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The Defiant Ones

The news that USC was slammed with the largest set of sanctions in the past twenty years stunned the college sports world yesterday. On the same day that Colorado announced it was joining the conference and the stage was being set for five more Big 12 schools to head West the USC Trojans found out that they are going to have to play the game with one arm tied behind the back for half of the decade.

The USC football program will receive a two year bowl ban, a significant loss of scholarships, football squad size reduction, the likely loss of a national championship, and games won when Reggie Bush was deemed retroactively ineligible during his last two years at the school. It could even cause Reggie Bush to lose his Heisman Trophy. Equally significant, the athletic program was placed on four years' probation, which could lead to harsher penalties if the NCAA discovers subsequent rule-breaking by any USC teams.

The NCAA said that USC's football team will be limited to 15 initial grants-in-aid and 75 total grants in football for each of the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years which is just a program killer. The overall sanctions are the most severe for any Pac-10 school since Washington received a two-year bowl ban and lost 20 scholarships over two years in 1993.

The bowl bans hurt Washington in the early 1990's but what really hurt were the reductions in scholarships. With a greater reduction in scholarships and overall squad size the Trojans are likely headed to a world of hurt which may take up to a decade to recover from.

The NCAA had no other choice after a four year investigation of USC athletic programs but to hit the Trojans hard. If they didn't the governing body would have lost its relevance in such issues. The dreaded "Lack of Institutional Control" findings coupled with other violations earlier in the decade set the program up for sanctions just shy of being awarded the even more feared "Death Penalty" that SMU received which led to the end of the old Southwest conference.

USC's reaction was plain old fashioned arrogance. The Trojans will appeal which is their right but they have taken the fight public which is probably not the right way to do things if you are going head to head against the NCAA. USC is trying to get the penalties cut in half but they shouldn't get their hopes up because only one in eleven appeals have been approved since 2008. An appeal will be granted only if the offended party shows "the penalty is excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion" by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

The NCAA could have hammered USC even worse by also taking away past money earned and banning them from TV for a season or two. They committee seriously considered that but decided it would not just harm the Trojans but it would hurt the overall conference.

The NCAA could have also given the program the "Death Penalty" because the infractions occurred within a time line that included past sanctions. So it is fair to say that the appeal is probably going nowhere. USC has to be careful in the future because the next step is indeed the "Death Penalty" and in a strange sense of irony that man who will decide that in the future will be Washington President Mark Emmert who takes over leadership of the NCAA in November.

Former USC coach Pete Carroll who is now the coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, noted Thursday  that he had taken part in depositions and also attended the NCAA hearing, yet he "never thought there were any facts that supported significant sanctions." "The university didn't know," Carroll said, referring to Bush's family situation. "We didn't know." He added that "the facts don't match the decision."

I love Pete Carroll but is tough to take what he is saying at face value since one of his top assistants, and personal confidants, Todd McNair, did know about it, and perjured himself during the investigation. Washington fans can breathe a sigh of relief because neither Steve Sarkisian or Nick Holt were mentioned once in the volumes produced by the NCAA investigation.

The bottom line is the  NCAA says that USC should have known that it was going on and that is a very valid point since the USC locker room and practice field had become a haven for agents and even underworld types. The NCAA says the Trojans were extremely lax in compliance and should have come forward when red flags were originally raised.

The truth is everyone knew what was going on with Bush, and Mayo. USC decided to look the other way and now the school has to pay for it. Players were paid in football and basketball and nobody stopped it. An illegal coach was hired and nobody cared. Reports relating to all of this piled up over the years and were common knowledge yet USC thought they were above it all, and nothing serious would happen if, and when they were caught.

This is the sixth time the NCAA has sanctioned USC dating back to 1957. Only 10 major college programs have been penalized more often since the organization started keeping track in 1953. The school was also given the "Death Penalty" by its own conference back in 1924 when USC had to sit out a complete year of play due to violations involving the payment of players.

Damage control started immediately on campus and Trojan football coaches were calling recruits and telling the not to worry because they were going to appeal and cut the penalties in half. During this past recruiting season Trojan coaches told recruits not to worry because they didn't think the penalties would amount to very much. I guess stretching the truth is so ingrained into the USC culture that nothing short of a regime change will turn that around.

USC is getting a new President soon and Mike Garrett will be heading into a likely forced retirement. Perhaps regime and culture change at USC is a lot closer than people think. In the meantime the game plan is to be defiant rather than take the medicine and be compliant.

“As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was … I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans,” Garrett said to cheers Thursday night at the San Francisco Airport Marriott.

Ted Miller ESPN

Nobody ever said that Mike Garrett was a genius.