After Penn State had its sanctions reduced, USC athletic director Pat Haden traveled to Indianapolis to meet with the NCAA regarding USC’s sanctions in its 2010 infractions case:
“During our meetings with the NCAA’s leaders over the last two days, we discussed enforcement and sanction issues impacting both the NCAA membership at large and USC specifically. We proposed creative ‘outside the box’ solutions to the scholarship issues resulting from the injuries and transfers experienced by our football team over the past three seasons. After candid discussions, the NCAA asked us to provide additional information and indicated it would study our suggestions. Because time is of the essence regarding these issues, we have asked for the NCAA’s response as soon as practical.”
While USC athletic director Pat Haden starts off by reiterating his belief that the sanctions were too harsh, USC’s argument went beyond that, citing both the unintended consequences of the penalty (much like how Penn State was already at the overall scholarship reduction that did not kick in until next year due to attrition) and how USC has been “held up as a model” for compliance by the NCAA. Because the NCAA’s justification for reducing PSU’s sanctions was not “we screwed up, they were too harsh”, it was critical for USC to find other arguments.
Without knowing who the “NCAA leaders” that USC met with, it is hard to say how realistic the chances are of USC having its sanctions reduced. Because USC’s penalties were imposed by the Committee on Infractions, it stands to reason that ultimately the COI would need to decide on any reduction. But given USC’s already unsuccessful appeal, it would also make sense that the COI would refuse to hear any request for reconsideration unless the national office was on board as well.
As far as the can of worms opened up by expanding a process used in an extraordinary case to one that went through the traditional infractions process, that impact should be limited. The NCAA already hit the reset button on the enforcement process in August, making it much easier for the NCAA to say what happens with cases decided before August 1, 2013 does not necessarily apply to future cases. And the number of schools that have both current sanctions harsh enough to make requesting reconsideration worth it and a case at least as strong as USC’s are limited.
But just because the NCAA will not be required to keep revisiting penalties will not prevent people from asking. And that’s why Haden’s request for “‘outside the box’ solutions” is shortsighted. Thinking outside the box is fine when designing a process, a disaster when executing it. If this review of USC’s penalties goes any further than simply studying their request, it is even more important for the NCAA to formalize this process of reconsidering penalties and putting it back in the box.