One of the Pac-12's toughest athletics programs has tried to make do with a hand tied behind its back for the last four years.
On Tuesday, a number of harsh NCAA sanctions have ended for USC.
Both the football and men's basketball programs there have reeled after separate investigations revealed that Heisman winner Reggie Bush and one-and-done star O.J. Mayo each received improper benefits. The revelations resulted in erased seasons, fines, postseason bans, roster attrition and coaching and administrative shake-ups.
USC athletic director Pat Haden released a statement Tuesday hoping the end of sanctions would be the final page in a difficult chapter of one of the nation's most high-profile college athletic programs. But he also was relastic: The legacy of those violations won't disappear quickly.
"Although our probation has ended, challenges remain because of the lingering effects of the sanctions," Haden said. "And we also must remain diligent when it comes to rules compliance. As a reminder, we have another year remaining in the five-year window of repeat violator status; another major violation could bring even more severe hardships."
USC has developed more rigid guideline in its compliance: They're strict about limiting contact between athletes and boosters, for example, and have a pretty involved credential system for games.
There is certainly some lingering bitterness from the football sanctions in particular, which Haden told the L.A. Times that "I will go to my grave thinking they were unfair." The severity of those punishments compared to scandals at Miami, Oregon and Ohio State sparked some outrage against the NCAA's consistency in enforcement.
From the L.A. Times' Gary Klein:
Ohio State players received free tattoos in exchange for jerseys and other items, and it was determined that then-coach Jim Tressel lied to NCAA investigators. The operator of a scouting service was paid $25,000 purportedly to steer players toward Oregon. And a Miami booster lavished Hurricanes athletes with cash and other perks.
The results of those cases: Ohio State lost nine football scholarships, Oregon two, and Miami - after the NCAA enforcement staff and administration botched parts of that investigation - lost nine.
"Anyone looking at this thing objectively saw a lot of inconsistency in the way the cases were handled," [Pac-12 commissioner Larry] Scott said.
A common thread in many explanations of USC's harsh punishments was the school's failure to cooperate fully with NCAA investigators, one of the reasons former AD Mike Garrett got the boot.
USC still has done relatively well behind its healthy booster corps, upgrading facilities and getting new coaches in Steve Sarkisian for football and Andy Enfield for basketball. There is some hope in Troy that the staff and facilities in place will offer room for growth and success.
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