USC is rocked by NCAA penalties

By Greg Beacham
Associated Press / June 11, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — The NCAA threw the book at storied Southern California yesterday with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation, loss of scholarships, and forfeits of an entire year’s games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans’ 2004 national championship.

USC was penalized for a lack of institutional control in the ruling by the NCAA following its four-year investigation. The report cited numerous improper benefits for Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who spent just one year at USC.

The coaches who presided over the alleged misdeeds — football’s Pete Carroll and basketball’s Tim Floyd — left USC in the past year. USC reacted with uniform outrage to the harshness of the sanctions, promising an appeal.

“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA,’’ Carroll said. “I never thought it would come to this.’’

The penalties include the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush’s Heisman-winning 2005 season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said a committee will meet to consider vacating USC’s 2004 championship.

“I take the same stance as our university,’’ new football coach Lane Kiffin said. “There is some guilt, but the punishment is too severe. That’s why the appeal process is taking place.’’

The rulings are a sharp repudiation of the Trojans’ decade of stunning football success under Carroll, who won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships before abruptly returning to the NFL.

The NCAA says Bush received lavish gifts from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush’s family apparently lived.

The NCAA found that Bush, identified as a “former football student-athlete,’’ was ineligible beginning at least by December 2004, a ruling that could open discussion of the revocation of the New Orleans Saints star’s Heisman. Members of the Heisman Trust have said they might review Bush’s award if he were ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

“I have a great love for the University of Southern California, and I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players,’’ Bush said in a statement.

USC plans to appeal some of the football-related penalties.

“It does stink to possibly not play in a bowl game,’’ said USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a freshman starter last season.

The NCAA took no further action against the men’s basketball team, which had already banned itself from postseason play last spring and vacated its wins from Mayo’s season. Floyd, now at UTEP, resigned from USC last June, shortly after he was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.

The bowl ban is the most damaging to Kiffin, who will have to ratchet up his formidable recruiting skills to entice players with no hope of postseason play before 2012. USC also will lose 10 scholarships annually from 2011-13, but Kiffin believes he’ll still land a lot of top talent.

“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on recruiting,’’ said Kiffin. “We’ve talked to a lot of people, from our team to our signees to recruits, and we do not feel the impact at all, because USC is still USC.’’

The women’s tennis team also was cited in the report for unauthorized phone calls made by a former player, but the NCAA accepted USC’s earlier elimination of its wins between November 2006 and May 2009.