Sanctions on Miami Shouldn’t Affect USC’s Plight with NCAA


Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes got slapped on the wrist Tuesday morning by the NCAA to the tune of a reduction of nine scholarships over three years. For a case that was once considered grounds for the death penalty, then deemed to be done with a corrupt investigation through the NCAA’s own admittance, it was a gentle end for a long couple of years in Coral Gables.

Naturally, given the lack of severity of the punishments, there’s been outrage at the very Oregon-like punishment handed down on the Hurricanes, given the nature of the infractions involving ex-booster Nevin Shapiro.

The NCAA cites UM’s cooperation and self-imposed bowl bans midway through the 2011 and 2012 seasons as grounds for not handing down their own bowl ban.

Fans of schools like USC, Ohio State and Penn State surely disagree.

Pat Haden, USC’s athletic director even made a rather brief statement in reaction to the sanctions in a press release:

"We have always felt that our penalties were too harsh. This decision only bolsters that view. Beyond that, we have no further comment."

Haden, who had just taken over at USC when the Trojans were sanctioned in 2010, is right. USC’s penalties were too harsh. At this point, the college football world can agree on that.

But when it comes down to it, reacting to Miami’s punishment as a further indictment of Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo’s infractions compared to that of other schools, is misguided.

Over the last couple of years, there’s been a massive ideology change in college athletics, and it’s rapidly progressing.

Don’t believe me? Look at how much support Johnny Manziel had for signing autographs vs. Terrelle Pryor trading autographs for tattoos while at Ohio State a few years back.

What used to be universally considered shady and a punishable offense, is now viewed by some as a calling for players to get paid or at minimum profit off of their likeness.

Even EA Sports has settled on that notion, reaching a $40 million settlement with current and former student athletes over the use of their likeness in college football and basketball video games.

College athletics as a whole are progressing, partly due to the overwhelming amount of fan fatigue that the NCAA has given out over the last decade. There’s been the overly-stern USC decision, and the perceived ignorance of the Cam Newton fiasco, which fuels the theory that the SEC works on a different set of rules, etc.

It’s all factored into a belief that the NCAA is the evil entity and change has been needed, perhaps even a revolution or breaking off from the governing body. The result has been this two-year public discourse that’s sought out change in college athletics both on the external ideological level and the internal enforcement level.

Love him or hate him, NCAA president Mark Emmert has even acknowledged this, as he’s looked to slim down the NCAA rule book with hopes of streamlining compliance procedures.

So in these past two years –Penn State’s sanctions notwithstanding– there’s been an overall emergence of a less reactionary, less confident, less brazen NCAA, which has resulted in wrist slapping at places like Miami, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and Boise State.

Any infraction or levied sanction now is viewed in a drastically different light and with hindsight that neither the NCAA or USC had three years ago.

So yes, USC got slammed. Fair or not, SC got hit harder than they should have, as Mike Garrett and company believed fully in their case and the NCAA deemed the infractions to be severe enough to supersede investigation compliance.

But part of that notion is hindsight and the game’s change in thought.

USC’s punishment looks worse and worse with each new case, which is only furthered in comparisons of infractions involving a couple of players and those involving dozens and even hundreds of players.

But at the end of the day, Miami, fair or not, had to deal with a corrupt NCAA investigation and waited years like SC did. And they handled in the only way they could, using hindsight from USC’s case, by self-imposing a bowl ban.

It’s not fair for USC on the surface, but what’s fair for USC isn’t necessarily fair for the gander.

The NCAA in turn could have been sterner, but isn’t reverting to old practice and eye-for-an-eye tactics worse than anything?

SC got pummeled for a fairly routine college infraction. No one wants to see that happen again, right?

Well, it’s not.

We like to say the NCAA is inconsistent, but they’ve been pretty consistent lately with the exception of the Penn State case, in which the NCAA circumvented their own procedures.

The NCAA process and Committee on Infractions is gradually getting looser, losing power and has at least shown some sort of path of fixing misdeeds, when you look at their reaction to Jay Bilas’s outing of the NCAA marketplace and Emmert’s reversal in tune on Penn State’s sanctions.

That right there is where USC’s gripe should rightfully lie. It should be focused on the NCAA’s a lack of consistency in the relaxation of policies, as opposed to its perceived mixed bag of enforcement in relation to USC.

USC shouldn’t wallow in the pity party of the Miami sanctions. While it’s therapeutic, it’s not serving anyone.

The Trojans’ case became an outlier once it was clear that the NCAA was never going to punish a school in the same fashion, which coincides with this shift in ideology.

In a way, USC fans want other schools to get hit as bad as USC did, to feel rightfully sanctioned. That, in turn, is effectively the same thing that many argue the NCAA did against USC, punishing them hard for what would feel good.

That’s a comforting hypocrisy. It’s not a progression of the system.

The game, the NCAA, USC and all other parties including the fans, should make a point of hoping that USC’s case never happens again.

Agents and handlers shouldn’t be given rope, at USC or anywhere. Infractions should be fairly settled on, at Miami or anywhere. And so on.

The reality is that USC’s punishments will almost surely always remain the outlier. They were the extreme example of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions getting too power hungry under Paul Dee.

Any subsequent sanction on any other school in the zip code of USC’s punishments will likely come only though a Penn State-like manner, in which the NCAA outsteps its bounds.

For as much as it stings for USC, the NCAA’s backtracked tremendously over the last few years and won’t make the same mistake twice.

If you’re Haden and company, targeting the NCAA’s denial for a reprieve through legal means is about the only thing that can make any difference at this point.