AP Source: NCAA rejects USC’s appeal of sanctions

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The NCAA has rejected Southern California’s appeal to reduce the sanctions imposed last year on its storied football program, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the NCAA isn’t expected to announce its decision on the Trojans’ penalties until Thursday.

The Trojans have been told they must serve the second year of a two-year postseason ban, making them ineligible for the first Pac-12 title game this fall. USC also will lose 30 scholarships over the next three years in some of the harshest sanctions leveled against an NCAA football program in a quarter-century.

USC spokesman Tim Tessalone confirmed the school has received a response from the NCAA on its appeal, but NCAA rules prevent USC from commenting on the decision until its release Thursday.

The denial of the appeal was first reported by uscfootball.com.

Since 2008, only one appeal of NCAA sanctions has been successful. Another 10 appeals failed, and USC athletic director Pat Haden wasn’t terribly optimistic about his alma mater’s chances after the NCAA cited the Trojans for a lack of institutional control following a four-year investigation.

Haden, who took over the athletic department last July, and other USC officials went before the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee in January. They asked the panel to reduce by half the harshest penalties handed down against the football program, arguing that the bowl ban and loss of scholarships was excessive.

USC asked for the bowl ban to be reduced to one year, with the scholarship penalties reduced to five a year over three years.

Haden has said he won’t sue the NCAA if the appeal fails, which means the formidable recruiting skills of coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron will be tested by scholarship limitations for the near future. Kiffin replaced Pete Carroll five months before the NCAA imposed the extensive penalties last June.

Kiffin spoke briefly to reporters Wednesday night in Pasadena, where he appeared with the USC Coaches Tour.

“We can’t do anything other than to say we received the decision,” Kiffin said, according to the Orange County Register. “We’re happy that it’s over, so we can move forward and deal with it.”

Kiffin and Orgeron stocked up on players earlier this year while the sanctions were under appeal, signing 22 recruits to letters of intent or scholarship agreements shortly after eight additional players enrolled in January.

The NCAA ruled Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo had received improper benefits under the administration of athletic director Mike Garrett, Carroll and basketball coach Tim Floyd, who have all left the university. In addition to the football sanctions and self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, USC was put on four years of probation.

Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy two months after USC removed its replica of the trophy and Bush’s jersey from places of honor in Heritage Hall.

USC’s seniors also were allowed to transfer to another school without sitting out a year, a sanction that Kiffin criticized as “free agency.” A few players left the Trojans after the sanctions were handed down, but most were backups unhappy with playing time.

The appeal’s rejection apparently means USC’s seniors still could transfer without sitting out a year.

Critics of the original NCAA ruling against USC thought the NCAA’s recent decisions involving football programs at Auburn and Ohio State would help the Trojans’ appeal.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was allowed to keep playing despite an NCAA ruling that his father had asked Mississippi State for cash when his son was being recruited out of junior college. Five Ohio State players then were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season after the NCAA ruled they had sold their championship rings, jerseys and awards and received improper benefits from a tattoo parlor.

USC also made wholesale changes in its athletic department, including a dramatically beefed-up compliance unit.

USC will be limited to signing no more than 15 players to football scholarships over the next three years, 10 fewer than the standard limit.

Haden’s pessimism was grounded in a ruling last month when the NCAA upheld its punishment of former USC assistant Todd McNair for his role in the Bush case. McNair was Carroll’s assistant for six seasons, and the NCAA claimed McNair knew about some of the gifts lavished on Bush’s family by two aspiring sports marketers hoping to land Bush as a client.

McNair and USC’s attorneys hotly disputed the charge, but McNair’s contract wasn’t retained on Kiffin’s staff.

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