LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California acknowledges its football program committed NCAA violations while building a West Coast dynasty over the past decade. The Trojans simply believe last year’s nearly unprecedented punishment didn’t fit the crime.
Athletic director Pat Haden wasn’t surprised to learn Thursday that the NCAA disagrees.
The NCAA flatly rejected USC’s appeal to reduce sanctions imposed on its storied football program, keeping in place the harshest penalties leveled against a school in a quarter-century.
USC must serve the second year of its two-year postseason ban this fall, making the Trojans ineligible for the first Pac-12 title game or a bowl game. USC also will lose 30 scholarships over the next three years, giving them just 15 available scholarships per season _ 10 below the normal yearly limit _ until 2015.
Haden led a chorus of exasperated resignation at Heritage Hall after the NCAA’s final ruling on its punitive sanctions for a variety of misdeeds surrounding Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush.
“We have to look at ourselves in the mirror here,” said Haden, who took over the athletic department last July. “We could have and should have done things better. We had a player who knowingly did things wrong. We are not innocent here. We deserve some penalties, but it’s the severity of the penalties that we think are unfair.”
While disappointment spread throughout campus and in the Pac-10 offices upstate, the Trojans also expressed relief their half-decade of NCAA drama finally was over. Haden confirmed USC won’t sue the NCAA to further contest the most extensive sanctions handed out since SMU football was shut down for two years by the so-called “death penalty” in 1987.
“Clearly, I’m very disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” Haden said. “I think the appeals committee is a group of fair-minded folks. We just vehemently disagree with the result, with how they saw our argument, and how past precedent didn’t play a role in their decision.”
After a brief team meeting in which coach Lane Kiffin cautioned his players not to spout off about the decision on social media, the Trojans took the expected news in stride. Haden had predicted bad news for the players, who were years away from attending USC when Bush apparently accepted lavish illegal benefits from two aspiring sports marketers.
“Just like Pat and the rest of the university, we don’t agree, but we’ll deal with what we’re dealt,” quarterback Matt Barkley said.
The NCAA refused to comment beyond its public report, which said it found “no basis on which to reverse the pertinent findings.”
The NCAA conducted a four-year investigation primarily into the murky dealings around Bush, who returned his Heisman last year after the NCAA’s ruling. USC was banned from postseason play last season after going 8-5 in Kiffin’s first campaign, but the scholarship limitations were postponed on appeal.
“I feel so badly for our seniors in particular, who have had two years of this and had really nothing to do with what went on,” Haden said.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock said in an email Thursday that the presidential oversight committee and conference commissioners will consider whether to strip USC of the 2004 BCS title it won by beating Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. He said there is no timetable set for that decision to come down.
“The championship would not be awarded to another team; it would simply be vacated,” he wrote.