Don't punish the kids

There are some things about college sports that make no sense to me. One of them is why a group of student athletes get severely punished for something that they didn't do. However, USC's self-imposed basketball sanctions will most harshly affect its own players, many of whom never played with OJ Mayo.

Only in bizarro NCAA-world is it acceptable to punish kids like Mike Garrity, Alex Stepheson, and Dwight Lewis for OJ Mayo's and Tim Floyd's indiscretions from two years ago. Today's LA Times has one of the saddest articles I've ever read, showing the USC players' reactions to their postseason ban.

If I was a USC basketball player, I'd consider joining with my teammates in hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit against the school and possibly the NCAA. I'm not a legal expert, but it seems to me that prohibiting a group of innocent and hardworking student athletes from postseason play is like denying any student an equal chance at fulfilling an educational opportunity.

Would a college prohibit all of its professors the chance to win a Nobel Prize if one professor was caught plagiarizing work two years earlier? Would a University deny Rhodes Scholarships to its students if one Rhodes Scholar from the school had been caught cheating on a test? Only in the NCAA is it commonplace to directly punish students who aren't responsible for transgressions committed at a school.

So who should get punished for the violations that allegedly occurred in USC basketball? I have some ideas.

Punish OJ Mayo. It seems clear now that he took money to play at USC, and he probably took money from agents too. Despite all the havoc wrought on the basketball program since he left, Mayo is playing in the NBA, making millions of dollars, and probably doesn't care what happens at USC anymore. While David Stern and the NBA don't care either about college athletics, it would be nice if they did. Stern's age minimum rule is the only reason why Mayo went to college in the first place. The NBA bears some responsibility. The league should collaborate with the NCAA and punish college players who accept payments from boosters, agents, or anyone else inappropriate. The league could give the player a long suspension or levy a substantial fine. Such a move would certainly deter players like Mayo from ruining programs years after they've gone.

Punish Tim Floyd. The fact that he gave money to one of Mayo's marketing representatives means that no college team will give him a job any time soon. The NCAA could also suspend Floyd, which it's done with a few tainted former coaches like Jim O'Brien of Ohio State, Todd Bozeman of Cal, and Kelvin Sampson from Indiana. But Floyd is currently an assistant in the NBA (like Sampson), and pulling in a nice six-figure salary in his hometown of New Orleans. Again, it would be nice if the NBA had some reciprocity with the NCAA so that a coach like Floyd or Sampson could stay punished.

Punish Mike Garrett. I wrote a few days ago that it's unlikely Garrett will stay on as athletic director once USC's new president gets situated. I was harsh toward Garrett, noting that he got lucky his fifth choice for football coach turned out so great after his previous two hires (John Robinson and Paul Hackett) flopped. But despite Garrett's reputation as a do-nothing AD who likes to sleep a lot, he did get Galen Center built, and many other Trojan athletic programs have been successful. That being said, the recent sanctions and two other investigations have embarrassed the University, and it's time for Garrett to resign.

Punish USC. There's plenty of ways to punish a school and its athletic program that don't include punishing its students. The school has already forfeited wins, scholarships, and recruiting days. But another possibility could be, if USC were to make the NCAA Tournament, the school could forfeit its share of postseason revenues. It could be asked to give back its share of Pac-10 Tournament revenues too. Heck, as far as I'm concerned, the school's basketball TV money, attendance revenue, and sponsorship revenue could all be fair game in the eyes of NCAA investigators. Perhaps they can donate all attendance revenue to charity for a season, or give it to the NCAA so they can run more of their awful television ads during the college basketball season. I don't care. Just don't hurt the kids who are there now and working hard.

I understand that taking money away from a collegiate athletic program could hurt future groups of students, but at least they would be recruited with knowledge about the school's resources. The current USC basketball team played with the belief that an NCAA Tournament bid was attainable. After being left for dead by most basketball pundits, Kevin O'Neill's squad had learned to come together as a team and seemed well on the way to achieving its goals. Presumably, that's part of the educational experience that the NCAA wants to foster.

Unfortunately, it's an educational experience that USC's basketball players won't have. They don't deserve this.

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