USC encounters trying times

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The high-flying program has been hitting turbulence of late with some off-field problems.

LOS ANGELES -- Just two weeks ago, the Southern California football program was in wonderful shape -- a dynasty in the works.

Now, with allegations of NCAA violations surfacing against a pair of All-Americans and another player arrested for investigation of sexual assault, the program is under intense scrutiny.

"Without a doubt, we've been put into a light that challenges us," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Time will sort things out. We'll see how everything comes out. No question, people will be wondering about the program a little bit."

Carroll has led the Trojans from uncharacteristic mediocrity to unprecedented success since he was an unpopular choice to succeed Paul Hackett following the 2000 season.

USC's 48-4 record the past four seasons represents one of the most impressive runs in NCAA history.

Crowds upward of 90,000 attend home games at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The recruiting classes are rated among the country's best every year.

Even the last-minute Rose Bowl loss to Texas that ended a 34-game winning streak four months ago seemed to be nothing more than a minor glitch in the big picture.

But now, controversy. Perhaps success breeds this kind of attention. Past national champions like Clemson, Miami, Washington, Florida State and Ohio State have been targets of allegations that resulted in investigations.

Carroll isn't shying away, although he realizes the school's image has been tarnished for now. He was emphatic concerning the effort made to inform players and their families about what can go wrong.

"We've been all over this," he said. "We're trying to inform and educate better than anybody in the country. We have to send the message so clear. It's about creating a conscience with the players first.

"It starts all the way back to junior day, the first day we bring future recruits on campus. We start talking about what this all means, what this is all about, and it just goes on throughout."

Even so, Carroll said, he's ultimately responsible as the head coach.

"I'm not going to make excuses for any part of this," he said. "I'm not going to point the finger at somebody else. I'm the one who has to continue to get this done. I've got to do a better job."

The troubles began April 23, with allegations concerning the living arrangements of Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush's family near San Diego, and other charges that could be deemed as extra benefits.

Bush, who passed up his final year of eligibility to turn pro, was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the second pick in last weekend's NFL draft.

Carroll said he spoke with Bush and his parents several times about NCAA rules and outsiders who might entice them.

"I don't know that there is something wrong," the coach said. "You might not realize a person is trying to get after you. We have to do better with all the family members. It's not just the parents -- it's aunts, uncles, cousins.

"I'm disappointed any time someone can get to our family members and take them down the wrong path. We just have to keep hammering it home. College programs don't need these kinds of associations."

Possible forfeitures

The Pac-10 and NCAA are investigating. Should Bush be ruled ineligible, forfeitures are a possibility. And should it be determined he was ineligible in 2004, the national championship USC won that year could be impacted.

"With the little bits of information I have, no, I'm not worried about that one bit," Carroll said. "I'm confident that's not where this is going."

David Swank, a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions from 1990-99, said those kinds of punishments happen occasionally.

"It just depends on the nature of the violations," said Swank, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. "You have violations of individuals providing extra benefits to athletes; allegations are made that have no basis in fact. I have no idea where this fits.

"It's pure speculation what penalty might flow from this. It depends on whether a serious violation can be proved. It takes a while to conduct an investigation. These things don't happen overnight."

Three days after the Bush allegations surfaced, redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez, a possible successor to 2004 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, was arrested after a female student accused him of sexual assault. He was released on $200,000 bail.

Carroll said he was shocked, and couldn't speculate as to Sanchez's availability next fall. Sanchez is listed second on the depth chart, behind John David Booty, who underwent back surgery March 31.

"Hopefully the truth will come out and it will be clear what Mark's status is," Carroll said.

Sanchez is scheduled to appear in court May 17.

"Obviously, this is a very difficult time for the Sanchez family, but they have confidence that facts surrounding this matter will come to light and Mark's good name will be cleared," attorney Leonard Levine said in a statement issued this week.

Finally, questions arose concerning the living arrangement of wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who will be a junior next fall. USC officials are investigating whether an upscale apartment Jarrett shared with Leinart violated NCAA rules.

Carroll said he's hopeful Jarrett won't miss any playing time next season.

"I don't know how it's all going to play out. I'm hopeful that's not going to be the case," the coach said.

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