NCAA probe: USC will plead its case today in L.A.

Infractions committee will decide if proposed sanctions are sufficient

jkendall@thestate.comFebruary 16, 2012 

Eleven representatives from South Carolina have traveled to Los Angeles for today’s hearing before the NCAA committee on infractions and some of them might re-board the plane home without having said a word in the meeting.

“On the university side, you are only going to have two to three people from the school doing a lot of talking,” said Michael Buckner, a Florida lawyer who has argued multiple cases before the committee on infractions.

The man doing most of the talking for the Gamecocks probably will be Terry Parham, the school’s legal counsel, Buckner said. The meeting will be called to order and run by the committee on infractions chairman, who has strong South Carolina ties.

Dennis Thomas, chairman of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is the current chair of the committee and is a former head football coach at South Carolina State, where he compiled a 15-18 record from 1986-88.

Given South Carolina’s perceived cooperation in the case, there is every reason to believe today’s proceedings will go smoothly and be completed in one day, said Buckner, who represented Alabama State in a 2008 case.

“That went very, very smoothly,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of contentiousness. Questions were asked; we answered them. We had worked everything out before we went to the hearing.”

South Carolina officials believe they have covered almost all their bases in their written response to the NCAA.

“If the committee feels they have answered all the questions, then I think it’s going to go smoothly, but there are times you think it’s going to go smoothly and you have one or two committee members have a problem with something,” Buckner said. “You can just never tell until you get into that room.”

Normally, Buckner said, the cases that become adversarial are ones in which a coach or administrator has been terminated but still is appearing with the school in front of the committee.

“I have been in some hearings where the committee was very hard on the university or the coach or the compliance staff,” he said. “If there was testimony from a coach or member of the university that the committee didn’t like or didn’t believe then it did get very hot in there. The committee has no bones about going after individuals.”

It can get so personal that Buckner has based appeals on that very fact, he said.

“I think they go over the line at times,” he said. “I think at times some of the committee members, some of them, not all of them, make it very, very personal or it can appear that way to my clients, but I think most of the committee members try to do the best job they can.”

The room will be packed with up to 10 members of the infractions committee seated on one side of a squared table arrangement, members of the NCAA enforcement and investigative staff seated on another side and South Carolina officials seated on the other two sides. A court reporter sits in the middle of the square, Buckner said, transcribing the hearing.

Greg Sankey, the SEC’s associate commissioner for compliance, is on the NCAA infractions committee. He will not sit in on South Carolina’s hearing because of committee rules that prohibit a member from hearing the case of a school in their conference. He declined to comment for this story.

The hearing will start with opening and closing statements from the NCAA and South Carolina, and USC’s closing statement will be its final chance to argue for the self-imposed sanctions it has suggested — most notably a reduction of six football scholarships in a three-year period, an $18,500 fine and a three-year probationary period.

“That’s the time for the school to say, ‘Hey, we feel we have imposed enough on ourselves,’” Buckner said.

The committee on infractions can accept those sanctions, add to them or reduce them. That decision is expected in two to three months, according to an NCAA representative.

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