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September 21, 2011

Hood: Who are the bad guys?



After months of waiting, the NCAA finally delivered the notice of allegations to South Carolina on Monday. The NOA pertains largely to two situations: The Whitney hotel, which was a huge story during the summer of 2010, and the Student-Athlete Mentoring Foundation, a company based in Delaware involved in the recruitment of wide receiver Damiere Byrd, who will serve the final game of a four-game suspension this week. He will be eligible to play on Oct. 1 against Auburn.

Like most investigations of this type, everything in the NCAA's notice of allegations - which is 13 pages long and contains a bunch of legalese - boils down to one fundamental question: Who are the bad guys?

In other words, who gets thrown under the bus? Here's my take:

Kevin Lahn and Steve Gordon?: Absolutely. Just like Ohio State (Jim Tressel forced to resign) and Miami (Nevin Shapiro), USC must expertly play the blame game and the founders of the now infamous S.A.M. are the most likely targets. Lahn and Gordon may have had their hearts in the right place (trying to help inner-city kids secure athletic scholarships), but they went about it in the wrong way. You do have to admire their chutzpah, though. Sending an e-mail to a high-ranking USC official requesting President Harris Pastides meet with a recruit's mother was courageous, although ill-advised.

Providing meaningful financial assistance (the NCAA refers to it as "impermissible recruiting inducements") to any recruit is a major no-no under NCAA rules. You can probably get away with purchasing a sandwich for a prospect, but paying for multiple unofficial visits? Red flag. The NCAA's position on this issue is clear: If a prospect lacks the economic means to take an unofficial visit to a school, tough luck. USC has already disassociated itself from both men.

G.A. Mangus?: Doubt it. Coach Steve Spurrier defended USC's quarterbacks coach during his press conference on Tuesday, saying, "They did mention the name of one of our coaches, G.A. Mangus, not that he had broken any rules, but he had a prior relationship with the guys up there in the Philly, New Jersey area, so that's why his name was mentioned." However, the NCAA has requested that Mangus attend the hearing (Feb. 17-18 in Los Angeles) before the Committee on Infractions, so he will likely be required to explain his relationship with Lahn and Gordon.

Spurrier?: No. He pointed out on Tuesday that his name isn't visible anywhere in the NOA. Spurrier has an impeccable reputation with the NCAA for following the rules, so he should emerge from this situation in good shape. His words on Tuesday spoke volumes: "I follow the rules as closely as I possibly can and if I ever break one, I turn myself in."

Eric Hyman?: No. Unlike Paul Dee (former athletic director at Miami), he didn't permit a mischievous (and wealthy) booster to run rampant through the USC athletic department, although the actions of Lahn and Gordon outlined in the report are disturbing.

Curtis Frye?: His decision to allow 16 members of the USC track and field team to go on a dinner cruise on Lake Murray is curious. During the cruise, Frye had "impermissible off-campus recruiting contact" with a recruit. Frye has been one of the most successful coaches on the USC campus for a long time, but his actions as set forth in the NOA surely fall under the "What were you thinking?" department. Will it be enough to warrant the dismissal of Frye? Maybe not. But I wouldn't be surprised at all if Frye "retires" after the 2012 spring track season.

USC Compliance office?: Definitely. The NCAA made no attempt to hide its irritation with the USC compliance office in the NOA in terms of the failure to "sufficiently monitor" The Whitney fiasco and the recruiting activities of Lahn and Gordon.

Here's what the NCAA says the compliance office failed to do insofar as The Whitney is concerned: "The institution failed to sufficiently monitor the housing arrangement of student-athletes living at The Whitney and fully investigate whether the monthly rates provided to the student-athletes were compliant with NCAA investigation."

Specifically, the NCAA alleges the compliance office failed to compare hotel rates, and had it done so, it "would have detected the significantly reduced rates the student-athletes were expected to pay at the hotel." Most of the football players who stayed at The Whitney paid $14.59 per day. Multiple that daily rate by 30 and it comes to $437.70 per month.

The compliance office is also alleged by the NCAA to have failed to monitor and investigate the recruiting activities of Lavin and Gordon during the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.

The NCAA's allegation: The compliance office and "a number of institutional personnel became aware of (Lahn and Gordon's) recruiting activities, yet these matters were neither adequately followed up on nor sufficiently investigated for potential NCAA rules violations."

Ouch.

Without question, the USC compliance office made a number of serious and grievous errors in handling The Whitney and S.A.M. cases. The "failure to monitor" charge falls squarely into the lap of the compliance office. If anything long-term comes out of this entire affair, I expect major policy and personnel changes within the compliance office.

Besides the "failure to monitor" charge, the potential "repeat offender" label could affect the severity of sanctions against the school. However, it should be noted that the previous infractions (NCAA report dated Nov. 16, 2005) occurred under the previous USC AD and football coach. That might lessen the blow, so to speak.

What's the bottom line? I predict that both sides will eventually enter into an agreement in which USC will voluntarily self-impose penalties. Loss of scholarships in football (1-2 per year) and track, restrictions on recruiting trips and monetary penalties are all on the table.

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