USC will be watching to see how Ohio State fares

BY foxsports • May 28, 2011

About the only thing the NCAA didn't do when it slammed Southern California's football program with penalties was ban Traveler, the Trojan horse, from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

That might still happen if those connected to USC and the Pac-12 Conference don't tone down their rhetoric a bit. After the NCAA rejected the university's appeal this week, there was no shortage of consternation about penalties that will likely decimate what was once the nation's premier football program for years to come.

''We are not innocent here,'' USC athletic director Pat Haden said. ''We deserve some penalties, but it's the severity of the penalties that we think are unfair.''

At least Haden had the first part right. If there was ever any example for the NCAA to trot out at enforcement seminars of a program out of control, it was Pete Carroll's Trojans and their sizable entourage of Hollywood types and agent wannabes.

It cost Reggie Bush his Heisman trophy. It will almost surely cost USC its 2004 BCS title.

Say what you will about the NCAA, but when they are presented a case all set up on a tee they usually take a swing at it. And there was certainly more than enough evidence about money paid to Bush and his family to penalize USC 30 scholarships over the next three years and hand the university a two-year ban on postseason play.

The severity of the penalties is almost unprecedented in major college football. The refusal of the NCAA to modify them angered USC officials and fans even more.

But now it's the people at Ohio State who have reason to be nervous.

USC this week grudgingly accepted its penalty, and said it would make do with fewer players. Those around the university, though, made it clear that they would be watching what happens with Ohio State and coach Jim Tressel before finally considering the matter closed.

''I respect USC's decision to take the high ground and not pursue any further recourse to the NCAA ruling,'' Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. ''At the same time, I fully expect that every NCAA member institution be held to the same high standards.''

With Ohio State now reviewing at least 50 car sales to Buckeyes athletes and relatives to see if they met NCAA rules, the university's problems threaten to spread beyond the tattoo parlor escapades that will sideline Tressel and five players for the first five games of the season. Already, USC backers are grumbling that Tressel's failure to report violations that included the sale of jerseys and other merchandise by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and others is worse than anything that happened in Los Angeles.

Things got even more interesting in Buckeye land this week when a former Ohio state wide receiver told the school's student newspaper that he sold Big Ten championship rings and other memorabilia for cash and got special car deals. Ray Small said he and other players used the proceeds to pay rent and car payments.

''They have a lot (of dirt) on everybody,'' Small said, '''cause everybody was doing it.''

Ohio State officials, in full lockdown mode since the allegations against Pryor first surfaced, said they knew nothing about Small's claims, and gave no indication they planned to look into them. If that seems odd, remember that this is the same administration that professed its collective love toward Tressel in March when it was revealed that he knew about the tattoo parlor sales for nine months and never told anyone in the school's compliance office.

Ohio State President Gordon Gee said at the time Tressel's job was beyond safe, and that he worried more that the coach might fire him instead. Athletic director Gene Smith also stuck to the party line for a coach revered by Ohio State fans for winning a national championship and beating rival Michigan nine times out of 10.

''Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach,'' Smith said. ''He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly.''

Tressel is taking no chances, hiring former NCAA Committee on Infractions chairman Gene Marsh to represent him in August when he goes before the committee to defend his actions. There's a very real possibility he and the Ohio State program could get sanctions far beyond the five-game suspension the university and Tressel have already agreed on.

Carroll saw the penalties coming at USC and fled to the NFL before they came down. Tressel, on the other hand, seems to be hunkering down to try to ride the storm out.

In the end, it may not be enough. The committee will find it hard to overlook the fact that Tressel not only didn't report the violations, but pretended for months after they surfaced that he knew nothing about them.

These things - as Tressel has already found out - have a way of spiraling out of the reach of even the most controlling of coaches. Tressel is now in an uphill fight to keep his job, and there is no playbook for that.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or follow him at