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LOS ANGELES (AP) —The NCAA on Thursday rejected Southern California’s appeal to reduce sanctions imposed on its storied football program, keeping in place some of the harshest penalties leveled against a school in a quarter-century.USC must serve the second year of its two-year postseason ban this fall, making the Trojans ineligible for the first Pac-12 title game or a bowl game. USC also will lose 30 scholarships over the next three years, giving them just 15 available scholarships per season — 10 below the normal yearly limit — until 2015.
USC athletic director Pat Haden said he was “gravely disappointed” in the NCAA’s ruling.
“I can assure our student-athletes, coaches and fans that we made every possible argument — forcefully and vigorously — for modifying unjust penalties,” Haden said.
The Trojans endured a four-year NCAA investigation into illegal benefits for Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush before last year’s ruling.
School President Max Nikias believes the NCAA has harmed the credibility of its decision-making process.
“We are very concerned that the historical value of case precedent and the right to fair process in the NCAA adjudicative process, both in terms of the ability of an institution to defend itself or prove an abuse of discretion on appeal, have been substantially eroded,” Nikias said.
USC’s seniors also are still allowed to transfer to another school without sitting out a season, a sanction that coach Lane Kiffin has criticised as “free agency.” A few players left the Trojans after the sanctions were handed down last year, but most were backups unhappy with playing time.
“I am disappointed for our players, our fans and our staff that another bowl game and now a possible Pac-12 championship game has been taken away from them,” Kiffin said. “We have been operating with these sanctions for a year now, and have felt their effects on multiple fronts. We will continue to execute the plan we have in place to make the most of the hand with which we have been dealt.
“I am proud of how our players have performed on the field and represented us off the field under very difficult and trying circumstances.”
Reacting to the NCAA’s decision, USC quarterback Matt Barkley tweeted, “Our team will embrace the challenge as one and be stronger for it. Times of adversity are special opportunities to Fight On!”
Since the NCAA applied a new standard to its appeals process in 2008, only one of 11 appeals of sanctions has been successful. Haden wasn’t terribly optimistic about his alma mater’s chances after the NCAA cited the Trojans for a lack of institutional control.
When Haden and other USC officials went before the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee in January, they asked the panel to cut the harshest penalties in half, taking away just 15 scholarships and making the Trojans eligible for a bowl game this fall.
Last summer, the NCAA ruled Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo had received improper benefits under the administration of athletic director Mike Garrett, football coach Pete Carroll and basketball coach Tim Floyd, who have all left the university. In addition to the football sanctions and self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, USC was put on four years of probation.
Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy two months after USC removed its replica of the trophy and Bush’s jersey from places of honour in Heritage Hall.
Haden previously has said he wouldn’t sue the NCAA if the appeal fails, which means the formidable recruiting skills of Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron will be tested by scholarship limitations for the near future. Kiffin replaced Carroll five months before the NCAA imposed its extensive penalties last June, and Haden replaced Garrett in July.
USC also made has wholesale changes in its athletic department during Haden’s tenure, dramatically beefing up its compliance staff.
Kiffin and Orgeron stocked up on players earlier this year while the sanctions were under appeal, signing 22 recruits to letters of intent or scholarship agreements shortly after eight additional players enrolled in January.
Kiffin said he has been “impressed with the reception we have received from recruits. They understand the value of a USC degree and the opportunities afforded them by playing football here.”