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Trojans never stood a chance after taking NCAA's best shot

by | CBSSports.com
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LOS ANGELES -- USC never really had a chance to win its appeal.

It's hard to argue the point really. Now that the NCAA has denied the school's appeal -- five years, a month and six days after the case first started -- the school is finally forced to move on, as the rest of us surely have already (on to Ohio State, Tennessee, North Carolina, Auburn, Central Florida ...).

The writing was on the wall for the Trojans. That much was clear when the Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) denied former USC assistant Todd McNair's separate appeal in April. He had a much better case than the school itself so once he received the news, it was only a matter of time for the Trojans.

"I'm not surprised, I've said this all along," athletic director Pat Haden said. "We've talked about the long odds here and it's not an unexpected result. We're going to move forward."

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The sad thing is, based on USC's appeal, there's no need for future schools to even attempt appealing. It doesn't matter. It's like arguing a parking ticket and hoping the cop doesn't show up in court -- only the NCAA always shows up.

Haden's only advice: "Don't get yourself in front of the committee."

The school essentially wanted to retry the entire case in its appeal, while claiming the Committee on Infractions was either corrupt, incompetent or both. The NCAA doesn't think too highly of these arguments against them or their committee so who would think they'd be receptive to USC arguing this? Obviously the Trojans lawyers did, but one could have seen a mile away that there was no way they could have won based on those arguments.

Had the IAC accepted USC's appeal, they would have been saying yes, the process is a sham and the Committee on Infractions is too.

Forget the legalese of an appeal or the words of a lawyer, USC never really understood what this case was truly about. The NCAA thought USC was arrogant. It was, and that was its greatest crime. It wasn't Reggie Bush's parents taking benefits in San Diego, it was the fact a kid in South Florida would want to be a Trojan because of what Bush did.

USC could have acknowledged this, said this case was as much about its future recruiting as it was a punishment for the sin of letting Bush get a house. It could have argued for similar penalties imposed upon Miami in 1995 -- where the man responsible for USC's penalties, Paul Dee, was athletic director at the time -- with a one year bowl ban, 31 scholarships over three years and a limit of 80 total scholarships.

The Trojans in the next few seasons will suffer for Reggie Bush's actions. (US Presswire)  
The Trojans in the next few seasons will suffer for Reggie Bush's actions. (US Presswire)  
Miami, by the way, was found to have direct responsibility for providing more than $630,000 in extra benefits over four years to more than 140 student-athletes in four sports. USC didn't provide any benefits, and had just one athlete ineligible.

USC argued Dee and the committee overstepped their bounds and ignored precedent when handing out penalties. The NCAA really doesn't care about precedents though, punishments are arbitrary. According to the Infractions Committee:

"USC's violations pale in comparison to those in previous cases involving severe penalties."

USC certainly lacked institutional control, no one would really argue against that. Hard to. But it's hard to logically argue USC's violations "pale in comparison" to Miami's 140 athletes taking benefits over four years. That's why these things are arbitrary.

"If we have to prove an abuse of discretion and there is no standard because you can't use past precedents, how do you prove an abuse of discretion?," Haden asked rhetorically. "I don't know how you overcome the burden. It's kind of circular."

This case, from the moment it went to the Committee on Infractions to its conclusion today, wasn't about precedents or benefits but ultimately about USC recruiting. The Committee on Infractions wanted to limit who and how many players the Trojans could bring in because of that kid in Florida and his opinion of USC.

It says it in the report. "This case was not like any others." That was true in more ways than one. Does the punishment of a two-year bowl ban and 30 scholarships fit the crime? Absolutely not. But guess what? In the grand scheme of things it just doesn't really matter.

"We aren't innocent here," Haden said. "We deserve some penalties but it's the severity of the penalties that we think are unfair."

What is unfair? Multiple lawyers have said two scholarships for every ineligible player was the general precedent set by the Committee on Infractions. Reporters at the Mock Enforcement Experience were told the same thing by those in the NCAA. Reggie Bush's ineligibility turned into 30 scholarships over three years regardless. Based on the numbers at the moment, USC will only be able to sign six players in their next recruiting class.

And that's the sad thing. The punishment will have to be served not by Bush or Pete Carroll or the Sports Information office that has to make sure there's an asterisk on every page. No, the real punishment will be served by sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods, freshman quarterback Cody Kessler and whoever makes a verbal commitment to the Trojans next.

Mike Garrett is gone. So is Carroll. Bush is a true professional now and his former position coach is talking with lawyers, not coaching players. The only ones around to suffer are the players who walked into Heritage Hall for a team meeting Thursday morning. At the very least they're holding their heads up high.

"We're in a unique position different from teams of the past," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "This team has a unique opportunity to be remembered for going through this adversity and going through this trial and coming out on top. If that's how we're remembered, then that would be the best scenario."

USC fought the law over five long years and the law won. Now it's time to see if they can fight on despite it.

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