Southern Cal outraged by stiff penalties

Trojans put on probation for four years and their college football programme rapped for shady benefits given to former player Reggie Bush.

LOS ANGELES // Southern California was no ordinary college football programme over the past decade. The Trojans won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships while annually fielding a gleaming array of NFL prospects. That is just one reason the Trojans received no ordinary penalties when the NCAA announced on Thursday the results of their four-year investigation.

The NCAA threw the book at storied USC, imposing a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation and significant scholarship losses that likely will damage the programme's foundations. The Trojans also must vacate 12 wins from the 2005 season, all stemming from improper benefits given to Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner, by fledgling sports marketers dating back to the 2004 national championship.

The NCAA ripped USC for a lack of institutional control, condemning the star treatment afforded to Bush and OJ Mayo, the former basketball player, who spent just one year with the Trojans before bolting to the NBA and leaving the men's programme in shambles. "The real issue here is if you have high-profile players that your enforcement staff has to monitor ... it is extremely likely that the people who are receiving these interactions outside the institution are going to receive a bigger reward," said Paul Dee, the chairman of the NCAA's committee on infractions. "So higher-profile players require higher-profile monitoring."

With pointed language, the NCAA said in their report that USC's oversight of their top athletes ran contrary to the fundamental principles of amateur sports. In a particular slap to the Hollywood-friendly Trojans college football team, the NCAA banned most non-essential people from attending practice or standing on the sidelines during games, a favourite pastime of Will Ferrell, the actor, and other wealthy alumni.

"Elite athletes in high-profile sports with obvious great future earnings potential may see themselves as something apart from other student-athletes and the general student population," the NCAA report said. "Institutions need to assure that their treatment on campus does not feed into such a perception." The coaches who presided over the alleged misdeeds - football's Pete Carroll and basketball's Tim Floyd - left USC in the past year.

USC reacted with uniform outrage to the harshness of the sanctions, promising an appeal. "I'm absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA," Carroll said in a video statement produced by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, who hired him in January. "I never thought it would come to this." The penalties include the loss of 30 college football scholarships over three years and vacating 14 wins in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game on January 4, 2005, and won 12 games in Bush's 2005 season that ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said a committee will meet to consider vacating USC's 2004 championship. While no action would go into effect until USC's appeals are heard by the NCAA, Hancock said there would be no 2004 champion if USC's victory is vacated. "I take the same stance as our university," new college football coach Lane Kiffin said. "There is some guilt, but the punishment is too severe. That's why the appeal process is taking place."

* AP