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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Penn State gets a break; USC didn't

By Garry Paskwietz

So much for cooperation.

From the time the NCAA sanctions were handed down to USC in 2010, the Trojans athletic department has made every effort to be compliant and cooperative with the NCAA.

USC athletic director Pat Haden has been out front in his dealings with what he called the “fair-minded folks” at the NCAA. Practices for the football team were closed down, the sidelines of games at the Coliseum were no longer filled to capacity and any media member who wanted to cover the team had to sign a four-page waiver that outlined restrictions on dealings with boosters or recruits.

Haden brought in the respected Freeh Group to remake the USC athletic department compliance office and hired a high-powered downtown lawyer to head things up. A compliance department that was once considered understaffed suddenly grew to become one of the more robust departments in the country.

All of this was done to ensure that USC would no longer face the same penalties that came down in the Reggie Bush case. Nobody would be able to claim that USC was lax in its compliance or that it didn’t take it seriously enough. The connections to the past regime were gone and a new university president, athletic director and head football coach were now in place.

Pat Haden
USC athletic director Pat Haden did many of the same things Penn State did in response to NCAA sanctions. Penn State received a break in its scholarship restrictions on Tuesday.
There was also the hope that those moves would result in some kind of reduction in penalties, particularly with the scholarship restrictions that had been put in place. The penalty of 10 scholarships lost for three years was on the high end of any penalty the NCAA had ever handed down.

The USC appeals were denied, and even when allegations came to light about extreme violations at the University of Miami, nothing was done. The reason USC fans wanted action when hearing about Miami is that the head of the Committee on Infractions who ruled on the USC case, Paul Dee, was the athletic director at Miami at the time of the alleged infractions. Surely there would at least be a stay in the USC penalties until the Miami case could be investigated, right? Nope.

The USC penalties stayed as is while schools such as North Carolina, Auburn, Oregon, Ohio State and others received vastly softer penalties for various infractions. Then the Penn State case came along, one that involved a subject matter that hadn’t really been dealt with before. The hot button topic of child abuse made this a case that was different than the others, even if they all involved college athletic departments. How do you compare a street agent felon trying to entice a kid to leave school with the kind of acts that Jerry Sandusky was being accused of, and which Penn State officials were accused of covering up?

NCAA president Mark Emmert thought he knew the right way to go about it and he stepped in with the most drastic penalties ever handed down. He went scorched-earth on Penn State with sanctions that were designed to hurt. But Emmert went beyond the normal NCAA procedures when administering penalties and his actions brought about plenty of questions as well. To their credit, the Penn State officials set a course of trying many of the same steps USC took in terms of restoring the athletic department in the eyes of the NCAA, including the retention of the Freeh Group.

With the news Tuesday that the NCAA will gradually restore the Penn State scholarships, it appears as if their plan worked. Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell -- who was the independent Athletics Integrity Monitor for Penn State -- said relief from the scholarship reductions was warranted and deserved. NCAA committee members put out statements of praise for the progress Penn State made and the committee’s desire for an appropriate outcome. Emmert even chimed in with his thoughts on the matter:

“The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress,” Emmert said.

What about USC’s progress? What about the educational opportunities denied the 30 players who lost out on USC scholarships? Can Emmert or anybody at the NCAA really say that Penn State did more in the way of post-sanctions compliance than USC?

Emmert has acknowledged that the NCAA has a perception problem because of the inconsistency of their actions. This case, as far as USC fans are concerned, is another huge indictment of that reality.