Imagine a colonoscopy-endoscopy combo platter. In one day.
For those of us who have had the pleasure of going through those physical exams, they might not compare with the mental anguish involved in an appearance before the NCAA infractions committee.
|The USC investigation, which could eventually affect Reggie Bush's Heisman, moves to a hearing today. (US Presswire)|
After a nearly four-year investigation, USC officials walked into a sterile hotel conference room Thursday morning to answer questions about bundled high-profile cases involving football and basketball.
At stake is the reputation of one of the best known brands in college athletics. Really at stake, though, is the health of a football program nursed back to powerhouse status by former coach Pete Carroll over the past decade.
Anything less than a postseason ban and the widespread loss of scholarships has to be viewed as a victory for the Trojans. While the NCAA could ultimately charge USC with a lack of institutional control, fans of Troy everywhere want to know a couple of basic facts:
How bad is it going to be and when does it end?
After Thursday, we can only guesstimate an answer at the second question. Typically, penalties, if any, are handed down six to eight weeks after a school's infractions committee hearing.
But that doesn't include possible appeals, holidays that get in the way, sickness by one person or another or just slowed momentum. In September 2006, Yahoo Sports first reported that former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush had taken extra benefits from two would-be agents worth at least six figures.
The resolution of the case could impact USC negatively for years to come. The NCAA views the Bush allegations as one of the most serious violations of the association's by-laws. The case has been combined with the investigation that resulted after allegations surfaced that former basketball player O.J. Mayo was given $20,000 in extra benefits. The school already has self-penalized itself in basketball, removing itself from this year's NCAA tournament.
In the short term, the decision of No. 1 high school recruit Seantrel Henderson hinges on the outcome of the investigation. Henderson committed to USC on national signing day more than two weeks ago but then hedged. His father said he was concerned about the outcome of the investigation.
It is possible that the case will not be wrapped up by April 1, the last day high school seniors can sign a national letter of intent. However, after that date, Henderson could sign a scholarship agreement that binds a prospect to a school only after he enrolls.
Expected to attend the hearing Thursday were Carroll, former basketball coach Tim Floyd, athletic director Mike Garrett and USC president Steve Sample -- them, and a gaggle of legal and compliance personnel.
Here's what USC could look forward to on a day when they would rather be anywhere else:
"It's like going into a courtroom," Brian Battle, compliance director at Florida State, told CBSSports.com this week. "It's like the first time you walk into a wake or a funeral home and you don't know what to expect.
"And then you see this casket."
Battle was involved in the recently completed case that resulted in former coach Bobby Bowden having to vacate 12 of his career wins. Inside a ballroom, the two sides face off against each other across a table, the size of which basically is determined by the size of the case.
"It starts out, going allegation by allegation," said David Ridpath, an assistant professor of sports administration at Ohio University. Ridpath is a member of the Drake Group, a faculty group devoted to collegiate athletic reform, who has been through two infractions hearings in previous stops at Weber State and Marshall.
"It depends on how revealing you are. You are not under oath."
That's the key fallacy of the NCAA process. The organization does not have subpoena power, therefore there is no real due process. Accused parties and schools are frequently represented by attorneys who can also be former NCAA investigators and have been hired to lead a school through the process.
Carroll is not compelled to be at the hearing because he is no longer at an NCAA institution. But it could be a positive sign for USC that he has decided to attend.
The 10-member infractions committee is a mixture of lawyers, athletic directors, faculty representatives, commissioners and professors. The current chair is Paul Dee, an attorney himself and former AD at the University of Miami.
"I went down with the AD just to take a look at the [meeting] room just so I would not be surprised by what's going on," Battle said of FSU's last hearing in Indianapolis. "You need to be prepared. We went in a day early and prepped. We went through all the possible questions. It was a good five, six hours. ... It's a very humbling situation."
Humbling and boring. Ridpath remembers a time when a chairman fell asleep during testimony. Battle recalls an uber-prepared committee member who showed up with a list of questions and a book tabbed with references.
The final report of the committee can be hundreds of pages long. Thankfully, a summary is also issued for the media who, as in this case, will breathlessly be awaiting the findings. Following high-profile cases like this one, the committee chairman typically has a conference call with reporters.
Former infractions chairman Tom Yeager was one of the more colorful characters in a colorless process. His scolding of Alabama after a 2002 case will live forever in infractions committee annals.
Yeager reminded Alabamans everywhere that their program was "staring down the barrel of a loaded gun." That meant the NCAA had considered eliminating football because the school was a repeat rules violator. USC isn't in that position, but there is an overarching feeling in any big case like this that the NCAA won't go far enough against a high-profile school.
FSU and Alabama both appealed recent penalties -- having to vacate football victories -- but in both cases the penalties weren't considered that damaging.
"Maybe I'm a little bit cynical. I would really like to see if the NCAA is going to put their money where their mouth is," Ridpath said. "Where there's smoke there's fire. The NCAA has a long and, I think, justifiable monkey on their back that they put the kid gloves when high profile schools are involved.
"Is this committee afraid to throw the book at USC? ... That's where I would love to be on the inside finding out what's going on."
That "privilege" only goes to the accused and the accusers.