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NCAA allegations, a big lie, and what to expect

By Rich Ruben

The long-awaited NCAA notice of allegations related to USC basketball have finally arrived. The full extent of the charges has not been disclosed, but there are some things we do know, and we can compare SC’s situation with that of some of the other schools facing similar charges arising out of the FBI investigation.

The Background Of The NCAA Case

Two years ago, D’Anthony Melton was not allowed to play during his sophomore season. I attended a pre season scrimmage that fall in which D’Anthony participated. That team had seniors Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, juniors Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright, and sophomores Nick Rakocevic, Jonah Mathews and D’Anthony. Melton was clearly the best player on the court that day.

That team had a lot of talent and appeared to clearly be an NCAA Tournament team. But Melton was barred from playing by Lynn Swann and the Trojan athletic department, Bennie was injury plagued, and the team had a good season but was slighted by the selection committee. After finishing second in both the PAC 12 regular season and Pac 12 tournament, the Trojans wound up only with a number 1 seed in the NIT. Chimezie decided not to play in the NIT. The other players’ hearts were not into the NIT, and SC lost in the second round.

SC Associate Head Coach Tony Bland was caught in the FBI investigation and wire taps. He accepted $4,000 to direct Trojan players to the player agent who was at the center of the scheme. As soon as the investigation became public, Bland was fired. He later plead guilty and was sentenced to probation and community service.

What Did Melton Do And What Did SC Do About Melton

There were allegations that D’Anthony or his family were also paid money. D’Anthony vehemently denied these charges, and later the claims about Melton changed and morphed into a claim that a family friend received the money. It is now believed that this friend accepted only a plane ticket to Las Vegas from the agent, and possibly the agent paid for a hotel room. D’Anthony never wavered from his absolute denials, and he was vocally supported by his close friend Chimezie Metu. In response to questions why he didn’t pay back the money and regain his eligibility as a few players at other schools had done, D’Anthony said that he and his family had not received anything. He asked that if he wanted to pay the money anyway to become eligible, who would he pay it too?

SC began an internal investigation into D’Anthony’s eligibility right away. The athletic compliance department looked at phone and bank records from D’Anthony and his family and interviewed Melton family members and found nothing improper. Before several early season games, Coach Enfield was asked when Melton would be cleared to play. Before one game, Andy said they hoped to get the word before the game that night. On another occasion, he said in obvious frustration that it was out of the coaching staff’s hands. In the meantime D’Anthony continued to practice with the team and was on the bench in sweats at home games.

SC finally announced before conference play began that D’Anthony would not play that season. Melton then left school and prepared for the NBA draft the following spring, and was selected in the second round. He is currently playing for  the Memphis Grizzlies. It is important to understand that the NCAA never issued a ruling that D’Anthony was ineligible. This was entirely SC’s decision.

The Big Lie

After basketball season that spring, Athletic Director Lynn Swann visited various alumni clubs to talk about Trojan athletics and answer questions. At the Orange County event, I asked this question: It had been widely reported that SC’s compliance department had cleared D’Anthony to play in December but that Swann decided that Melton would not be allowed to play. Why did Swann make this decision? In response, Swann said this was inaccurate, but did not explain what he claimed did happen. I have since been informed by multiple athletic department sources that the media reports were indeed accurate, and that Swann had unilaterally decided that Melton would not be allowed to play after compliance department clearance. In plain terms, Swann publicly lied.

What Is In Store For SC

Everyone who follows Trojan athletics believes that the football sanctions imposed against SC a decade ago were far too harsh and without precedent. Other schools received far more lenient sanctions for similar or worse conduct. So none of us can be very optimistic that the Trojans will be treated fairly this time around.

However, we know several things that suggest that any penalty may not be severe. First, Bland took less money than any of the coaches at the other schools involved, and he was fired right away; no suspension. Second, some of the schools allowed the player accused of receiving money to play – it has been reported that Deandre Ayton of Arizona received a large sum, yet he was allowed to play every game. Third, the then-athletics director is gone. Fourth, to my knowledge, with one minor exception discussed below, the SC head coach is not alleged to have been personally involved. In comparison, a transcript of a phone call between Arizona’s head coach Sean Miller and the rogue agent was made public a number of months ago. In that call, Miller appears to be discussing a large payment by the agent to Ayton. Bill Self at Kansas has been alleged to be personally involved in agent communications and several months ago Kansas received notice that the NCAA is seeking high level “lack of institutional control” sanctions against Kansas. And Louisville quickly fired head coach Rick Pitino when the FBI scandal broke.

There has been one question raised about Andy Enfield which has been publicly disclosed to date.  It was reported months ago that the records from the wire tap on the agent’s phone show one call of less than a minute in length to or from a number associated with Andy. I am not aware of anything which confirms if this report is true, and if it is true, whether there was an actual discussion or a message left, or what subject was involved.

All of this suggests that any penalty imposed against SC should not be serious. And, any proposed penalties against the Trojans will be subject to appeal. A final decision on sanctions will not be made until at least the second half of next year. SC did not fare well under this process the last time around, but with a university president who successfully navigated through a much more serious set of allegations against North Carolina’s basketball team and avoided all penalties, and a new AD who actually has experience in athletic administration, there is reason to cross our collective fingers and to remain cautiously optimistic. However, there is a caveat: this assumes there are no important negative facts that have not yet been publicly disclosed and are known or uncovered by the NCAA during this process. Stay tuned.