My attitude toward the NCAA's oooooooongoing investigation into Reggie Bush's lucrative going-away season at Southern Cal has always been that the emperor's police have no clothes: As long as Bush was able to keep potential snitches quiet by any means necessary, the NCAA's investigative dogs lacked the teeth (i.e. the subpoena power) to bring home any fox that didn't turn itself in in exchange for leniency. A lot of other outside observers have agreed with me, for fairly obvious reasons: Since Yahoo! first broke the Bush scandal in 2006, USC has won three Pac-10 championships and three Rose Bowls, Bush has made tens of millions as a pro and pitchman, lawsuits and witnesses have fallen by the wayside and the first of at least three books on the scandal has been published. But not a peep from the NCAA.
But the announcement last month that the Association is rolling the allegations against Bush and O.J. Mayo into a single probe against USC, and especially the late-breaking (and somewhat under-reported) news Tuesday that Mayo handler Rodney Guillory took a direct cash payment from Trojan basketball coach Tim Floyd, has made USC look far more vulnerable to the killer charge of "lack of institutional control" than it has at any point since Bush was first implicated three years ago. Allegations of open fraud in the Mayo case have brought the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office into the fray, and those guys, I think, have some teeth.
And they might be moving fast. The attorney for Louis Johnson, main source for the latest charges against Mayo, said Wednesday he thinks the NCAA "wants to do something before football season," and that "something" will include sanctions. Meanwhile, Charles Robinson, one of the two Yahoo! reporters (with Jason Cole) driving the vast majority of actual reporting in both cases from the beginning, said in an interview with the Orange County Register Tuesday that the NCAA has been extremely active -- and meticulously silent -- in gathering information, and guesses the hammer may fall before the end of the year (emphasis added):
Q: What penalties do you think USC will suffer in the end?
Robinson: Even with the investigation having gone on three years; even with what appears to be a deep, large and wide-ranging investigation; and in spite of a lot of people coming forward with damning evidence, it’s almost impossible for anyone who’s not part of the NCAA infrastructure to be able to accurately speculate about what’s going to happen, simply because of the way the NCAA works. ... I’m hesitant to say what will happen because we don’t know what the weak spots are, and the NCAA absolutely refuses in any way, shape or form to reveal details about their investigations or how their investigative practices work.
Q: How about a timetable then? When will we learn USC’s fate?
Robinson: Based on sources we have who have been interviewed, it appears the NCAA has wrapped up the majority of its Reggie Bush investigation, if not all of it. I believe they are now nearing the end of the O.J. Mayo portion of the investigation. So barring a significant amount of new revelations, I have to believe that most likely in the fall we’ll see some kind of letter of infractions put forward by the NCAA.
One thing people need to understand is, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, they’re sort of like some legislative bodies that meet only a certain number of times a year. ... My best guess would be, because it’s taken so long and been so in-depth, that it probably will be later rather than sooner. I would guess November or December — but I also never believed this would be something that’s three years in the making.
(You can also read Robinson's response to critics of his reporting, from which he emerges essentially unscathed, in my opinion.)
Both the interview and the defense are worthy reads for the perspective they lend to the scope of the investigation: At least four different agencies and literally dozens of witnesses are deep into the record, with documents, photos -- allegedly showing known agents and other red-siren types on sidelines, in locker rooms and partying alongside players and coaches -- recordings, sworn testimonies and, yes, possibly ulterior motives. (Louis Johnson, main source for the Mayo story, has an allegedly sketchy background and a book deal; but how do you report on corruption without relying on people who are/have been corrupt? The sources are the sources.) All of which forms one very dark, very heavy cloud over the Trojans for at least the next six months.