USC will meet with the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee on Saturday, and if the Appeals Committee is fair and reasonable it will significantly reduce sanctions imposed on the football program when a ruling is made public in four to six weeks.
Of course, seeing that the NCAA Committee on Infractions was unfair and unreasonable when it clobbered USC in June, Trojans fans would be well-advised to not hold their breath.
It doesn't appear new athletic director Pat Haden is. While he turned down an opportunity to talk to the Pac-10 blog this week -- I know; why would anybody do that? -- he's repeatedly told people he's not optimistic because he's realistic.
Why? Because, in 2008, the NCAA changed its bylaws to make it incredibly difficult to win an appeal. From the NCAA website:
An appeal is not a new hearing or a second chance to argue the case. The Infractions Appeals Committee does not consider evidence that was not presented to the Committee on Infractions. The Infractions Appeals Committee will reverse or modify a ruling of the Committee on Infractions only if one of the following standards is proven:
The ruling by the Committee on Infractions was clearly contrary to the evidence.
The individual or school did not actually break NCAA rules.
There was a procedural error that caused the Committee on Infractions to find a violation of NCAA rules.
The penalty was excessive and is an abuse of discretion.
Contrary to evidence? While there's scant evidence that supports the notion that former USC running backs coach Todd McNair knew what Reggie Bush, his parents and a couple of would-be agents were up to, that scant evidence, nonetheless, became the club with which the NCAA bludgeoned USC, imposing a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years, penalties that were worse than even the most egregious pay-for-play cases in recent years. It would be a massive repudiation of the Infractions Committee to reverse course on said evidence, and it appears USC isn't even going to venture in that direction.
NCAA rules? They were absolutely broken. Bush and his parents took all kinds of extra benefits that were not allowed by NCAA rules.
Procedural errors? That appears to have happened multiple times, but mostly with the treatment of McNair, whose case the NCAA separated from USC's. Don't expect USC to venture in that direction, either.
Penalty was excessive and is an abuse of discretion? Bingo.
"Our primary contention is given what we were found to have done, these are the harshest penalties ever handed out," USC's associate athletic director J.K. McKay told the LA Daily News.
That is the case that Haden, McKay, new USC President Max Nikias, David Roberts -- the school's vice president for athletic compliance -- and a university lawyer are expected to make in a brief presentation.
The reason Haden is not optimistic is that only one appeal out of the past 11 has been successful since the Appeals Committee bylaws were changed. The odds are not good, at least based on recent cases.
Haden also has told reporters he doesn't believe recent controversies involving preseason agent cases centered on North Carolina and other schools, the Auburn and QB Cam Newton imbroglio and the oddly ruled Ohio State case will have any affect on USC's appeal. He said it was like comparing "apples and oranges."
With all due respect to Haden, I'm not sure that's correct, particularly with the Trojans going with the "harshest penalties ever handed out" defense. Members of the Appeals Committee will be well-aware of the current climate as USC pleads its case. There's a lot of sordidness out there that makes using USC as a benchmark for serious violations dubious and problematic.
The Trojans are going to ask that the scholarship penalties be reduced from 30 to 15 -- so five per season over three years -- and the bowl ban be reduced to one year, which means the Trojans would be eligible for a bowl game in 2011.
Again, not likely. But not impossible. And there could be a middle ground, where the Appeals Committee splits the difference.
What it will take for USC to get its sanctions reduced is simple: A fair and reasonable assessment.