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Thursday Pac-12 links: USC simply can't stay out of trouble

Published September 6, 2012 10:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thanks to some gumshoe reporting by the Los Angeles Times, news broke over the weekend that USC had further issues with players accepting gifts from boosters. In the latest discovery, it was former Trojans running back Joe McKnight (who played at the school from 2007 to 2009) and former basketball player Davon Jefferson.

McKnight supposedly accepted a plane ticket and a car from some dude named Scott Schenter, who is embroiled in an ongoing scandal with the LA County Assessor's Office. And all of this should sound pretty familiar if you remember the Reggie Bush scandal that led to USC being placed on a two-year postseason ban, losing 10 scholarships for three seasons (this is the first year, not third as I previously wrote) and being stripped of wins and national titles.

So the NCAA is back to investigating USC, and the question now is whether there wil be further sanctions, or if, because the latest alleged improprieties occurred during the time before USC's probation, it will result in a mere slap on the wrist. Another train of thought is that because USC has gone out of its way to be be models in compliance since Pat Haden assumed the position of athletic director, the Trojans will be in the clear.

The Times' Chris Dufresne makes a compelling case that USC should simply be allowed to move on from the latest charges, because the harsh sanctions from the previous missteps basically punished the culture that led to McKnight and Jefferson's (alleged) indiscretions.

Read on:

USC, in the sanctions context of our times, does not deserve more than an additional wrist tap. The McKnight-Jefferson case only affirms the NCAA's original contention that "high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance." USC Nation - and some of us in the media - might owe the NCAA an apology for saying/suggesting/screaming that the original penalties were excessive. This latest chapter might raise the sanctions to their proper level of appropriateness. McKnight-Jefferson appears, with less talented players, to be an appendage to Bush-Mayo. The key question for the NCAA infractions committee is to ascertain whether it would have handed out different penalties had it known about the latest allegations. The good news for USC is that the NCAA shot so high the first time, it might keep its gun in the holster. Or the NCAA could feel the reflexive need to restrict phone calls or visiting hours and/or take a couple of more scholarships away.

USC slipped to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 this week, and moved up to No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. The Trojans play Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday. And, look, it's not all bad for USC right now. Matt Barkley is still the early (and we mean early) favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. But USC has seven of those things (correction: six — which brings us back to Reggie Bush). The much more fun candidate to watch this season will be De'Anthony Thomas, the former USC commit now a highlight machine up at Oregon.

Thomas, who played in high school at Los Angeles Crenshaw, scored three touchdowns on just eight touches Saturday against Arkansas State, and is getting some mention as a Heisman candidate because 1) he's fast, 2) he's good, 3) Chip Kelly's offense will almost always produce a Heisman candidate.

As Oregon State fans like to point out, the Ducks have never had a Heisman Trophy winner. (The Beavers had Terry Baker in 1962.)

Over at the ESPN Pac-12 blog, the guys made their picks for this week and there are no surprises. We'll reveal our weekly picks around these parts tomorrow.

— Bill Oram