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USC's missed opportunity to go on the PR offensive

We have noted here in the past that 'SC's lack of PR on all of this could be a real problem for USC when the NCAA's announcement was made.

Turns out not only were we right but we aren't the only ones to think that.

Here is an interesting take on 'SC's missed PR opportunity with regards to the Bush Mess...

Lost in the fervor over the Committee on Infractions report was the fact that USC released their response to the allegations. After reading the report, two things stick out.

First, it’s clear why people believe that the enforcement process is just as bad as the criminal justice system when it comes to the rich getting off and the poor being punished. USC’s 170 page response is a powerful weapon, obtained by having more staff, a better in-house counsel’s office, and the ability to pay for outside counsel. It’s even complete with visual aids, using an infamous photo of the White House state dinner party crashers with Vice President Joe Biden to prove that a photo doesn’t mean a close relationship.

Second, USC made a massive PR blunder by not releasing the response prior to the COI releasing the public report. USC’s response is peppered with statements like these:

Until the story broke, USC had no cause to suspect that student-athlete 1’s step-father and his associates were conspiring to break NCAA rules, and had no cause to suspect student- athlete 1 of accepting impermissible benefits from anyone.

The problem is that the Committee on Infractions picked apart USC’s systems of monitoring and institutional control. In effect, the COI made USC’s lack of knowledge of the violations an allegation, not a defense. Had USC released the response before the report, it would look like the Committee on Infractions is moving the ball on USC, not that USC did not understand and properly respond to the allegations.

'SC missed a golden opportunity to drive the narrative on this...

This was a comedy of errors from the word go. Even if ‘SC could not comment on the investigation they certainly could have fought certain aspects of the public's perception in the press.

It is clear from reading the report that ‘SC acknowledges that Bush did receive improper benefits during the 2005 season. So, when did USC find out and why didn't they take the same approach as they did with the basketball program when they determined that OJ Mayo received improper benefits? ‘SC had no trouble self-sanctioning the basketball program so why not do it with football?

They had the perfect opportunity to get out in front of it but chose not to even in the face of a mountain of evidence. It might not have been pretty but it sure would not have been ugly as it is right now!

USC’s whole defense was…how could we have known? Fine, so why not use that to go on the offensive?

‘SC could have fought back in two areas...a right to privacy and what is an acceptable level of monitoring.

Put the NCAA back on their heels. Make them set the standards (hopefully publicly) of what is an acceptable level of monitoring…put it on them to make concrete rules and then let the chips fall where they may. As it is they move the goal posts from program to program. The NCAA's perception of being rope-a-doped by USC was the equivalent of kicking a Hornets nest.

So, if you are going to kick a hornets nest why not do it publicly and let the world see how crappy the NCAA is. They had no problem publicly humiliating us so why not strike first? Its not like the punishment was going to be any worse…

I suspect the public perception would have changed if ‘SC did those two things proactively. We still would have been punished but not at this level and regardless of how many in the press still hate us we would have driven the narrative to suit OUR needs. We could have made the NCAA look to be the bad guys in a very public fashion.

USC could have put out that the NCAA didn't allow them to be present for the Lake interviews. Rational observers would have seen that as a major deal and the public perception could have turned on that alone. Because the NCAA did not allow SC into the hearings and thus did not allow the institution to see the evidence and testimony in real look the accuser in the eye and to ask questions of their own.

That is important for an obvious reason...if SC saw the evidence as it was presented it may have changed their tactics in dealing with the NCAA...especially once they went into the hearing in February. They may have been able to see the issues they were confronted with, they could have fired McNair and addressed the infractions quickly. So, it would appear form the report that McNair essentially lies to everyone and SC get left holding the bag.

I would rather ‘SC go down fighting against a pissed off NCAA instead of going down with a wimper having not taken a single step to go on the offensive.

No one expects USC to have a compliance dept the size of the First Marine Division and even if they did, I am pretty secure in saying that the public would be very uncomfortable if the school or the NCAA started sniffing around the private aspects of any players family dealings.

What is an acceptable level of scrutiny?

Like him or not Lamar Griffin has a fundamental right to privacy and freedom of association. If he chooses to set up a marketing firm with Lloyd Lake or Leigh Steinberg that is his right. If Lamar was running numbers or dealing drugs and Reggie drove up in that Impala and the school asked questions about how he could afford it wouldn't that make people uncomfortable? After all if the money did not come from improper benefits but from the breaking of actual laws is that the schools or NCAA’s place to be the watch dog.

I realize the above example is in the extreme but where does the institution draw the line?

Of course, the problem in all of this is even if ‘SC had a large compliance dept. to monitor parents activities they still couldn't monitor the goings on right under their noses WRT the Ornstein internship, the Papdakis dinners or allowing Guillory to have free reign in the basketball offices.

I am sure that ‘SC got great legal advice in how to deal with this. The problem is lawyers only understand how things work in legal sense...the NCAA clearly operates by their own set of rules, not necessarily the rule of law and no lawyer, no matter how good can defend against this type heavy handedness, so they should have adopted a guerrilla warfare approach by going on the offensive.