Update: replaced the picture of Lane Kiffin, who is really blameless in all this, with that of Reggie Bush, who is the primary culprit and represents USC's complete and total abdication of their responsibility towards their athletes. Also, added a few things for emphasis and clarity.
First, allow me to say that I find the NCAA's sanctions against USC to be excessive, unprecedented and unfair. I agree with the 2 year postseason ban, because Reggie Bush not only played in those games, but helped them reach them. (For USC fans to talk about what a great player that Reggie Bush was - better than Vince Young for instance - on one hand and then claim that they would have won all those games without Bush on the other is hypocritical; logically inconsistent.) But losing 30 scholarships is beyond excessive.
I think that it was done because the NCAA wanted to make sure that USC actually suffered. Oklahoma proved that you can lose 8 scholarships and still play for the national title in 2008. USC can carry 75 scholarship players and still be the most talented team on the field in 9 games out of 10, and the NCAA knows this. Also, the AP isn't going to strip USC's 2004 title. The BCS will do so, but they will leave it vacant rather than picking a replacement. Result? USC will still be the consensus, unchallenged 2004 college football champions! And even the Downtown Athletic Club has come out and stated that they have no intention of taking back Reggie Bush's Heisman. So, had USC been given scholarship reductions that they would have been able to easily overcome because of Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron's recruiting and the lack of a national powerhouse on their regular schedule (whether in the Pac-10 or Notre Dame), the combination of their continued success with the decision of the AP and the Downtown Athletic Club to wash their hands of the whole matter would have meant the Trojans would have paid no real consequences for benefiting from the illegal participation of Reggie Bush.
And that meant that there would have been no deterrent from someone else - including USC - from "allowing" illegal participation in the future. And add to that the fact that USC and Reggie Bush refused to cooperate with the NCAA investigation FOR FOUR YEARS, took a high-handed, arrogant "we did nothing wrong and we dare you to punish us if we did!" stance, attempted to scapegoat the basketball program, and DEFIANTLY chose to RETAIN their long-implicated RB coach until AFTER the sanctions were handed down. And oh yes, there was the fact that USC was a repeat violator because of sanctions handed down earlier in the decade, and their hiring of Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron (guys who were on the staff while the previous violations were committed AND who took a "secondary violations aren't really violations" stance while at Tennessee) didn't help matters either.
So even though the 30 lost scholarships were excessive, it appears that USC has finally gotten the message. Steve Sample went from incredulously claiming that USC would be vindicated to largely being silent. Pete Carroll went from making similar statements to finally admitting that "something went on." Lane Kiffin went from stating "we can still go 12-0 and win the AP title" (which by the way is false, ask the 1993 11-0 Auburn team) and predicting that they would keep reeling in top recruiting classes to having to resort to baiting Tennessee Volunteer fans to divert attention away from players jumping ship (true, nearly all were backups who likely would have left anyway, but it was still negative press that Kiffin didn't need). And Mike Garrett went from claiming that the NCAA sanctions were due to programs jealous that they would never be as good as USC to A) quietly allowing Todd McNair's contract to expire (ending the defiant posture), accepting the loss of 15 scholarships and 1 bowl game at minimum in their NCAA appeal, and having to recant claims - and apologize for making them - that other programs were illegally contacting Dillon Baxter. So, the NCAA obviously needed to send a message to a USC football program and institution that had been carrying on with a cavalier attitude for quite some time (again, USC was punished by the NCAA for violations before Carroll was hired) and 30 scholarships was the only way to do it. Otherwise, Sample, Garrett, Kiffin, Orgeron etc. would still be carrying on with their nonsense instead of tightening up their ship (i.e. Kiffin moving to restrict access to players and the athletics department coming up with new compliance rules).
And make no mistake, USC's asking the penalty to be LOWERED to 15 scholarships and a one year postseason ban is telling. Those are still significant sanctions, more than what USC was expecting (which was 8-12 scholarships and no postseason ban). Had the NCAA originally given USC the punishment that USC is now REQUESTING in their appeal, USC nation would have professed to have been shocked and appalled, and stated that they were going to fight, sue, challenge everything - including the lost victories - on appeal and if need be in a court of law. Carroll, Garrett, Kiffin etc. would be making the rounds proclaiming that nothing was done wrong, and that USC was being "targeted." Only seeing that the NCAA meant business and was playing for keeps (i.e. the NCAA stated that they were considering a TV ban as well) is what resulted in USC's basically admitting that serious violations went on by ACCEPTING A STILL SIGNIFICANT JUDGMENT of a 1 year postseason ban, 15 scholarships, and all those lost victories. It honestly does appear that had the NCAA given USC anything less - or should I say given USC a more fair punishment that actually fit the seriousness of the violations - USC would still be adhering to the ridiculous notion that they did nothing wrong and did not deserve to be punished at all.
So, USC fans, these penalties had nothing to do with Paul Dee's trying to get a five star LT to Miami. The reason is that quite frankly, while Miami could certainly use Henderson, they don't NEED him. Number of national titles Miami has won since 1970? 5, and all since 1984. The number that USC won? 4, and two of them were in the 1970s. Dee knows that it isn't Seantrel Henderson that will win titles for Miami, it will be another coach like Howard Schellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson or Butch Davis. Maybe Randy Shannon is a guy like that, maybe he isn't. If he is, he will win a title with or without Henderson. If he isn't, then having Henderson won't help him any more than having Carson Palmer, Justin Fargas, Keary Colbert and Troy Polamalu helped Paul Hackett at USC. Also, USC fans are overrating Paul Dee's influence. The 30 scholarships would have never been lost to USC had the NCAA infractions committee not voted for it to happen. Paul Dee only has one vote, and the other people on that committee had no incentive to go along with any plot to get Seantrel Henderson to Paul Dee's school.
So yes, Dee had influence, but Reggie Bush's spending 4 years refusing to cooperate with the investigation only to lie to them through his teeth and deny everything despite knowing full well that the NCAA had phone messages, receipts, testimony from credible third parties AND was fully aware that Bush had paid off Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to keep from giving a public deposition that the NCAA would have been able to obtain and consider had more influence. So did the strange decision not to tell Todd McNair to seek employment elsewhere, and the even stranger decision to hammer the basketball program, and the stranger still decision to make a claim that amounts to "we can't possibly be expected to police our athletes, and we should not be held responsible for what athletes who attend, represent, and win games/generate revenue for our universities and thereby PAY OUR SALARIES do." This line of thinking was exploded by none other than LenDale White, who stated that he couldn't so much as have a house party without his former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher knowing about it.
Blaming Paul Dee for the fact that USC used lack of institutional control AS THEIR PRIMARY LINE OF DEFENSE is totally nonsensical. Again, USC attempted to defend themselves from charges of lack of institutional control by claiming that they couldn't possibly be expected to control their players, and furthermore that they shouldn't be expected to! So, the refusal of the NCAA compliance office, made up of people who like Dee have helped oversee athletics departments, to buy this outright fiction is evidence of some plot by Dee to steal Seantrel Henderson from USC to Miami? When Henderson could have just as easily A) decided to stick it out at USC like every other member of the Trojans' recruiting class so far or B) gone to Ohio State - which plays Miami this year and is expected to be a leading contender for the national title now that USC is out of the way and whose biggest flaw is the lack of a true LT - anyway? And again, USC was forced to abandon their "we couldn't POSSIBLY have known about the housing/living/driving arrangements for Reggie Bush/Joe McKnight/Dwayne Jarrett and their families and because of that we did NOTHING wrong" stance when they A) let Todd McNair go, B) restricted access to their athletes and C) added new compliance rules and D) FINALLY started communicating with and taking advice from the NCAA after the NCAA had REPEATEDLY TRIED TO GET THEM TO.
Now had USC done A through D at any point during the FOUR YEAR INVESTIGATION, the NCAA would have gotten the impression that they took the charges that they were facing seriously and were committed to running an athletics department correctly. And that would have resulted in much lesser penalties. And we know this because this is what other programs did. Oklahoma reduced their scholarship losses and got their vacated wins restored because they self-reported and cooperated in the Rhett Bhomar scandal. Alabama was able to avoid losing scholarships and only had a few wins vacated because they self-reported and cooperated in the textbooks scandal that implicated star tailback Glen Coffee and a bunch of other players. Alabama also avoided trouble when they self-reported a free fishing trip that star WR Julio Jones took from an Alabama supporter, and had Jones reimburse the money. Tennessee did the same in the scandal where star QB Tee Martin received a small loan from a longtime family friend who was also a Tennessee booster: self-reporting, cooperating, and having Martin repay the money.
USC obviously felt that self-reporting violations (or properly monitoring athletes that were openly riding around in tricked-out cars, sporting diamond earrings, attending concerts, flying their family members around, and hanging out with miscreants so that they would known about the violations to self-report) and cooperating with ongoing NCAA investigations rather than daring the NCAA to punish them was unnecessary. Like Leona Helmsley once famously stated "only little people pay taxes", USC by their actions and words betrayed the opinion that "only little people without our tradition, wealth, power and success have to worry about NCAA rules." (Again, please recall Lane Kiffin's "who cares!" attitude about racking up secondary violations, being reprimanded by the SEC office, being warned by the NCAA, and the SEC office instituting "the Lane Kiffin rule" while he was at Tennessee.)
And unique among all the other programs in major college football, they maintained this stance right up until not only the NCAA hammered them, but for some time thereafter. Again, it was ONLY AFTER the Trojans' legal team looked at the NCAA report and began crafting their response that USC was finally forced to drop their "we did nothing wrong!" stance and join the rest of the college football world in reality. And this reality included moving from "we did nothing wrong and we will be vindicated by the NCAA report" (again, the position of USC president Steve Sample!) to accepting the 15 scholarships and the one year postseason ban IN THEIR OWN APPEAL, plus making the very reforms that would have prevented these sanctions in the first place HAD THEY BEEN INSTITUTED WHEN THE NCAA INSTITUTED SANCTIONS AGAINST USC IN 2001! Had they made the reforms when they were sanctioned the first time in 2002, they would still have those wins from 2004 and 2005, they would still have the 2004 BCS title, the players would still have their statistics, they would be a real contender for the national title in 2010 and 2011 instead of sitting at home, and oh yeah they'd still have those 30 scholarships.
Again, USC was sanctioned for violations in 2001 and did nothing to solve the problem. As a result, they were sanctioned for violations that occurred from 2004 to 2009, and STILL were BRAZENLY, PROUDLY COMMITTED to doing NOTHING to solve the current problems or prevent future ones, and this was a COMMITMENT that was shared by the president, athletics director, (non)compliance office, head coach, assistant and position coaches and players. Yet this was nothing but some plot by a Miami partisan to get Seantrel Henderson to Miami? And the representatives of the other programs - the programs that aren't getting Henderson - decided to sign off on it? By taking this stance, USC fans are as delusional as Alabama fans, who to this day insist that the Albert Means scandal was some giant Tennessee conspiracy led by Philip Fulmer to destroy their program. (These fans don't seem to want to realize that it would have actually been in Phil Fulmer's interests to allow the incompetent, corrupt Mike DuBose to remain Alabama's coach as long as possible. They also conveniently ignore that Steve Spurrier squealed on Mike DuBose to the NCAA before Fulmer did.)If you want to join Alabama fans in the fever swamps of hatching conspiracy theories instead of accepting responsibility for the actions of the people that were being paid hundreds of thousands - and in the case of Carroll, millions - of dollars to run your programs and represent your institutions - then fine, but if you do, then no more talk about how much better, more knowledgeable and classier USC fans are than the Alabama and SEC fans.
And what is the Trojan nation going to do? Add Miami to their ever-growing enemies list? First it was the BCS. Then it was the SEC. Then it was Jim "What's your deal? What's YOUR deal?" Harbaugh and Stanford. Then it was Texas (or more accurately Texas A&M) over the failed Pac-16 deal. Now it is going to be Miami and the ACC? That is quite a few enemies for a program that for all the hype actually only went 1-1 in BCS title games, and needed the benefits of illegal participation from one of their star players just to reach those. LSU, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Utah doesn't have anywhere near those many enemies. TEXAS doesn't even have all those enemies even after (allegedly) driving Nebraska to the Big 10 and trying to destroy (with your help USC and the Pac-10!) the Big 12 before pulling the plug (or being forced to pull the plug by their legislature and by Texas A&M) at the last minute. And don't pretend as if these schools don't have just as much reason to be hated or have enemies as USC does. Miami, Texas, Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma have the same number of BCS titles as USC does (1) while Florida and LSU both have more (2). So this idea that all these schools are jealous of USC and trying to destroy them is dislocated from reality.
Now Alabama fans still persist in their conspiracy theories, but the truth is that they only cleaned up their act when and because they hired Nick Saban, who walked into a situation that was a complete mess and totally out of control and laid down the law with an iron fist. Saban tightly restricts access to his athletes, told problem boosters and alums to get lost, has a huge staff including a CIA-type intelligence operation to know what is going on, and chronic rule breakers (good players too, starters!) found themselves either declaring early for the NCAA or transferring to Division II schools. (Not I-AA/FCS, Division II). Bob Stoops had to do the same when he took over the mess that was Oklahoma. You might say "it's a lot easier to maintain control over your athletes in Tuscaloosa or Norman than in Los Angeles." Wrong. In a region where college football is king because, well, there aren't that many other things to do or talk about, you cannot imagine how many people there are - and I am speaking of adults with successful business and whatnot - with nothing better to do with their lives than to give a college athlete whatever he wants in return for being able to brag to of his friends that he hangs out with big state U's star QB or backup RB. Or who will use cash, pressure, young women, job offers for family/friends or whatever else he can find to steer some recruit to a particular school just so he can brag about how he is helping big state U win by "taking care of their players." THAT'S the reason why it's the mostly rural schools in the SEC and the former SWC that became notorious for scandals. It is actually HARDER to run a clean program in a place like South Carolina or Mississippi than it ever will be in Los Angeles or any other place where people's lives revolve around more than college football.
Now again, USC's punishment did not fit their crimes. 30 scholarships is too much, and I really hope that the NCAA accepts USC's counterproposal of 15, or if they reject it that they lower their own decision to a more acceptable 18-20. However, based on the statements and behavior from so many high level USC employees, I am convinced that it was the only way to get USC's attention. Now two wrongs don't make a right (actually it is several wrongs, as the AP is content to allow USC to use an ineligible player to win a national title, and the Downtown Athletics Club is willing to break their own rules and give their award to an ineligible player), so that is why the NCAA absolutely has to abandon their ridiculous penalty of 30 scholarships. But USC fans, whether the NCAA does the right thing or not, please end the foolishness of claiming that it was some conspiracy on the part of Miami to get Seantrel Henderson by Paul Dee that the other people on the infractions committee consented to. (As stated earlier, Miami has proven over the years that they don't need conspiracies to win titles, and they certainly don't need Henderson.) Instead, USC lost 30 scholarships because they not only refused to control their athletes, but were actually brazen enough to spend 4 years letting the NCAA know that they had no intention of EVER controlling their athletes.
So, no blaming Paul Dee, USC fans. You can't even blame Reggie Bush. Blame Pete Carroll and everyone else who took this "how am I supposed to know or be held responsible for my players!" stance. Had Carroll or any of the other people in charge asked a few questions about the jewelry, cars, living arrangements and hangers-on (and if Carroll didn't want to be concerned with stuff like that he should have coached at some Division II school instead of a major football factory) they would have found out about the violations and been able to self-report and cooperate like Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee did. You wouldn't have vacated as many victories, and again we are already seeing that the AP and the Heisman people don't care about your playing the ineligible Reggie Bush. And the main thing is that you would have lost 6 or 8 scholarships instead of the at least 15 and as many as 30 that you are facing now.
You can blame Paul Dee's grand plot to get Seantrel Henderson to Miami all you want, but the fact is that had USC in 2002 made the reforms in the compliance office and the effort to control who has access to their players that they are putting in now, Paul Dee would have never had the opportunity to in the first place. USC fans, you can be like the Alabama fans and deny the truth, or you can be grownups and face it.