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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Ex-Trojan Holmes blasts unfairness, double-standards in sanction process


Holmes, who played for the Trojans with Reggie Bush, calls the OSU penalties 'mind-boggling.' (US Presswire)  
Holmes, who played for the Trojans with Reggie Bush, calls the OSU penalties 'mind-boggling.' (US Presswire)  

Alex Holmes found out about the NCAA's sanctions involving Ohio State via Twitter early Tuesday afternoon. He was baffled. And pissed.

"I just don't get it," Holmes said after reading that the Buckeyes will be docked nine scholarships and must endure a one-year postseason ban. Ousted head coach Jim Tressel will be under a five-year show-cause penalty. "I don't understand the NCAA's logic."

Holmes, like many folks around Southern California, was wondering just how hard the NCAA was going to come down on the Buckeyes in the wake of the scandal that centered around Tressel and several standout players.

Holmes isn't just any unbiased observer. He was a starter on both USC national title teams and was a teammate of Reggie Bush, the central figure of the NCAA sanctions that cost the Trojans, among other things, two years of postseason play and 30 scholarships. Holmes' younger brother Khaled is also a starting center on a 10-2 Trojan team that didn't get to play for the Pac-12 title or have a shot at a BCS bowl game this year.

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Holmes had followed the Buckeyes scandal over the past year. He watched that press conference a year ago where Ohio State AD Gene Smith announced the suspension of five Buckeye players before the Sugar Bowl for selling memorabilia for tattoos and cash and pronounced the case closed, saying the program "doesn't have a system problem" and that "no other violations exist."

Holmes was curious to see how the NCAA managed to allow those five players to play in the Sugar Bowl. Then, he noted how Tressel was implicated in the scandal and how Smith and his boss, Ohio State president Gordon Gee, said at a press conference they were suspending their iconic coach for two games -- against Toledo and Akron -- and how such a punishment felt like "the sweet spot." Of course that would lead to more issues and more trouble for Tressel and Co.

On Tuesday, OSU got punished harder than the school anticipated, sources say. Still, the real teeth of the USC sanctions if you ask Trojan staffers -- the scholarship hits -- are dramatically more hefty than what the NCAA placed on Ohio State.

"If you set the bar with USC," asks Holmes, "and how the NCAA came down hard when they had one assistant coach [Todd McNair] and one player [Bush] involved and here you have the head coach and half of the team is allowed to play when the head coach knew they were ineligible and they only lose nine scholarships? That's mind-boggling."

The NCAA has explained its justice system by saying the differences between cases are "apples and oranges." Ohio State supporters would be quick to point out that USC was "caught" whereas the Buckeyes turned themselves in. On the NCAA Committee on Infractions conference call Tuesday afternoon, Greg Sankey mentioned that the Buckeyes did not have a Lack of Institutional Control charge the way USC did, and that the Buckeyes compliance office was "cooperative."

USC folks will tell you there was a lot more damning evidence fingering Tressel than McNair, and, Holmes asks, what could be more to the core of Lack of Institutional Control than your head coach covering something up to play his stars when he knew their eligibility was compromised?

"The definition of lack of institutional control is when your head coach is covering stuff up to facilitate guys being able to play," Holmes said. "The head coach is in charge of everyone. Tressel was caught and he knew all this was going on. Also how did those guys play in that bowl game? This is unbelievable. They were all lying."

The NCAA justice system has always been a murky process. The NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, and so details that get reported don't always mesh with the NCAA standards of what they can go with, especially if witnesses don't want to come forward and meet with them.

In reality, if USC hadn't gotten hit so hard with the 30-scholarship sanctions, the postseason ban for Ohio State and the five-year show-cause order on Tressel would probably be viewed in a different light around the country. After all, Paul Dee, the ex-Miami AD who has become the face of a wide-reaching scandal in his former own program, explained how Bush's "high-profile" status added to USC's culpability. Yet that standard seemed to be unique and irrelevant in regards to other NCAA investigations.

"Truthfully, anything that Dee said should be stricken from the record," said Holmes. "He is the most two-faced guy. The stuff that happened at his university is 10 times worse than at Ohio State, which is 10 times worse than what happened at USC. It's insane. Terrelle Pryor was as high-profile as you're going to get in college sports. He's friends with LeBron [James], and good for him, but that'd be the definition of a high-profile athlete.

"For my brother and guys like Matt Barkley, they were in middle school when this stuff with Reggie supposedly happened and for them to have to suffer, it's heartbreaking.

"They need to change this system. There has to be a way to punish the individuals, not people who had nothing to do with it because, let's face it, there's always going to be these situations. They say it's an amateur system but it's not. It's a farm system. And for them to pick and choose who they're going to punish and not punish, just doesn't make any sense."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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