There have been dirtier college football programs. Southern Methodist with its Pony Expre$$ comes to mind. Oklahoma and all the hell that was breaking loose under Barry Switzer. Almost any of the schools coached by Jackie Sherrill.
There have been dirtier college basketball programs. Kentucky in the late 1980s with bulging Emery envelopes and bogus SAT test scores. California with Todd Bozeman. Baylor and that serpent, Dave Bliss.
But there has never been a dirtier combination of college football and college basketball programs, at the same time, than the Southern California Trojans.
What era of USC football and basketball?
The latest dagger, but probably not the last, came this week when Yahoo! Sports and then the Los Angeles Times reported that the basketball coach at USC, Tim Floyd, has been accused -- on the record, in interviews with federal and even NCAA officials -- of paying off an associate of former USC star O.J. Mayo.
That follows accusations that Mayo and his friend, Rodney Guillory, had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods and services from the sports agency that would go on to represent Mayo briefly after he turned pro as a freshman in 2008.
A large and vocal segment of the USC fan base will refuse to believe the latest charge against Floyd, and attack everyone who does believe it, because that's what fans do. They believe the worst in other programs, but they believe the best in their own. And that's fine. Do your thing, USC fans. But you won't mind if we laugh at you for it, right?
Meanwhile, the USC football team already has been accused of looking the other way while its Heisman Trophy winner from 2005, Reggie Bush, was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in inducements from a sports marketing agent -- an agent, it should be noted, who was allowed onto the sidelines at home games by the USC athletic department.
This is bad stuff. The USC football team won national championships in 2003 and '04 and has finished in the top four every other year from 2002-08. Accusations like the ones against Bush -- made on the record, by the way, by a former friend of Bush -- call into question the entire dynasty. If the Trojans couldn't be bothered to sniff out the cheating that helped keep Bush on campus, what else happened inside Pete Carroll's program?
In Carroll's defense, he hasn't been accused of any of this cheating. He has shown unbelievably bad judgment, once pranking his team by pretending that LenDale White jumped off a nearby building and also allowing notorious alum O.J. Simpson to attend practice. So he has made light of suicide and homicide. But Carroll hasn't done this. He hasn't been accused, on the record, of paying off a player. That's the worst, and the dumbest, kind of cheating imaginable -- and that's what Tim Floyd is said to have done.
And nothing about Tim Floyd's past says he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He turned USC around by prospecting in the gray area of recruiting, luring players with package deals and recruiting players committed to other schools and even having an NCAA rule nicknamed in his honor. Remember the old eight-and-five rule that limited basketball teams to five signees in one year, and eight over a two-year period? That rule was enacted in 2000 in large part because of Floyd, whose tenure at Iowa State from 1994-98 was marked by his tendency to recruit beyond the NCAA's 13-scholarship limit and cut loose excess players before the school year began. Every summer, other coaches knew, a solid player or two would become available after being run off by Floyd. So they called the eight-and-five rule "the Tim Floyd rule."
This is the guy Southern California hired.
And this guy, this Tim Floyd, allowed a known character risk like O.J. Mayo, and by extension a known NCAA violator like Rodney Guillory, into his program -- even after someone as stupid as me warned USC against it. And so now we have this accusation that he gave cash to Guillory, an accusation made by a former associate/friend of Mayo and Guillory, Louis Johnson, who didn't just tell the media about it. He told the feds, on the record. Which means if he's lying, he's going to jail.
Add it up, and you have a brutal accusation against the USC basketball coach and damning accusations against the biggest USC football star in years. The NCAA's response, after opening separate investigations into both programs, has been to roll them into a single, program-wide look at USC athletics. The NCAA is looking for the dreaded "lack of institutional control," and the NCAA is going to find it.
This is cartoon stuff, the massive, two-sport improprieties being investigated at USC. This is Todd Bozeman meets Bobby Bowden. This is one coach being accused of outright cheating, and another coach being accused of not knowing, or wanting to know, the cheating happening with his players.
This is the most scandalous athletic program of this era. And that's saying something. So the question to ask right now is not this one: Who should be fired at USC?
The question is this: