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USC's bumpy ride to compliance

Following NCAA rules to the letter is tough enough, and that's before throwing in a golf cart driven by a student who is also an agent.

November 23, 2010|By Gary Klein

Pat Haden, from the day he was introduced as athletic director, has spoken passionately about creating a "culture of compliance" at USC.

The school is on NCAA probation, and Haden has envisioned numerous problematic scenarios that might warrant attention.

But a USC student who is also a certified sports agent was not one of them.

"That was out of my wheelhouse," Haden said.

It's now at the forefront -- for Haden, for USC's beefed-up compliance department, and at schools across the country. It comes courtesy of a campus golf cart ride tailback Dillon Baxter accepted from Teague Egan, a USC student who is a certified agent with the NFL Players Assn. and chairman of 1st Round Enterprises.

Baxter was ruled ineligible for last week's game at Oregon State because the ride was regarded as a prohibited extra benefit. USC reported the incident to the NCAA, and Baxter is expected to be reinstated this week after making a $5 donation to charity -- the approximate value of the benefit he received.

USC also reported the incident to the NFLPA, which certifies agents; the school's office of student affairs, which handles student discipline; and USC's department of public safety, which polices the campus, including traffic.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Egan declined to comment other than to say, "We're working together to put it behind us."

In the meantime, USC is moving ahead with a mission to make its compliance department among the largest and most effective in college sports.

In July, new university President Max Nikias announced the hiring of David Roberts to a new position: vice president for athletic compliance.

Roberts inherited a department that had three directors responsible for 19 sports.

He has hired two more -- one each to specifically oversee football and basketball -- and said he was on the verge of hiring another who will be a "rules and education person," responsible for organizing awareness-raising programs for athletes, coaches, administrators and boosters.

The new hire will creatively utilize all of USC's resources "to teach what some people might think is a boring subject, the NCAA rules, and really pierce their craniums," Roberts said.

Roberts also plans to add a staff member who will oversee research and issues related to agents and advisors and employment.

When hiring and upgrades are complete, 11 people will be working full time on compliance with the support of state-of-the-art technology.

The larger staff has already paid dividends.

Egan's golf cart, emblazoned with "1st Round" on the front, caught Haden's attention outside Heritage Hall. Roberts said USC officials told Egan not to provide transportation or other benefits to USC athletes. A compliance staffer spotted Baxter riding on the cart with Egan last week and reported it to Roberts.

Compliance personnel also investigate situations or allegations that are not out in the open.

"It's like chasing ghosts," Haden said. "It can be just a murmur, a whisper."

Another member of the football team recently faced allegations that he had accepted money from a different agent group.

After receiving anonymous e-mails, compliance staff met with the player several times and also reviewed bank statements and telephone records, ultimately concluding that the accusations were unfounded.

"It's not like we're Big Brother," Haden said. "We're basically following the rules as we know them."

The situation involving Egan opened a troublesome new frontier.

"You're usually worried about somebody from the outside sending runners in here," Roberts said. "We have a person that's an agent."

Said Haden: "I promise you: People around the country are saying, 'Hey, we may have this issue too.' "

Louisville definitely does. Jordan Campbell, a former USC linebacker who transferred to Louisville, was listed as an executive for Egan's company. When USC turned up that information during its investigation, it alerted Louisville. Since then, Campbell's photograph and biography have been removed from 1st Round's website.

With USC scheduled to go before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee in January, there is no such thing as bending a rule.

Coach Lane Kiffin told his players Sunday, "You can't really do anything," noting that Baxter's situation was a reminder that the line between students and agents had blurred.

But Kiffin doesn't sense that a heightened culture of compliance will adversely affect USC on the recruiting trail.

"Where we're at right now, getting so far ahead of things is good," he said. "Although they're extremely minor, you're finding them before they become major."

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