NCAA Rivals Swipe Reveals Agenda Against USC?

I was skeptical when I heard Pete Carroll say this immediately after the USC football program was saddled with the harshest NCAA sanctions since the SMU Dealth Penalty:

“The agenda of the NCAA infractions committee took them beyond the facts, and the facts don’t match the sanctions.”

That comment was before USC’s Rivals website USCFootball.com, which is owned by Yahoo, published previously unreleased NCAA documents that showed significant inaccuracies in the NCAA’s investigation of the link between the USC football program and sports marketing agents who provided Reggie Bush with improper benefits. (That link is the central reason cited by the NCAA for applying such harsh sanctions on the school’s football program.)

That USC Rivals report though only showed a general incompetence by the NCAA in the efficacy of its investigation of USC. It didn’t give any reason to believe Carroll’s “agenda” claim.

But the NCAA’s almost immediate response to the USC Rivals report, may indeed have confirmed Carroll’s accusation.

After the USC Rivals report was released late Thursday detailing NCAA mistakes in the USC investigation, the NCAA, in an unprecedented move, responded to the Rivals report with this statement:

The NCAA will not comment on the content of confidential documents. However, it is important to note that the recent story from fan site USCFootball.com takes select pieces of information from comprehensive documents out of context, weaving them into an inaccurate depiction.

When reaching a decision, the Committee on Infractions carefully considers the hearing discussions and reviews all documents from all parties in their entirety, not just excerpts taken out of their original context.

The statement, in the context of normal operating procedure by the NCAA in past decades, is extraordinary - and perhaps telling.

What stands out:

1) “The NCAA will not comment on the content of confidential documents.”

Of course, the entire statement itself a direct contradiction of that sentence.

As for the confidentiality of the documents referenced, the NCAA investigative materials reported on by the USC Rivals site USCFootball.com were documents that were provided USC officials by the NCAA.

Had USC been a state-funded university, like UCLA, those documents would’ve been required by law to be made available to the public and media via California’s Freedom of Information act.

2) “However, it is important to note that the recent story from fan site USCFootball.com takes select pieces of information from comprehensive documents out of context, weaving them into an inaccurate depiction.”

Characterizing USCFootball.com as “fan site” is an obvious and outdated attempt to marginalize the Yahoo-owned Rivals website. One of the reporters of the NCAA-USC story, Dan Weber, was a reporter with the Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise for many years before joining Yahoo to cover the USC beat for its Rivals site.

Weber did what thousands of prominent print reporters have done the past decade: Depart the failing newspaper industry for a job in online media with a well-respected, mainstream company like Yahoo. To characterize his reporting, even without knowing his background, as work for a “fan site” is an embarrassing show of ignorance by the NCAA. Or a deliberate cheap shot.

USCFootball.com is exactly the same type of site as Texas Rivals website Orangebloods.com. Orangebloods.com report Chip Brown, who like Weber is a former longtime newspaper reporter, broke the Big 12 conference realignment story that eventually led to Nebraska joining the Big Ten and Colorado departing the Big 12 for the Pac-10.

Orangebloods.com was cited hundreds of times by ESPN and other main media outlets as the original source of the story and Brown guested on SportsCenter and other ESPN shows in reporting the story.

Not once did any main media outlet, national or otherwise, refer to Orangebloods as a “fan site” … because it isn’t!

The NCAA is either unaware of the current state of sports media or was deliberately insulting USCFootball.com in an attempt to marginalize what, by all accounts, was thorough and credible reporting.

3) USCFootball.com takes select pieces of information from comprehensive documents out of context, weaving them into an inaccurate depiction.

When reaching a decision, the Committee on Infractions carefully considers the hearing discussions and reviews all documents from all parties in their entirety, not just excerpts taken out of their original context.

Writing about “select pieces of information from comprehensive documents” is the very definition of a reporter’s job. The reason reporters exist is to filter out unnecessary information from thousands of documents in presenting a coherent, concise story to the reader.

4)  When reaching a decision, the Committee on Infractions carefully considers the hearing discussions and reviews all documents from all parties in their entirety, not just excerpts taken out of their original context.

By that standard, any reporting that doesn’t include every single word from NCAA investigative documents is out of context.

There isn’t a breathing main media member who didn’t consider USCFootball.com’s relationship with USC itself when reporting on what the Rivals site reported.

By implying that what USCFootball.com reported was no more than Trojan-inspired propaganda, the NCAA is also questioning the credibility of the thousands of main media outlets, including ESPN, that reported on the Rivals site’s findings.

The reason the entire main media picked up the story was the meat of the USC Rivals report was merely the transcription of verifiable information. Info that included transcripts of NCAA interviews that had previously been kept secret.

If the NCAA is so concerned about the veracity of the USCFootball.com report, then why not release all of its investigative documents? Documents which, again, would be public anyway had USC been a state-funded university.

After reading the NCAA’s response to the USC Rivals report, it’s hard not to conclude that there’s some truth to former USC football coach Pete Carroll’s accusation that the NCAA did indeed approach the investigation with at least some level of undue bias.