National Columnist

In sunny L.A., there's no shortage of shady types, and USC athletes are easy targets

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Southern California's biggest problem, Gregg Doyel says, is the city of Los Angeles itself. (Getty Images)  
Southern California's biggest problem, Gregg Doyel says, is the city of Los Angeles itself. (Getty Images)  

Southern California doesn't have a chance. That's my takeaway from this thing with Southern California football -- this latest thing with USC football -- that has seeped into USC basketball. Kind of like the last thing with USC football, which also seeped into basketball. That one was Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. This one is Joe McKnight and Davon Jefferson.

What the Trojans are about to get is another series of spankings, first from the public that will gloat over the latest allegations of NCAA violations, and then from the NCAA itself. Assuming the report from the Los Angeles Times is accurate -- and the reporting looks rock-solid -- the NCAA is going to spank USC again, maybe harder than it did last time, seeing how last time was little more than two years ago. The NCAA won't like having to deal with a school twice in such a short time span, because it looks obvious that USC didn't learn its lesson.

Thing is, the obvious conclusion isn't always the correct conclusion. Sometimes it's just the laziest conclusion, and that's not a mistake I'm going to make, because I see the problem in Los Angeles.

The problem is Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has more ambitious, unethical opportunists than any city in America. That's not a scientific statement, but I feel good about it. Something about Los Angeles -- the exorbitant cost of living, the money that flows around town, the need to impress -- brings out some people's inner scumbag. Not all people, not even most people, so don't take this as an indictment of all Los Angeles residents. I have family there, and I'm not indicting them. Or you. But if you live out there, you know what I'm talking about: Lots of sketchy connivers in Los Angeles.

And those people prey on the easiest targets they can find.

And who's an easier target than a college athlete?

This thing with USC athletics -- this latest thing with USC athletics -- reminds me of a lament Gary Williams once made when he was coaching Maryland basketball. He'd note that nearby Washington, D.C., had more sports agents than most cities, which increased the Terps' degree of difficulty to keep their athletes on the straight and narrow. Toward the unethical end of the spectrum, agents and their runners are a threat to a Top-25 college basketball program. Williams knew it, and he knew he was surrounded by agents and runners. And it scared him, because he knew he couldn't be with his team all the time. Maryland could educate players all it wanted, but if the wrong opportunist got the ear of the wrong player ...

That's what has happened at USC. There are too many opportunists in Los Angeles, too much money flowing out there, riches that are just out of reach of most folks. With a metro population approaching 13 million, that's a lot of folks grasping at golden straws. Case in point: The local property appraiser who thought he could make a buck by sinking his teeth into a few USC athletes. With the help of football star Joe McKnight and basketball star Davon Jefferson, this guy could market his get-rich scheme, something about glowing, animated logos.

This guy, this Scott Schenter, already has been charged with giving improper tax breaks to rich locals, a scandal that alerted authorities to his alleged involvement with USC athletes.

Somehow, USC will pay for this. It'll definitely pay in the court of public opinion, and probably in the NCAA's courthouse as well. The NCAA doesn't look compassionately at schools whose athletes are on the take, even if it's reasonable to conclude the school couldn't have been expected to know.

Now then, the Reggie Bush thing? His parents staying in a $750,000 house near San Diego while Bush was driving a car so fancy it made the cover of a local magazine? All of this while Bush was the most publicized player in the country? I'm saying USC should have sniffed that one out.

But this scandal? A plane ticket for Joe McKnight, a series of modest cash payments that added up to a large amount for Davon Jefferson, a car that everyone involved said belonged to McKnight's girlfriend? I can see how this one could slip under the radar, because it's like Gary Williams used to say: A school can't know everything its athletes are up to.

Now then, maybe you want to know where this opinion is coming from, so I'll tell you. It comes from my visit to USC in July, when I decided USC Lane Kiffin isn't Tennessee Lane Kiffin. Had I not gone to USC and seen Kiffin for myself, talked to him and scolded him and ultimately listened to him, I wouldn't be inclined to see the other side of this story. I'd have seen the key words in the L.A. Times headline -- scandal, gifts, USC, athletes -- and assumed the worst. That wouldn't have been necessarily fair, but it's what I would have done.

But now, having decided that Kiffin isn't what I thought he was -- and knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that USC athletics director Pat Haden is a man of honor, desperate that his alma mater do things the right way -- I'm looking at this "scandal" through a different prism.

And I'm looking at it through the North Carolina prism, too. Look, how can I not? Just last week, the NCAA decided that UNC shouldn't be held accountable for a series of no-show classes that enabled star athletes to stay eligible in football and basketball.

The UNC athletic department isn't responsible for unethical behavior on its own campus -- but the USC athletic department is responsible for unethical behavior by some dude from the county appraiser's office?

That makes no sense to me, but it won't be me judging USC -- it would be the NCAA. And as the North Carolina ruling reminded us, the NCAA is fluent in nonsense.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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