Lessons From the Far West

By Elika on December 23, 2011 at 10:19a
Jim Tressel and Gordon Gee. 

Tuesday afternoon the NCAA released the long awaited report on their investigation into NCAA violations at Ohio State, under former head coach Jim Tressel. The NCAA gave Ohio State a one year postseason ban, took away a total of nine scholarships over three years, put the program on probation until 2014, vacated the 2010 season, gave Jim Tressel a five year show-cause penalty and had OSU forfeit their portion of the revenue sharing from the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

Being an Ohio State enthusiast, while living smack dab in the middle of USC territory, I’ve had the privilege1 of hearing the crying from both fanbases.

In June 2010, the NCAA released their decision, after a four year long investigation into the USC football program, that had many crying foul. The decision to take away, among other things, a total of 30 scholarships and USC’s ability to play in the postseason for two years, was referred to by many as quite a heavy hammer. And, it was.

In fact, the NCAA ruling on USC was one of the harshest it’s made in quite some time. Was it too harsh? Perhaps. Only time will tell how this will all really affect USC, as they have delayed their scholarship reductions, the most severe of their penalties, until next year.

But, should the fact that the NCAA issued lighter penalties for Ohio State have caused the uproar among the Trojan faithful and USC apologists that it has? To anyone who has been watching and reading the output of the national media, possibly. But, to anyone who has read both reports, no, and for several reasons.

The usc ncaa investigation

The simple point of view that has been thrown out there is that USC had one player (Reggie Bush) violating the rules, and an assistant coach (Todd McNair) who possibly knew what he was up to. When compared to Ohio State, where the violations included multiple players and a head coach who lied to the NCAA, it certainly seems less severe.  But, in reality, it wasn’t.

The lengthy explanations of the many violations that occurred at USC are exhausting to get through, all 67 pages of them (compared to Ohio State’s 34). There are pages upon pages detailing the paid-for housing and trips to Hawaii for family, parties at a former NFL player’s house, relationships with agents who were in locker rooms, trips to Las Vegas, limousines, a car and the audio system and rims to go with it, and… I could go on.

uscfootball.comMcNair (far left) with the two agents investigated (far right).

Many with a rooting interest in USC have said that the evidence that former USC running backs coach, Todd McNair, knew of these violations is weak, at best. The NCAA report, however, contains many variations of the phrase, “yet another example of the assistant football coach's lack of credibility.” To anyone who reads the report, it is obvious that if McNair didn’t know of the violations that Reggie Bush was committing with these agents, that he felt the need to lie to the NCAA for some other, unknown reason during the investigation. And these lies would be in addition to the NCAA forms he signed (same as the ones Tressel signed), claiming he was not aware of any violations that were occurring at USC.

Many will dismiss Pete Carroll’s involvement in the violations at USC, particularly when comparing the cases of the two programs, by saying he wasn’t even remotely involved in any of it. The truth is, these violations aside, Carroll knew years before the report came out that McNair’s integrity is questionable.

McNair failed to mention during his hiring in 2004 that he had been convicted of animal cruelty, animal neglect, failure to obtain licenses and keeping animals for the purpose of fighting, on two separate occasions. Why did McNair not reveal this information? In his words, he “had no reason to think it would ever come up. I didn’t look at it as I did a crime.” When did he make Carroll aware of his crimes? In 2007, when the Michael Vick news broke, and McNair thought his own skeletons would come out.

Once informed, what did Carroll think of McNair’s crimes, and the fact that he kept his convictions a secret for three years? Carroll said he “wouldn’t have recognized it as an issue” and that he still would have hired McNair. To think that Carroll was shocked by the dishonesty that McNair portrayed during Bush’s violations, and the resulting NCAA investigation, would be a stretch. For a man who happily invited OJ Simpson to a USC practice before the Orange Bowl, because it would be exciting for his players, it’s easy to see why none of this would have struck him as potentially improper.

In addition, to think that Carroll and the rest of the athletic department had no dealings with any of the agents and marketers these violations centered around, would be inaccurate as well. The NCAA report states that Pete Carroll “encouraged sports marketer A to hire student-athletes as interns” and that “sports marketer B2 contacted the associate director of athletics to determine if student-athletes would be interested in an internship with his agency.” Ultimately, multiple football players were hired for these “internships”, that were never made available to the general public.

None of this is meant to deflect from Ohio State’s wrongdoings. The media has been more than happy to make us all aware of all the details of those transgressions, which are inexcusable as well.  And one thing interested parties, on both sides, can likely agree upon, is that the NCAA needs reform in its method of punishment.

For one, a set of standards by which they determine punishments would be nice. Additionally, how about a system that punishes those involved in the violations, above all others? How is Reggie Bush feeling these days, compared to the USC players that are watching all the bowl games from home? And how will John Simon feel when his senior season at Ohio State ends without any postseason play, while Boom Herron and DeVier Posey’s final game will be in the postseason?

usc's cooperation with the ncaa

The real lesson that has emerged, by comparing the cases of USC and Ohio State, is revealed through the different ways in which the two handled their respective circumstances.

For starters, Pete Carroll left USC before this news broke, making him a bit of a non factor in all of this. And while the hire of a coach, who had made a name for himself in Knoxville by pissing off the NCAA, to take Carroll’s place, likely wasn’t looked upon favorably, it was forgivable.

USC former HC Pete Carroll and former AD Mike Garrett. 

So, then, whatever happened to Todd McNair, the assistant coach who was at a nightclub with a player, a recruit and an agent? Who had lied to the NCAA, repeatedly. His contract expired about three weeks after the release of the NCAA report, and it was simply not renewed. USC in no way, during the investigation, attempted to disassociate with a convicted criminal, who was aware of violations within their program. In fact, his bio still remains on the USC Athletics’ website, with no mention of the fact that he is no longer coaching at USC.

The NCAA report does include some concessions USC had made throughout the investigation, in relations to their violations, but they were incredibly minimal concessions at best. Even more so than it’s been portrayed in the media, USC stood defiant of the NCAA every, single step of the way.

The NCAA report is littered with instances in which USC denied wrongdoing, disagreed with findings, and objected to certain violations of theirs actually being as severe of violations as the NCAA claimed.

This doesn’t even touch on their publicly displayed attitude towards the entire process after the report was released. Mike Garrett, then USC Athletic Director, said the decision was  “nothing but a lot of envy. As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was … I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans.”

Even as he claimed he was planning on appealing the ruling, Garrett didn’t pretend to be taking the process seriously. He didn’t even attempt to show the NCAA the remorse and respect they were likely hoping to see. And, that’s fine, I suppose, if that’s the way USC wanted to play it. It can be fun to play to the crowd, and get them excited, something their incoming head coach, Lane Kiffin, was also great at. But then, their supporters shouldn’t be surprised that the NCAA didn’t respond favorably towards their program either. If USC wanted to prove a point, how can they later protest that the NCAA attempted to prove one in return?

life after punishment

Finally, the situation at USC has also taught a lesson that can be valuable to Ohio State moving forward, even now that the investigation is over. That lesson being, that the arrogant attitude does come in handy, at some point. Be glad the investigation is over. Your fate has been determined. Own it. And then... own your opponents. Own the AP Poll. 

Matt Barkley, celebrating one of the Trojans' 10 wins in 2011.

Would USC and its supporters get upset at my implication of “arrogance”? Likely not. This is a fan base responsible for Arrogant Nation, known for catch phrases such as, my personal favorite, “You can’t sanction the endzone.” Slightly annoying? Yes. Until it’s an attitude you can adopt, now that Ohio State’s own investigation is over.

In the final year of it’s postseason ban, though it couldn’t compete in it’s conference championship game or a bowl, USC proved to the nation that it belonged in both. Though many voters seemed to have, arguably unjustly, left Matt Barkley off their Heisman ballots, he proved he belonged in NYC. Though it had been left out of the Coaches’ Poll, USC climbed the ranks of the AP Poll, instead.

The Trojans were able to put together an incredibly exciting 10-2 season to watch. They created lasting memories for themselves, and the supporters that stuck with them. They poked fun at the ridiculousness that they would be punished for things that happened while they were in middle school. Most notably, they set the stage for their run at a national title next season.  And that, is when arrogance and defiance can pay off.

  • 1 You’re not the only privileged one, Kirk Cousins.
  • 2 Sports marketer B had been convicted of mail fraud, and Pete Carroll was aware of this as well.

Comments Show All Comments

acBuckeye's picture

Perfectly written. This needs to be shown to uber-DERPS Jim Litke, Dennis Dodd, George Dohrmann, and Tom Luginbill.

ArTbkward's picture

Looks like 11W is making Elika work overtime today.  This is a good piece though, thanks for writing it whille everyone is off burning their Yule logs, lighting their menorah's or hanging their stockings with care.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

Larryp713's picture

Thanks for the perspective, Elika. I admit I haven't done much homework on the USC case, but I thought there was pretty strong evidence the university ignored some overt courting by an agent to Reggie Bush and family. I am not sure the NCAA deemed it as a lack of institutional control, but you could see why it should be.

I personally believe USC's punishment was excessive, as I do for the Buckeyes. There needs to be some consistency in how these matters are handled, and some logic to the punishment. If you are going to impose a bowl ban, for instance, impose it for the next year so you can actually levy the punishment against those who violated the rules. This decision could have been handled before the end of the season, and the Buckeyes would have been told they are ineligible for the 2011 post-season. This would be fair, because they used players that probably should have been ineligible for last season's Sugar bowl.

The scholarships lost should have been set to five to account for playing a full season with five guys who should have been ineligible for half the season; etc... This provides some reason to the madness.

With that said; should USC have been punished with one lost scholarship for each season Reggie Bush was ineligible, and a post season ban for each bowl he should not have played in? At least it has some logic. But USC fans should channel their anger toward the NCAA, and not Ohio State.



Nutbuck1959's picture

In terms of total dollar amounts, USC wins again.  That may have swayed the COI just a bit!!

Rooster Buckburn's picture

We do still have a lot to play for next year. But my biggest problem with all of this is just who it is that's being punished here - players and coaches who had nothing to do with this and the fan base.

Fine the university, punish Tressel, sanction the guilty players, take away wins from games they played in - I'm fine with all of that - and it is deserved - But why punish the innocent bystanders by taking away the post season? This logic makes about as much sense as taking the post season away from the basketball team just because they happen to be athletes at OSU as well. Braxton Miller had no more to do with this than Aaron Craft. What's the point of this type of 'punishment'?

Tonga Buckeye's picture

I'm with ya Rooster.

"go not where the path may lead, rather go where there is no path and leave a trail"

BuckeyeinExile's picture

Long time follower on here, but first time commenting.

I remember back when we had the home and home with USC and someone on ESecPN made the comment that it was the University of Spoiled Children vs. The Obnoxious State University. Apparantly their fan base is still the same group of silver spooned children they always have been. If you read the comments on some of the USC articles they make some OSU fans look lukewarm. I have a feeling we will have a reason to be back to being THE Obnoxious State University in no time with Urban in control.

The Pac12 is going to alwalys be the Big 1 and the little 11. Once USC's scholarship reductions start to kick in Kiffin's mouth will write checks his butt can't cash - I know firsthand, my wife is a huge Tennessee fan. Oregon will be best in conference until the Lyles investigation is over. The smart kids at Stanford will have no Luck after the draft this year and will return to mediocrity. The Big 12 will be a shadow of itself without A&M and Missouri. West Virginia may do alright there with their type of offense and the overall lack of defense in that conference. Its only a matter of time before one of the big boys in the SEC gets nailed for somthing by the NCAA. I really think that within a few years it will be the Big Ten's time to shine. Meyer will change the Big Ten. Like him or not Flounder Flinstone up north will be succesful - although they are overated this year and will be next year, Dantonio has got MSU going strong(if they can hold onto their recruits anymore!) Bielimic the Badger may have a rough time replacing his QB but will be tough again soon after, then you have Nebraska getting used to the conference. After we get through the bowl ban it gets interesting. I hope they win won for Luke and all the outgoing coaches on the 2nd, but with all this behind us now, I can't wait for August.

spqr2008's picture

The smart kids at Stanford will have no Luck... punny

thorvath22's picture

I'm not sure if you watched any USC football but they'll be good next year and probably be back the following year if they can replace Barclay. I'm also not sure if you watched the Big 12 but Mizzou and A&M although not bad teams are not the class of the Big 12, Oklahoma is still strong as, Texas will be back, and Baylor will be as good as Mizzou as well as Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I go forsee a balanced college football where each major conference has 2-4 National contenders.

BuckeyeinExile's picture

But the fact as pointed out in those articles is that USC has yet to face the scholarships. I do not dispute they will be a good team next year, and probably get beat by an SEC team in the title game. Following that the scholarship losses will be devastating. They just won't be the same as Pete Carroll's golden boys. As for the Big 12, what have they done on the National Stage lately? I would take Missou and A&M over TCU and WVU anyday. TCU had a phenomenal QB the last few years as bungals fans can attest too. I am not convinced they will do good against the Big Boys week after week. Texas may be high middle of the pack next year. Whenever RG3 goes Baylor will dissapear as well. But that is all within their own conference. All I am saying is I see the Big 10 rising to match the SEC and perhaps pass them.

p.s. The great USC team got beat by the same team dismantled by Boise last night. I know that is not perfect logic but still. I don't see more balance, I see the Big Ten rising above everyone else three to four years down the road to match and hopefully surpass the SEC (I live down in secland and am sick of hearing about them). While other conferences may have contenders, they will be embarrassed when they get to the big stage.

buckeyedude's picture

Nice post for a rookie here, Exile. I think you'll fit in well. Probably better than me. I'm like the weird uncle of 11W that nobody invites over for Christmas.



AngelHeartsBuckeyes's picture

You can come to my house, Dude. You'll like it. Its 65 degrees and I have a pool and a hot-tub. :)

Buckeye born and bred. Buckeye til I'm dead.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I feel both punishments were excessive, but I think it was fair that USC was punished worse than OSU.  I'm not sure how you can really argue otherwise without being delusional, a USC homer, or an OSU hater. 

OSU was like the person who gets pulled over for driving 12 mph over the speed limit, owned up to it right away, and was respectful to the officer.  USC was like the person who gets pulled over for driving the same amount over the speed limit, tried to lie their way out of it, and were basically a dick to the officer.

Who gets cited?  OSU - maybe, maybe not.  USC - definitely. 

But NCAA sanctions are obviously more complex than ticket/no ticket.  So certainly, based on handling of the investigations alone, not even considering the severity of all of the violations, USC deserves more punishment.  Not that our athletic department were models of how this kind of situation should be handled, but we look like models compared to USC's handling of their situation. 

And if you consider details of violations only, USC would deserve more, too.

These idiots in the media are harder on us because we were always more of a model of how to do things with class.  OK, yeah, you're surprised that we screwed up.  Does that make us worse of a program for screwing up when having a reputation for doing things the right way than a program screwing up who doesn't have that reputation? 

Class of 2010.

kvn's picture

USC had a player who took hundreds of thousands of$ in extras and trod to act like never happened OHIO St had5 players sell trinkets for tats with no agent involved , sure I think those 5 players should have throne off the team and tress should havebeen fired fore lien , and a bowl ban this year not next


Marshall's picture


All the discussion of what the punishment should have been really is moot at this point.  The important takeaway of the USC comparison is that USC remains competitive and squished Oregon's national championship dreams in Eugene.  This model of doubling-down on what personifies USC Trojan football has gotten HUGE results in the last year.  Hiring Kiffin made absolutely no sense in my mind at the time ("why would you bring one of the cheaters in to shepherd the school out of the woods?" kind of thing), and now it appears to be brilliant, as USC has said that they just simply don't care what anybody thinks, as long as they have continuity on the scoreboard, the recruiting, the attitude, and the style of play.

We have it worse off than USC in some regards, but OSU is the same in others.  Unlike USC, the media is not our friends.  But like USC, the NCAA is not our friends.  Like USC, the fans of other schools/teams in the B1G are not our friends.  USC appears to have living in purgatory figured out.  Why not adopt this model (sans the perpetuation of the cheating that USC probably has continued)?  The sooner we adopt the us-versus-the-world attitude that USC brings to the sport every week, the more we adopt that swagger in the face of those who hate us, the better off we'll be.

They hated OSU, Coach Tress, and the fans before all this happened.  With Urban Meyer getting hired and now cleaning up in recruiting, this has only getten worse, and the crying and wailing over "the cheaters" will only get louder, our enemies will only get more obnoxious and spiteful.  All this garbage is only going to escalate, and Mark May's stupid face will only spew more diarrhea by the day, with each win OSU gets in 2012.  I say the best way to counter it is to adopt more of the attitude Barkley shows when he's got that stupid sword in his hand.  I hate USC, but you have to respect how good they are in the face of adversity.  These guys have being hated by the world all figured out.  Us OSU fans are pretty good at the same, but I think there's another level to be reached, given our predicament.

In short, this is exactly how I want it to look after TSUN comes into Ohio Stadium with big BCS aspirations, and proceeds to get it handed to them:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_iMupOFWzE&feature=related.


2002 graduate of The Ohio State University
National champs.  Coincidence?

nickma71's picture

I have gotten tired of reading the idiot moron comments on ESPN and Yahoo. In the mailbag section the question was answered without answering it. The USC situation is significantly worse. Reggie Bush recieved benifits estimated near $100,000. Pryor and company received.... none, in the same way. They sold their own gear. Not even close to comparable. The intellectual dishonesty in sports is getting as bad as politicians that lie for a living.

NC_Buckeye's picture

Uh... I'm pretty sure there aren't many places in LA where you can get a house for around 100K. According to Robinson back in 2006:

State records show the Apple Street home was built in late 2004 and early 2005, then purchased by Michaels on March 29, 2005 for $757,500.

Comparing Bush violations to Tat-5 violations is um... like comparing apples to acorns. But of course the media sees fit to minimize Bush's activities and maximize Pryor's, Herron's, Posey's, Adams', & Thomas' which combined were probably somewhere in the 12-15K range... COMBINED.