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USC says hearing is 'good and fair'

Trojans must wait to find out if penalties will be reduced.

January 23, 2011|Gary Klein

INDIANAPOLIS — No parade of witnesses streamed in and out of a hotel conference room. No boxes of documents were piled high upon carts.

Compared to its three-day infractions hearing marathon last February, USC's four-hour appearance before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee on Saturday was short and uncomplicated.

The question is whether USC convinced the panel to lighten NCAA sanctions that could cripple the Trojans' football program for years.

USC's delegation came to Indianapolis seeking to have a two-year bowl ban cut to one year, already served. More significantly, the school wants the penalty that calls for a loss of 30 scholarships over three years to be reduced to 15.

USC is expected to be informed of a ruling within the next six weeks.

University President Max Nikias sounded upbeat as he exited the hearing, thanking the NCAA for providing USC an opportunity to present its argument and describing the hearing as "good and fair."

Nikias, Athletic Director Pat Haden, USC vice presidents Todd Dickey and David Roberts, general counsel Carol Mauch Amir and outside counsel William King III declined comment on particulars of the closed-door proceeding.

If USC loses its appeal -- since 2008, only one of 11 has been successful -- it could be years before the Trojans are deep enough to challenge for a Bowl Championship Series title. The Trojans also are expected to be stripped of the BCS title they won by defeating Oklahoma in January 2005.

USC had been awaiting Saturday's hearing since last summer, when the NCAA's Committee on Infractions announced penalties that stemmed mainly from violations related to former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his family.

The bowl ban and the number of football scholarships lost made USC's penalties among the most severe in college sports history.

USC spent six months preparing to convince the five-member appeals committee that the sanctions were so excessive as to constitute what the NCAA defines as "abuse of discretion."

Protocol for an NCAA appeals hearing called for USC to take the floor for the first part of Saturday's hearing, which took place in a downtown hotel only blocks from NCAA headquarters.

As intermittent snow fell outside, USC presented its argument for reducing the sanctions. USC's contingent appeared confident as it huddled in the hallway during a break.

After the first intermission, a non-voting member of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions presented the NCAA's case. More than an hour later, Haden exited, clutching a legal pad. He and others in USC's delegation wore tense expressions on their way to another hallway huddle.

Haden led the group back into the room for a period of rebuttal and questions from the committee before both sides gave closing statements.

USC's representatives, who had arrived in Indiana on Friday via private jet, left quickly for the airport after the hearing.

Now USC must once again wait for a decision.

Haden, who was at USC's basketball game Saturday night, has said that the school will not pursue any other remedies should the appeal be denied.

High school recruits can begin signing letters of intent Feb. 2, a timetable that does not favor the Trojans, regardless of the outcome of the appeal.

But after more than five years of NCAA investigations and hearings, the Trojans can finally start looking ahead.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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