When the NCAA announced a reduction in the sanction penalties for Penn State earlier this week, there were a lot of questions about any potential impact on USC’s sanctions.
At the time, Trojans athletic director Pat Haden released a measured statement that left many USC fans wondering if Haden was going to push the issue in hopes of receiving any reduction of the remaining penalties.
Well, little did anyone know that Haden had a previously scheduled meeting with NCAA officials set for Wednesday and Thursday to discuss a variety of other issues and the convenient timing of the meetings allowed for an opening that Haden was quick to take.
“After learning of the NCAA's actions on Tuesday (Sept. 24) regarding Penn State and the lessening of the sanctions that were imposed on that institution … we felt compelled to discuss USC's sanctions in a new light,” Haden said in a statement released by USC. “As I have stated on numerous occasions, I believe the penalties imposed on our football program in 2010 were unprecedented and inconsistent with NCAA precedent in prior cases. I also believe the sanctions have resulted in unintended consequences both for our football program and our student-athletes.
“Although the sanctions reduced our total football scholarship limit to 75 (down from 85), attrition resulting from injuries and transfers has resulted in less than 60 recruited scholarship student-athletes suiting up for our games. The current situation is certainly not what was envisioned, nor is it in the best interests of our student-athletes' welfare.”
Haden also pointed out the fact that the NCAA credited Penn State for progress made in their athletic department, something that has happened at USC as well.
“In reducing Penn State's scholarship penalties, the NCAA specifically noted the 'progress' it had made regarding athletics integrity,” Haden said. “Since the Committee on Infractions (COI) issued its sanctions in 2010, USC has been held up as a model and praised for its integrity and commitment to compliance, a fact often mentioned by the NCAA itself.”
“Although USC had two unsuccessful bites at the apple (the original COI hearing and the appeal to the Infractions Appeals Committee), given the changing landscape impacting intercollegiate sports over the past year, the recent action regarding Penn State, the impact of the sanctions on our program and the efforts we have under taken at USC to compete with integrity, we again argued for some consideration regarding the 2010 sanctions during the last year of our penalty.
"During our meetings with the NCAA's leaders over the last two days, we discussed enforcement and sanction issues impacting both the NCAA membership at large and USC specifically. We proposed creative 'outside the box' solutions to the scholarship issues resulting from the injuries and transfers experienced by our football team over the past three seasons. After candid discussions, the NCAA asked us to provide additional information and indicated it would study our suggestions. Because time is of the essence regarding these issues, we have asked for the NCAA's response as soon as practical."
USC currently has one year left on the scholarship restrictions and can only sign 15 players for the Class of 2014, instead of the normal 25 maximum. The Trojans are also under a 75-man roster limit for the 2014 season as well.
It would be no small achievement for the Trojans program if the final year of those two restrictions was eliminated. With the availability of four spring enrollees, that could push the total new bodies arriving next year to 29, which could put the roster limit right near the 85 mark next season. That would be a drastic shot in the arm for a program that has been under the cloud of sanctions for a long time.
Of course, this is no sure thing. The NCAA is as unpredictable as they come and, as Haden noted, the Trojans have already been shot down twice in the appeals process.
This one feels different, however. The NCAA is really in a bind with its public persona and decision-making, and Haden has somewhat pinned them into a corner in part due to his previous actions. Haden did not whine when the USC appeals were granted, he simply said “we gave it a shot” and moved on. When allegations surfaced against Miami during the Paul Dee administration, Haden did not cry foul or threaten any action, much to the dismay of many within the Trojan family. He has been a model athletic director in terms of how the NCAA wants an athletic director to act and now he is coming to them with the facts -- and public opinion -- on his side.
The NCAA would lose very little by removing the final year of the USC sanctions. The Trojans football program has already been damaged by the penalties that have been served so if the goal of the sanctions was to make it hurt, mission accomplished. But now it’s time to do the right thing. Haden didn’t claim that the Penn State sanctions were being reduced due to progress within their athletic department, NCAA president Mark Emmert did. If he’s going to do it for Penn State, he should do it for USC too.