USC faces NCAA for day in 'court'

After a seemingly endless investigation -- four years, actually -- USC will square off with the NCAA enforcement staff Thursday in Tempe, Ariz., and by the end of the weekend the college sports world will learn ...

Probably not a whole lot.

The NCAA's ultimate ruling won't be announced for a while -- anywhere from six to 10 weeks, though perhaps longer -- so the fate of USC's football and basketball programs will remain in limbo until at least the spring.

If you're looking for a good story on what USC might face during the hearing, read this LA Times piece. If you want all the details of the procedures of an NCAA infractions hearing, you can find that here.

As for the members of the infractions committee, you can see them here.

As for what's at stake, read on.

What is this all about again?

While it's possible that NCAA investigators found other violations within the USC athletic department, four known issues will be contended.

  • In April 2006, Yahoo! Sports reported Trojans running back Reggie Bush and his family were provided cash and gifts -- extra benefits -- by a pair of would-be sports agents who wanted to represent Bush when he turned pro.

  • ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported in May of 2008 that basketball player O.J. Mayo accepted cash and gifts -- extra benefits -- from Rodney Guillory, who was connected to Bill Duffy Associates Sports Management.* Moreover, former Trojans basketball coach Tim Floyd was alleged to have provided a $1,000 cash payment to help steer Mayo to USC, according to a Yahoo! Sports report.

  • The LA Times reported in December that running back Joe McKnight was using a 2006 Land Rover that belonged to a Santa Monica, Calif., businessman who employed McKnight's girlfriend.

  • These allegations, as well as any other possible violations that might be reported, will be assessed to see if the total constitutes a "lack of institutional control" or a less severe charge of "failure to monitor" for the USC athletic department.

*USC's basketball program already self-sanctioned itself. The NCAA could accept these penalties or decide to augment them.

What is USC's position?

USC will claim coaches and administrators had no knowledge of Bush's and his family's relationship with agents. They likely will point to the contrast in alleged football and basketball violations and their subsequent response. The basketball violations, which involve pay-for-play allegations -- about the worst violation there is -- were dealt with swiftly and with substantial, self-sanctioned penalties, including Floyd being forced out. The Bush allegation involve individuals with no connection to the athletic department. They could, in fact, be viewed as individuals working against USC's interest to lure Bush to the professional ranks a year early. As for the McKnight allegations about the Land Rover, the businessman involved, Scott Schenter, said the Land Rover belongs to McKnight's girlfriend and that he is a Washington fan with no interest in representing McKnight or other athletes.

USC likely will admit some shortcomings in oversight, but will aggressively defend itself against charges that the program lacks institutional control.

What's at stake?

The past, present and the future, with USC focused on the latter two.

As for the past, Bush could be ruled retroactively ineligible. USC could be forced to forfeit wins in the record book, which subsequently could include Pac-10 titles. Further, BCS officials could strip the Trojans of their 2004 national title. Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy also could be at risk.

That's not pretty, but USC will fight harder for the present and future. NCAA penalties that could affect those include scholarship reductions, TV and postseason bans, recruiting restrictions and probation.

If USC is found guilty of major violations, the NCAA also could rule that the Trojans are "repeat violators." Per NCAA rules, "An institution shall be considered a 'repeat' violator if the Committee on Infractions finds that a major violation has occurred within five years of the starting date of a major penalty."

USC's athletic program was last sanctioned in August of 2001, so if the Bush allegations are found to be major violations, they would fall within that time frame.

What's going to happen?

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has said that he doesn't believe the USC football team will get hammered with severe sanctions.

Fans of other college football teams -- inside the Pac-10 as well as across the country -- are hoping otherwise.

Will the NCAA put the brakes on the Trojans juggernaut?

See you in the spring.