UCLA lost John Wooden, who was not only the best coach in any sport ever, but was in the eyes of many the best human ever. (If you don’t know who he was, you should. I’ll stop with the gushery while you look him up. )
And I won’t make any jokes about his life or death. Didn’t even consider trying. It’s not because I feel so strongly about the man that any kind of humor would be sacrosanct. It’s because there’s nothing funny about John Wooden. He was dignified, scandal-free, amazingly humble, overflowing with integrity, highly respectful, and highly respected.
Many people in town have a John Wooden story; all the ones I’ve ever heard are reverent. Some were on display at his recent memorial, the send-off that officially cemented his legacy as the best human ever.
And then, there was USC’s tragedy.
On June 10, the NCAA finally finished their long investigation into improprieties in USC’s athletic program. The findings gave numerous examples of USC lacking “institutional control,” namely, looking the other way while its football team’s star running back, Reggie Bush, accepted every perk thrown at him except Asian hookers.
As a result, USC’s football team is ineligible for bowl games for the next two seasons and will surrender 30 football scholarships over three seasons. In addition, it might have to vacate its wins from December 2004 through the 2005 season, a time frame that covers their national championship drubbing of Oklahoma, as well as Bush’s Heisman-winning season.
During the investigation, USC tried to soften the inevitable blow against its leviathan football program by tossing up its men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs as sops to the NCAA. After the sanctions came down last month, the school took a different tack: arrogance. Take this quotable by highest-ranking buck-stopper, athletic director Mike Garrett:
“I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans.”Pete Carroll, the Trojans’ revered football coach during the time in question, got his integrity duty out of the way in January: He high-tailed it out of town for a job in the NFL—denying at the time, of course, that his decision was at all influenced by the sound of a giant hammer that was falling in USC’s direction. When news of the sanctions reached him in June, his denial blossomed into a full-blown Claude Rains impersonation:
“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA.”Todd Dickey, the school’s senior vice president for administration, said USC takes full responsibility for the violations. Except for a lot of them. And he feels the sanctions are too severe. And a lot of the blame lies with unscrupulous sports agents and marketers. Other than that, USC takes full responsibility for the violations.
I was all set to point out the stark contrast between the two schools until things reached new lows. A blogger named Paragon SC on the modestly named conquestchronicles.com wrote a somewhat defensive screed on the NCAA’s sanctions, which included this:
“Pete Carroll did not actively do anything wrong, but like John Wooden, he is guilty because he should have stopped it by limiting access and being more inquisitive.”For the record, Wooden himself later admitted that he may have had tunnel vision for years while a booster orchestrated countless perks for dozens of men’s basketball players. It was the first I’d heard of any of it. The media didn’t talk about it much, and none of the UCLA boosters I’ve known over the years ever mentioned it at all. Let me be the first to remind everyone that hubris is a two-way street.
Still, it is curious how some SC fans seem to think the steady rancor directed at their team is due to jealousy. And yet, the instant one fan in particular gets a chance to deflect any blame that may be aimed at Pete Carroll, he feels the need to compare it to a John Wooden “scandal,” one that he and his readers are apparently so familiar with that they didn’t bother to explain it. Why so fixated on the Wooden issue? Couldn’t have anything to do with—and I’m just spitballing here—jealousy over his basketball team’s TEN national titles, could it? It’s also odd that the only context in which he can free Carroll of implications is in an era that ended 35 years ago. Surely there have been some more recent incidents by which he can be compared, right? Not to the hyper-jealous USC fan, I guess.
Saddest of all, however, is the blogger’s timing. Wooden had been deceased for a week when that statement was posted. Defensiveness, deflection, denials... those I can understand, even if they’re not representative of the better side of otherwise nice USC fans—and there are many in town. But to use USC’s sanctions as an opportunity to piss on the casket of the classiest act the city has ever known is, at the very least, tasteless. And I wish I could say Paragon SC was the only one who is capable of such a thing, but none of the 18 replies to his thread made mention of it.
So, to some of the USC athletic department’s higher-ups and some of USC’s fans, I say this: Take your lumps with a semblance of character—just like John Wooden would have done.