Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Too Big to Fail

For the past decade, the Michigan State-Michigan basketball rivalry has been, well, not much of a rivalry. It's getting a little better - I mean, Crisler Arena isn't Breslin Center East anymore - but the Wolverines still aren't where they were before the Ed Martin scandal.

You remember Ed Martin. The guy who paid members of Michigan's Fab Five to go to school. You remember the federal indictments, the humiliation and the Final Four banners coming down. All that. 

Perhaps the only team in recent memory that can feel the Wolverines' pain are the football folks at Southern Methodist, a formerly great program until recruiting violations brought the NCAA's first death penalty against a D-1 football program.

Which brings me to the University of Southern California. The scourge of the Big Ten, the team most responsible for the craptastic reputation of the entire conference. Yet another scandal has engulfed USC, this one in basketball where coach Tim Floyd allegedly paid folks to ensure he landed star recruit O.J. Mayo.

That's bad and all, but what's worse is that this isn't the first time. Reggie Bush, one of the best running backs in college football history, and his family were given about $300,000 in cash and favors while Bush was at the school. It's not really worthy of the "allegedly" tag anymore, as the allegations have been pretty thoroughly vetted over the last three years.

That, by the way, is the length of time the NCAA has been "investigating" this case. Investigating goes in quotes, because that's what they call it. I call it a joke.

The simple fact of the matter is that USC is the biggest team in college football right now. And the last massive team to get in deep, deep trouble was Alabama, which was accused of worse stuff than Southern Methodist but got off with a two-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions. The thought at the time was that if they screwed up during their five-year probation, they too would get the death penalty. Well, sure enough, five years later we hear about new coach Nick Saban's trouble with recruiting. And guess what? Nothing happened.

It's unfortunate for folks like Michigan and Southern Methodist. They get caught cheating, they get penalized, hard. And you know that if something came up at MSU (and thank God and Mark Hollis that it hasn't) that State would get slaughtered by the NCAA.

USC, however, is another story. Because Ed Martin paying Chris Webber $100,000 means Michigan has to forfeit its Final Fours. But apparently USC boosters handing Reggie Bush $300,000 is A-OK. 

The lesson here folks, if you're going to break the rules in the NCAA, make sure you're a massive school with a huge history, big donor base and excellent current programs. Oh, and make sure you break the rules with a reckless abandon - the bigger the better. Because at some point, and USC has reached this level so far, you'll just become too big to fail.

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