesday essentially accepted Miami’s self-imposed, two-year bowl ban and deducted only nine more total scholarships.

Miami announced it would not contest the findings, which translates to “whew.”

All three cases appeared to rise somewhere near the level of what would constitute major infractions, which cost USC the 2004 Bowl Championship Series national title, two bowl seasons and 30 scholarships.


The NCAA in 2010 insisted it was out to make an example of USC, but then it did not. “The struggle is, the NCAA hasn’t explained why USC is different than all the others that have come after,” John Infante, a former director of compliance at Loyola Marymount and Colorado State, said in a telephone interview.

The NCAA hammered USC football essentially because Reggie Bush’s parents took money and accepted free rent on a home from a would-be agent. The NCAA said USC should have known Bush was a future star who might be tempted by unscrupulous people.

“High-profile players demand high-profile compliance,” said the late Paul Dee, the former Miami athletic director who was chairman of the NCAA infractions committee that punished USC.

Then Ohio State came along.

Buckeyes players received free tattoos in exchange for jerseys, rings and memorabilia. Coach Jim Tressel knew of the violations but lied about it. The NCAA hit him with “unethical conduct” and charged the school with “failure to monitor.” Tressel was forced to resign in disgrace.

The NCAA punishment: a one-year bowl ban and the loss of nine scholarships.

Then Oregon came along.

The Ducks received three years of probation earlier this year for “failure to monitor” because it paid $25,000 to a scouting service that may have been steering players to Eugene.

It sounded bad. Chip Kelly received a “show cause” penalty, which means he was effectively banned from coaching in college for 18 months. Kelly dodged that by becoming head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon’s punishment: no bowl ban and the loss of a couple of scholarships.

Then Miami came along.

There were cries for the death penalty three years ago when Yahoo Sports broke the salacious story of Miami football being a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.

There was no disputing that booster Nevin Shapiro, who donated more than $500,000 to the Miami athletic program, had over the course of a decade — including years when Dee had been the athletic director — plied Hurricanes athletes with money, gifts and other favors. Miami, only when caught, impressed the NCAA by self-imposing the bowl ban and other sanctions.

Miami’s football punishment: three years’ probation and the loss of nine scholarships.

USC responded as you might expect. “We have always felt that our penalties were too harsh,” Athletic Director Pat Haden said Tuesday in a statement. “This decision only bolsters that view.”

NCAA Committee on Infractions member Britton Banowsky suggested during a conference call that Miami’s cooperation mitigated the damage.

Banowsky said each case is different but said of Miami, “In this particular case we felt like the institution’s self-imposed penalties were absolutely significant, unprecedented really, and the level of cooperation in the case was commendable.”

Infante suggested it would be helpful to know how much more severe the sanctions would have been had Miami not cooperated. “Just tell us what they would have got,” Infante said.

USC was cooperative with the NCAA, but the process was certainly contentious with Mike Garrett, the athletic director at the time, leading the charge.

So that led to 21 more lost scholarships for USC than Miami?

One reason USC fought the NCAA was it thought the organization had bungled the case, particularly as it pertained to assistant coach Todd McNair’s alleged involvement. McNair, who is no longer at USC, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA, and a lot of legal minds think it has merit.

If McNair wins, wouldn’t that prove USC was right for being defiant? “That’s the Catch-22,” Infante said.

Miami’s advantage was that it had a powerful legal wedge because it was revealed that NCAA investigators worked with Shapiro’s lawyers to improperly depose witnesses.

In the end, it seems Miami and the NCAA may have played nice with each other.

Try as it might, USC can’t shake the repercussions of its sanctions. Tuesday’s lenient decision probably takes Miami Coach Al Golden off the list of potential Trojans coaching candidates.

Could there be one last course of action?

Haden picked the wrong fight when he flew to Indianapolis last month to ask for commensurate relief after the NCAA returned some scholarships to Penn State. NCAA President Mark Emmert had the perfect comeback — no case was comparable to Penn State’s.

But USC’s case is comparable to Miami’s.

Haden needs to get back on a plane and ask the NCAA to waive the final year of scholarship losses. He now has the facts at hand that his school incurred more scholarship losses than the cases of Ohio State, Oregon and Miami combined.

He can rightfully ask: “Is this what the NCAA had in mind in making an example out of USC?”