USC athletics doesn’t get to play the victim in admissions scandal

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Lynn Swann, athletic director of USC, reacts late in the second half during the college football game against Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Lynn Swann, athletic director of USC, reacts late in the second half during the college football game against Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

It’s time for USC athletics to take responsibility for their involvement in recent scandals. The best way to clean up is by cleaning house.

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USC athletics wants you to know that they are the victim.

On Tuesday, the university was linked to a massive college admissions scandal as water polo coach Jovan Vavic, athletics administrator Donna Heinel and two former women’s soccer coaches, Ali Khosroshahin and Laura Janke, were indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering.

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USC released two statements in response. The first, sent from the USC Athletics Twitter account, said all the things you would expect including the assertion that “USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

“We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university,” the statement continued.

A statement from interim president Dr. Wanda Austin hit on similar themes:

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“The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university…”

“The government has repeatedly informed us that it views USC as a victim and that these employees purposefully deceived USC…”

“It is immensely disappointing that individuals would abuse their position at the university in this way…”

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It’s no surprise to see USC take this approach. It’s not an inaccurate one. But it’s also missing the point.

If you hire a financial planner to take care of your money and you get burned. Ok, you’re the victim.

Later, if you hire a second financial planner and they too burn you? You don’t get to play the victim. An outsider could rightly observe that you are either in on the scam or you’re incompetent. Neither is acceptable.

That is where USC athletics finds itself this week. This is not the only scandal to hit the athletics department in recent memory. This is also not the first scandal to embroil the university at large.

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Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane with the various scandals and embarrassments that have plagued USC, in athletics and elsewhere:

2010 — USC self-sanctions basketball over O.J. Mayo improper benefits scandal2010 — NCAA hits USC football with sanctions for “lack of institutional control”2012 — USC fined by Pac-12 for game manager deflating footballs2013 — Athletic director Pat Haden fires Lane Kiffin “on the tarmac”2014 — After story of “heroism” exposed as fake, Josh Shaw suspended2015 — Bryce Dixon’s expulsion over “affirmative consent” stayed by court2015 — Haden fires Steve Sarkisian after string of alcohol-related incidents2016 — MFA students drop out en mass in protest of funding, faculty departures2017 — Matt Boermeester dismissed over controversial domestic dispute2017 — Investigation reveals misconduct of resigned medical school dean2017 — FBI probe results in arrest of assistant basketball coach2017 — New medical school dean ousted after sexual harassment disclosed2018 — Investigation unveils accusations of misconduct by USC gynecologist2018 — USC president steps down amid pressure from professors2018 — Bubba Bolden suspended over controversial student conduct issue2018 — Major donors protest the ouster of USC business school dean2019 — Board of Trustees hold emergency meeting over leadership infighting2019 — College admissions scandal leads to arrest of four connected to USC

The Trojans have either fostered an environment in which crooks can thrive. Or they’re incompetent for allowing so many to take advantage.

And if you want to play the “everybody is doing it card” then go ahead. That just makes USC doubly guilty, because if everybody is doing it, then the Trojans are just doing it so poorly that they’re the only ones getting caught. Every time.

As Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out on Twitter: “Two FBI scandals touching college sports in the past 18 months and, by my count, only one school made both lists. That school recently ousted its president following far more heinous scandals on campus. Oh, and it finished 5-7 in the South.”

USC is now a national punchline. Literally.

For USC as a university and an athletics department, the embarrassments will only come to an end with some serious soul searching. “We’re the victim” won’t cut it.

It’s time for USC to take responsibility for the culture it has created.

Fortunately, the Trojans have just the opportunity to do so. As the Board of Trustees looks to identify a new university president, the person they install must put their foot down and demand more from the people who represent the cardinal and gold.

On the athletics front, the new university president will have to make tough decisions, but cleaning house should be at the top of the to-do list. An athletics department that has been party to not one, but two nationwide FBI investigations in the last two years must undergo massive changes from top to bottom for any sense of credibility to be restored.