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BILL PLASCHKE

Suspension bad for Marc Tyler, but good for USC, Lane Kiffin

USC tailback broke no laws with his ill-advised, inappropriate remarks to TMZ.com, but decision to suspend him from all team activities sends right message. These things used to be swept under the rug.

July 19, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • USC tailback Marc Tyler has been suspended for the team's season opener against Minnesota for making comments that were deemed inappropriate by the university.
USC tailback Marc Tyler has been suspended for the team's season opener… (Jason O. Watson / U.S. Presswire )

He didn't break the law. He didn't even break a rule.

When Marc Tyler walked out of a bar last week and said some stupid things to TMZ.com, he was just a college jock acting like a knucklehead. It was harmless, it was immature, it was nothing.

Cheers to USC for realizing it was everything.

Cheers to Lane Kiffin for rolling up his sleeves and scrubbing out this latest Trojans mess before it left a stain. If the coach is truly to keep USC's remodeled house clean, this is how it has to happen, quickly and decisively, with no concern for the sweat or the pain.

"Marc didn't do anything criminal, he didn't break any laws," Kiffin said Tuesday. "But he did not live up to the high standard that has been set for representing this university."

Tyler, a senior running back, returning starter and potential team leader, was suspended from the team Monday until at least after the Sept. 3 season opener against Minnesota for seemingly the most modest of indiscretions.

He momentarily embarrassed the school. He showed up on a TMZ.com video acting loopy and talking about how Trojans players were paid, how USC was an acronym for something explicit, and how the running backs were going to be suggestively involved with former Reggie Bush flame Kim Kardashian.

It was all a joke. The entire sidewalk interview lasted 36 seconds. But in this new stiff-lipped USC culture created by Athletic Director Pat Haden and managed by Kiffin, dignity is no laughing matter and accountability is monitored by the minute.

"What Marc did, you just cannot do that here," Kiffin said. "He was not just representing the players and the university, he was also representing the alumni, and we cannot stand for the Trojan community to be shown in that light."

It didn't help that when Tyler entered Kiffin's office Monday morning to accept his punishment, he was carrying the weight of two earlier spring incidents. Tyler allegedly spat on a female USC student while drunk, and is alleged to have inappropriately touched another female student at a bar, leading to an appearance before the school's Office of Student Judicial Affairs.

His suspension surely resulted from some combination of these factors, and includes the school's desire to give Tyler time to deal with this recurrence of problems related to alcohol. But face it. Kiffin could have easily kicked this ugliness under a rug, because Pete Carroll made a career out of kicking these little messes under rugs.

There were no criminal charges involved in either of Tyler's previous incidents, and because the TMZ.com tape appeared last weekend, it was already old news. Kiffin could have scolded Tyler and sent him back to the field and blamed the entire thing on growing pains, and few eyebrows would have been raised.

This is essentially how Carroll handled linebacker Rey Maualuga, who as a freshman in 2005 missed only one half of one game a few days after being involved in a Halloween fight that ultimately led to a charge of misdemeanor battery. I criticized Carroll for being lenient, and was ripped by many USC fans for that stance, but I'm guessing this column won't elicit the same reaction.

I'm guessing a two-year probation has taught everyone something. If nothing else, Kiffin's actions have taught us that USC now has possibly higher standards than venerable Notre Dame and lovable Oregon.

Michael Floyd, star Notre Dame receiver, has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunk driving yet is still training with the team. Floyd is officially suspended, but Coach Brian Kelly has not ruled him out of the opener against South Florida or any other games. It will say plenty about the program's new priorities if Floyd is allowed to play.

Then there's Cliff Harris, star Oregon cornerback, who was recently cited for driving 118 mph in a 65-mph zone with a suspended license, adding to a long list of driving incidents. He was suspended for the Ducks' first game against LSU, but is being allowed to train with the team until then. It doesn't match USC's penalty.

Tyler cannot be part of any informal team workouts, or upcoming preseason practice. He cannot attend meetings. He has literally been asked to separate from the team until he pulls himself together, truly punishing him in a way that should serve as a deterrent to future USC stars who think they are bigger than a school.

"This is a big deal for him, a powerful statement for everyone," Kiffin said. "He might be back after Minnesota, or he might not be back at all."

When Kiffin returned from a wedding in Florida on Sunday after the news broke, he was greeted at the airport by — you guessed it — a camera from TMZ.com. He was asked all sorts of questions while carrying a car seat and guiding his three children to baggage claim.

His answers? What do you think?

"No comment," said the coach who has just made a giant one.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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