USC coach Lane Kiffin, left, runs to his team during a timeout in the second… (Bret Hartman / Associated…)
A USC season already marked by several distracting controversies for Coach Lane Kiffin and school administrators added more intrigue Thursday.
The Pac-12 Conference announced that it had fined USC's football program $25,000 because a student manager intentionally deflated footballs used by the Trojans during their 62-51 loss to the Oregon Ducks on Saturday at the Coliseum. Deflated footballs presumably can be easier to throw and catch.
USC, in revealing the reprimand on its website Wednesday night, also had announced that the unidentified student manager had been relieved of all duties.
"I want to assure you here that we had no institutional knowledge of this -- none of us," USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said Thursday at a youth sports summit at the LA84 Foundation. "The coach didn't. The quarterback didn't. This young kid did it for whatever reason."
The Pac-12 Conference said in a statement that it accepted USC's self-discipline and revealed the amount of the fine.
"As a conference, our paramount goal is to provide a safe and fair competitive environment for our student-athletes, their teams, and their fans," the statement said.
Several USC student managers declined to comment before Thursday's morning practice.
Kiffin said that no coaches or players knew of the manager's actions, nor were involved, until it was brought to USC's attention Sunday.
"Obviously, as head coach, everything falls on you," said Kiffin, who called it "a distraction that nobody here knew about."
USC's season has been marked by a series of uncommon distractions.
In September, USC banned a reporter from practice, and then reinstated him, for reporting that kicker Andre Heidari had knee surgery. The Trojans then lost at Stanford, 21-14.
A few days later, Kiffin walked out of a daily news conference after less than 30 seconds because a reporter asked about an injured player who had returned to practice.
Last month, quarterback Cody Kessler, who is listed as No. 6 on the roster, was instructed to wear No. 35 when he played on special teams in the first half against Colorado. Kessler switched to No. 6 when he played in the second half.
The Trojans dealt with the controversy surrounding the numbers switch in the week leading up to its season-turning 39-36 loss at Arizona.
This week, USC is preparing to play Arizona State. Players are not made available to the media on Thursdays.
Kiffin said that USC compliance officials investigating the latest incident had spoken with quarterback Matt Barkley, who passed for 484 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon.
"He assured them that he knew nothing about this," Kiffin said, "nor has he ever directed a student manager to do this."
Kiffin said he was told that the manager was seen deflating footballs on the Oregon sideline, near the Ducks' bench.
"For all the conspiracy [theorists] that will think we're behind this, I don't think if we were trying to deflate balls we'd be directing a student manager on the Oregon sideline, right in front of them, to be deflating balls and playing with ... deflated balls."
During an interview with SiriusXM radio Thursday, Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said, "I heard about it, I think postgame, but doesn't affect us.... What other teams do doesn't really affect what we're doing."
USC utilizes 12 student managers who are under the direction of the equipment department.
The managers' responsibilities, according to a former USC student manager, include laundry duty, setting up and tearing down equipment for practices, setting up the game-day locker room and tracking balls and assisting coaches during games.
In their first year, managers float between position groups and responsibilities. In their second year, they might be assigned to a position group, and might stay with that group in their third year, allowing them to form bonds with players and coaches.
"Don't be seen; don't stand out," the former manager, who requested anonymity, said of the position, "because the only times you're seen or heard is when you're screwing up."
In college football, each team uses its own balls on offense. On the Thursday before games, Barkley works with managers to pick the six balls -- or "peaches" as he calls them -- that will be used in the game.
According to the NCAA rule book, balls used in games must be inflated to the pressure of 121/2 to 131/2 pounds per square inch and weigh 14 to 15 ounces.
Teams must present the balls to game officials at least one hour before the game. The officials check that the balls meet specifications and then return them to the teams.
Three balls for each team are kept on the home sideline and three on the visitors' sideline so that they can be rotated into games when balls go out of bounds.
Dave Hirsch, spokesman for the Pac-12 Conference, said that game officials noted in their postgame report that they had been alerted before the game that several balls had been tampered with. They checked the balls and reinflated them to the proper certification.