Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pete Carroll and NCAA Sanctions of USC

Last month, the NCAA imposed major sanctions on the University of Southern California football team because of a lack of institutional control. USC football will lose 30 scholarships, endure a 2-year postseason ban, and have some of its past wins vacated from the record books. USC is appealing the sanctions.

A key alleged wrongdoer for USC was its head football coach, Pete Carroll, who coached the Trojans from 2000 to 2009, during which time it was one of the best teams in college football. It was also during this time -- the NCAA has concluded -- that USC coaches and boosters gave out gifts to prospective recruits and their families and generally turned a blind eye to wrongdoing on campus. In January of this year, Carroll left USC to join the Seattle Seahawks as their head coach (Carroll reportedly received a 5-year, $33 million contract).

Among other infractions allegedly committed by Coach Carroll was his hiring of an extra coach -- former NFL special teams coach Pete Rodriguez -- above the number of coaches allowed by the NCAA. Carroll apparently did not list Rodriguez as a coach; instead he was listed as a consultant.

Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times has a story today on USC and Carroll, and interviews several persons for the story, including me. Here are some excerpts:
. . . But Carroll has been shy about mentioning that the NCAA found his quiet hiring of an extra coach, a big name from the NFL, was a major violation. The association also said that Carroll did not clear the hire with USC's compliance office, a finding that contradicts what he told The Times last year.

Now, as USC presses an appeal of the heavy sanctions the association imposed, Carroll's culpability could diminish the school's prospects of persuading the NCAA to ease the punishment, experts say.

"That's going to hurt USC on its appeal," said Michael Buckner, a Florida attorney and Trojan alumnus who specializes in sports law. "There are major rule violations found against not only his student athletes but against his coaching staff and a decision he made."

The decision, as The Times reported last July, was to hire Pete Rodriguez, a former NFL special teams guru, in violation of the association's cap on coaches. It gave USC "more than a limited competitive advantage" over other schools, the NCAA found. Carroll did not list Rodriguez on the coaches roster while he served as a "consultant" for the Trojan kicking squads during the entire 2008 regular season.

In its June report on the violations, the NCAA says USC's compliance office learned of Carroll's arrangement with Rodriguez only when an unidentified school complained about it in February 2009.

Carroll said last year that he could not give a "chronology" of his dealings with the compliance office, but "whenever we do anything, we go through all of the channels to figure out whether we can do it … whether it's OK, and we did that...." "We've tried to do this exactly the right way — compliance, all of that stuff, to the letter."

* * *

Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, a sports law expert, said the Rodriguez affair goes to the heart of whether USC's administrators and its compliance staff had the will to rein in a marquee coach like Carroll, who won two national championships for the Trojans.

"The NCAA will say that Pete Carroll and others connected to him were making wrong choices, and the institution should have been uncovering it," McCann said. "It was probably hard for a compliance officer to confront Pete Carroll … but that's the way it is. Schools have to do more to not let the coach be so powerful."
To read the rest of the story, click here. To read commentary from Bruins Nation blog, click here. Also, I posted this story on my Facebook page and have received some excellent comments that I'll excerpt here:

Marc Isenberg (Money Players): ". . . I would like agree with your sentiment that, 'Schools have to do more to not let the coach be so powerful.' However, schools who allow their football coaches to become all-powerful make a lot of money. On the other hand, reigning in these powerful coaches is a sure way to lose more games. The AD doesn't wake up thinking, How can I please the NCAA today? Especially when he's having lunch today with the boosters." [Incidentally, Marc has just penned an outstanding piece on the late John Wooden in the Basketball Times]

Long Westerlund (attorney and management consultant): ". . . And I concur. You can't exculpate yourself by claiming ignorance when there's an affirmative duty. That's the whole point of oversight and accountability. 'Hey... we're not at fault for losing billions of dollars because a few of our bankers came up with these bad debt products and sold them as great investments.'"

B. David Ridpath (Ohio University professor and expert on college sports): " . . . Marc is correct in that schools will not do anything to prevent their coaches from becoming all powerful. Even if someone had the will to confront Carroll all Carroll would do is tell the president and AD to have that person(s) back off because it inhibits his ability to win--which the vicious cycle continues because presidents and AD's are even weaker than most compliance people. The risk vs reward is at play here and the reward is much greater than any risk . . . "