USC Presents Its Appeal to NCAA


The early version of a piece I wrote for Monday’s Daily Trojan. Be sure to check out their website for extensive coverage of all USC sports.

Over the weekend, the Trojans took another step towards a final resolution in their NCAA infractions case stemming from allegations involving former student-athletes Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo.

On June 11, 2010, the NCAA announced the Trojans would be banned from postseason play for two seasons and would be stripped of ten scholarships for three seasons. With the appeals process, USC hopes that the sanctions levied against its football program will be cut in half. In an ideal scenario, the Trojans would be bowl eligible beginning in 2011 and would be allowed to carry 80 scholarship players. The appeals committee can decide to reduce the bowl ban, reduce the scholarship restrictions, reduce both, or leave the entire punishment as prescribed. Before the hearing, Michael L. Buckner—a lawyer who has handled NCAA appeals cases before—told Michael Lev of the OC Register he believed USC had a chance to win back scholarships, but that the bowl ban would likely remain in tact.

A USC contingent–consisting of USC president Max Nikias, athletic director Pat Haden, vice presidents Todd Dickey and David Roberts, general counsel Carol Mauch Amir and outside counsel William King III–spent four hours and thirteen minutes outlining their appeals case on Saturday for reduced sanctions in front of an NCAA committee. Emerging from the meeting, Nikias told reporters, “I want to thank the NCAA for giving us the opportunity before the committee for a good and fair hearing. We just have to wait for the ruling.” He also described the proceedings as “good and fair.” A decision is expected in four to eight weeks.

In January 2008, the NCAA changed their procedures for appeals hearing and made it harder for institutions to win their case. Schools must now prove that the Committee on Infractions made procedural errors or used egregious discretion in their ruling. Since the rule change, only one out of eleven appeals has been successful. Before the hearing, Haden said he hoped for a favorable outcome, but that he was “realistic” and aware of the chances of winning.

Even after the hearing, the question remains as to exactly how many players USC can sign for its 2011 recruiting class. If the committee decides before the signing period ends on April 1, the NCAA could decide to levy the scholarship reductions on the 2011 class. If a decision comes after April 1, the penalty will be stayed and the reduced scholarship numbers will be in effect from 2012 through 2014. At this point, it appears Lane Kiffin plans to sign 20 players and hope that USC wins its scholarship portion of the appeal. To date, the Trojans have 17 verbal commitments that make up the fourth best recruiting class in the country according to various recruiting services.

No matter what the appeals committee decides, it will be the resolution to the case. Earlier last week, Pat Haden described Saturday’s hearing as the “final frontier” and promised that USC would not take legal action against the NCAA if the penalties are upheld. Having pleaded their case, the only thing left for the Trojans to do is to await patiently for a verdict.