USC avoids tourney ban for assistant’s violations

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The NCAA on Thursday placed the USC men’s basketball program on two years’ probation as a result of former assistant coach Tony Bland accepting bribes to steer players to certain business managers and financial advisers once they turned pro.

USC was fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men’s basketball program budget, and the NCAA accepted recruiting restrictions previously self-imposed by the university.

Bland, one of four former assistant coaches charged in federal criminal cases involving bribery in college basketball, reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in December 2018. In June 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos sentenced Bland to 100 hours of community service and two years’ probation.

He was given a three-year show-cause order from the NCAA, during which any school employing him “must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.”

The government alleged that Bland accepted a $13,000 bribe in exchange for steering USC players to certain agents and advisers. He was accused of helping facilitate $9,000 in payments to associates of former USC player De’Anthony Melton and prospect Taeshon Cherry.

As part of his plea agreement, Bland admitted to accepting a $4,100 bribe.

“The associate head coach demonstrated a recurring lack of judgment that resulted in unethical conduct and representation violations for both himself and USC,” the NCAA Committee on Infractions ruling said. “Although [the associate head coach’s] behavior may have originated out of friendship with the agent associate, it waded into murky ethical waters and ultimately intersected with the agent associate’s corruption scheme within college basketball.”

The committee noted that Bland “met his obligation when he participated in the NCAA investigation and provided information relevant to the investigation.”

It also noted that “the school displayed exemplary cooperation and self-imposed significant and meaningful penalties in line with the NCAA membership’s penalty guidelines.”

USC had self-imposed recruiting reductions and a reduction of two scholarships for 2018-19.

The Trojans are the fourth program involved in the federal criminal cases to be penalized by the NCAA. In February, South Carolina was placed on probation for two years for former assistant coach Lamont Evans accepting between $3,300 and $5,800 in bribes.

In June, the NCAA placed Oklahoma State on three years’ probation and banned the Cowboys from playing in postseason tournaments for one season. The Cowboys have appealed those penalties, which were the result of a Level I rules violation involving Evans while he coached at the school, and reached the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament.

Alabama was placed on three years’ probation in November after a former associate athletic director accepted bribes to facilitate a meeting between a player’s father and a financial adviser. The NCAA issued a 10-year show-cause order for former associate athletic director Kobie Baker, who resigned in September 2017.

Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, NC State and TCU have acknowledged receiving a notice of allegations from the NCAA related to the federal investigation. Auburn and Creighton have also received a notice of allegations, according to sources, and the NCAA is investigating LSU’s program.

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