In a just world, USC basketball would have something in common with SMU football in the near future.
The death penalty.
It's not going to happen, because NCAA bylaws don't work that way. And besides, they're not likely to ever again disband a program for a year after the smoking crater it left at SMU.
But USC deserves it. The school has so far escaped facing NCAA prosecution for compelling allegations that star tailback Reggie Bush and his family were lavishly compensated by an aspiring agent while playing for the Trojans. Now comes a devastating, thoroughly documented "Outside The Lines" report that goes into stunning detail about the money and gifts star guard O.J. Mayo allegedly received before and during his one season at USC.
All directly beneath USC's chronically blind eyes.
You can plead ignorance once -- and even that was almost impossible to believe, in the case of Bush. Plead it twice? Um, no. USC should be crushed by the NCAA, the Pacific-10 and its own administration.
Especially with a player everyone in Hoopsworld strongly suspected was no amateur before he set foot in Los Angeles. You had to search hard to find a soul who didn't think O.J. Mayo had been prostituted for years as his prep legend grew, starting in seventh grade. (Put it this way: When early Mayo confidant Sonny Vaccaro gets muscled out of the scene, somebody's bringing some serious juice to the table.)
So you take the Bush allegations, add a side of Mayo and ask the question: Has there ever been a more textbook definition of "lack of institutional control"?
If all the allegations stand up, USC athletic director Mike Garrett and the Inspector Clouseaus who comprise his compliance staff must lose their jobs over these serial embarrassments, or the school has no credibility whatsoever. When USC's two highest-profile sports both have star players allegedly on the brazen take from agents, somebody needs to answer for it. A lot of somebodies.
Or USC can take its ignorance and explain it to the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which shouldn't be in much of a mood to listen if the same OTL facts are presented to NCAA investigators as compellingly as they were on national TV and on this Web site Sunday.
According to the OTL investigation, Mayo received thousands of dollars' worth of clothes. A flat-screen TV for his dorm. Hotel rooms for him and his friends. And receipts for all of them, provided to ESPN by insider-turned-whistle-blower Louis Johnson (whose stories were remarkably consistent and verifiable, according to those who worked on the piece).
But it gets better: The swag allegedly was financed by a man named Rodney Guillory, who previously had gotten former USC guard Jeff Trepagnier in trouble for accepting agent kickbacks. Not only did that fail to get Guillory banned from campus, he also wound up a fixture within the program. Of course, who wouldn't want a 43-year-old scammer hanging around a college freshman?
According to transcripts from OTL's interviews with Johnson, Guillory was sitting in the USC basketball offices when Mayo's signed letter-of-intent rolled off the fax machine. Johnson also said coach Tim Floyd talked frequently with Guillory about Mayo whenever "issues" arose.
In the wake of this, it's hilarious to listen to Floyd's interview on "Pardon The Interruption" before Mayo started his brief career at USC. In a previous episode, Michael Wilbon had arched an eyebrow about taking someone with Mayo's red flags into the program. Floyd's response made Mayo sound like a tragically misunderstood Eagle Scout.
According to Floyd, Mayo was raised by a single mother who didn't have the money to pay a big cell phone bill -- which ostensibly is why Guillory discouraged Floyd from calling him during his recruitment. Floyd also said the kid "doesn't have anything" materially.
Despite that, the USC coach apparently never got around to wondering how the poor child from Huntington, W.Va., could afford the expensive clothes on his back or the expensive shoes on his feet. How about the flat-screen TV in his dorm? That never set off an alarm? If the answer is that USC coaches or compliance workers never set foot in Mayo's dorm room why the hell not?
When you recruit someone radioactive, you better have everything checked down to the smallest detail. Or else your program turns into Three Mile Island.
Johnson told ESPN that he believes USC did not know about any of the kickbacks Mayo allegedly received. Why?
"I think after the Reggie Bush fiasco that they would have definitely taken steps to prevent this type of thing from happening again," Johnson said.
Except they apparently didn't. Which is astonishing. And damning.
(However, it would not qualify as "repeat violator" status with the NCAA. The school has not been penalized -- or even charged -- in the Bush affair, and until that happens, USC would not fall under the repeat violator umbrella. That's why it couldn't get the death penalty. But a postseason ban would seem to be both plausible and justifiable.)
You have to assume USC simply didn't want to know. Didn't want to know the extent to which runners already had set their hooks into their highest-profile basketball recruit ever. The Trojans knew they were in this deal for one year before Mayo turned pro, and they probably just averted their gaze, hoping nothing blew up and the victories would pile up.
It's a scenario playing out right now on many other campuses nationwide, guaranteed. Agents and their runners are identifying who can play as early as college scouts are, and they're commencing the jockeying for position. And we all know what wins most of those turf wars: money and favors. Most topflight young basketball players have at least been offered plenty before college, even if they haven't accepted it.
It's a problem the NCAA desperately needs to get a grip on if college basketball is going to maintain even a hint of a legitimate relationship to higher education. The sport's repeatedly pilloried reputation took another big hit with this revelation, but perhaps it will spur other Louis Johnsons to tell the truth about what's going on in college hoops and youth basketball.
And as for USC?
And deny on.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.