USC takes action on basketball, waits to see reaction

It keeps an eye on the larger picture as it self-imposes sanctions amid NCAA investigation of the basketball and football programs.

January 04, 2010|Bill Plaschke

The entire USC basketball season just disappeared under a slathering of Mayo, and I know what you're wondering.

The hottest basketball team in the Pac-10 just got sent to the cooler, and I know exactly why you are worried.

It will be 10 months before they play another meaningful men's basketball game at the Galen Center, and I know it may seem impolite right now, but, really, you have only one question, so I'll just blurt it out.

What does all this mean for football?

Does the temporary removal of this relatively unnoticed athletic department organ -- think appendix -- mean that they can save the Trojans heart?

Does sacrificing Mayo's memories mean that Bush's and McKnight's will stay intact?

Are USC football and the NCAA cool?

The Trojans certainly hope so. The sanctions USC imposed on its basketball team -- no March Madness this season is the biggie -- remove one stain from Heritage Hall. But this was clearly about addressing the larger picture.

Of the nine quoted sentences attributed to USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett and senior vice president Todd Dickey in Sunday's university release, only two actually contained the word "basketball."

It was as if they were spanking the basketball team with one hand while wildly pointing at the football team with the other.

Whack! See how we can deal with Joe McKnight? Whack! See how mad we are at Reggie Bush? Whack! Could you just leave us alone now?

Listen to Garrett:

"USC takes allegations of NCAA rules violations very seriously. . . . When we've done something wrong, we have an obligation to do something about it and that is exactly what we're doing here."

Listen to Dickey:

"We have very high standards for our faculty, athletic department, staff and students. We expect and demand that everyone associated with the university live up to these standards."

Lofty stuff, all of which is as much about the Pete Carroll era as the O.J. Mayo error. The Trojans are clearly trying to fan away the lingering stench from the allegations that former running back Bush's parents lived in a house funded by a would-be sports marketer, and McKnight was driving an NCAA-dirty car.

Oh, sure, the university or the NCAA was going to ding the basketball team; there was no choice, this has been clear since last summer.

Tim Floyd was reportedly seen handing money to one of O.J. Mayo's lackeys. Floyd suddenly resigned. You do the math.

Some sort of punishment for USC basketball was so certain, the Trojans were turned down by three other potential head coaches before hiring Kevin O'Neill from his assistant spot with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This season was considered such a potential washout, the Trojans actually held a public tryout for walk-ons.

Everyone knew they would have to pay for what was essentially Mayo's one-year college contract, and even when the USC team started surprising everyone, this didn't change.

O'Neill has shown again he can coach mean defense, Alex Stepheson has shown why he was once such a great prospect, Mike Gerrity is a delightful comeback story, the Trojans have won eight straight games, the culture over there has become amazingly fun.

But they knew. Everybody knew. Even if this team went unbeaten, it had little chance of playing in a postseason game; it was just a matter of time.

A cynic might even say that their fate was sealed by McKnight. Once the football running back was caught driving the car, the athletic department lowered the boom on the basketball team, and, well, hmmm.

Whatever, the basketball probation is a yawner, but its influence on football could be a screamer.

It is believed here that the NCAA doesn't want to mess with the money-making monster that is USC football, and maybe this gives them the excuse to back off.

This certainly qualifies as institutional control. This certainly shows that somebody at Heritage Hall is paying attention. Maybe the NCAA can now convince itself that if USC is willing to declaw its hot basketball team, it can be trusted to show the same tough love with the mighty football team.

Well, now, OK, that would take some convincing.

Make no mistake, this was a big move. Whether it was big enough to shroud a San Diego tract home or a Land Rover remains to be seen.

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