USC Football: Penn State penalty reductions are indictment of Scott, Haden


Jul 26, 2013; Culver City, CA, USA; Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott speaks at football media day held at the Sony Studios Lot. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Just over nine months ago I wrote a piece about the painful process of opening old wounds when it comes to the NCAA.

Here we go again.

The NCAA announced yesterday that they would begin to gradually restore scholarships to Penn State, beginning with five next season and continuing until all scholarships are restored, as a reward for the progress they have made in instituting the recommendations of the Freeh Report.

USC fans are rightfully upset, and not for the first time. For years they’ve watched other schools get slapped on the wrist for worse offenses, they’ve seen mercy given to players who actually committed offenses while none was given to their players who never did anything wrong, and even though more and more sports pundits have come around to the idea that USC was wronged by the NCAA, no relief has come.

Except this time, the focus of the Trojans’ ire should turn westward and inward.

Why? Here’s why:

Jim Delany, you may recall, is the guy who orchestrated the NCAA’s decision to allow five Ohio State players to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl despite their being suspended for their roles in the Buckeye’s “tattoo-gate. He’s also the guy who helped Ohio State get away with having a head coach who covered up, lied about and played players he knew were ineligible, with just a fraction of the penalties USC received.

Delany is the commissioner of the Big-10 conference, which means he looks out for schools in his conference. He has their back. He goes to bat for them.

Did Tom Hansen, the former Pac-10 commissioner, ever go to bat for USC? Does current Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott have USC’s back?

The short answer is, no.

After all, the deal that Penn State was given could have easily been applied to USC.

Former Senator George Mitchell made this statement regarding the decision to reduce the Nittany Lions’ penalties:

"“While there is more work to be done, Penn State has clearly demonstrated its commitment to restoring integrity in its athletics program,” Mitchell said. “The university has substantially completed the initial implementation of all the Freeh Report recommendations and its obligations to the Athletics Integrity Agreement, so relief from the scholarship reductions is warranted and deserved.”"

The NCAA ruled that USC “lacked institutional control,” so the Trojans responded by increasing their compliance department 12-fold. They expressed concern about the culture around practices, so USC closed practices. They made it clear they didn’t appreciate USC’s “arrogance,” so the Trojans dropped Mike Garrett and brought in the least arrogant figure they could — Pat Haden.

September 22, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans athletic director Pat Haden watches game action against the California Golden Bears during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans have done everything the NCAA asked of them. Where is their “warranted” and “deserved” relief?

It’s sitting at Larry Scott’s desk. It’s wasting away in Pat Haden’s office.

Neither the Pac-12 commissioner nor the USC Athletic Director has laid pressure on the NCAA to right the wrong against the Trojans. Neither has made an effort to use their influence to recover even some of the 30 scholarships that USC will have lost over three years. Not when those other schools got off lightly. Not when evidence came to light that the NCAA botched the investigation of USC and former running backs coach Todd McNair.

Haden released this statement:

"“As you know, the NCAA is currently engaged in the process of evaluating and potentially reforming its governance structure.  We look forward to having a positive impact on that process. “We also are hopeful that the NCAA’s recently-enacted enforcement and penalty reforms will result in a consistent and fair enforcement and penalty process for all its institutions.  USC will continue to work cooperatively with the NCAA towards that goal. “We are near the end of the NCAA sanctions imposed on us in 2010 and we look forward to their expiration.”"

Haden is looking forward, so he doesn’t see the opportunity that has been sitting right in front of him all along.

The NCAA’s problems are well-documented and there are few who would dispute the fact that the enforcement system is fatally flawed, but that is nothing new.

The NCAA is not self-motivated. It relies on Yahoo! Sports investigative reports to shed light on scandals and reacts accordingly. The NCAA was never going to correct itself once it hammered USC, just as it was never going to correct itself once it punished Penn State. It was always going to require a push.

For Penn State, that push came from Delany and Mitchell.

Unfortunately for USC, neither Scott nor Haden seem prepared to do replicate their efforts.