NCAA hits USC basketball with 2 years’ probation, fine

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Jeffrey Lichtman, Tony Bland

FILE – Former assistant basketball coach for the University of Southern California Tony Bland, left, and his attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, leave federal court in New York, in this Wednesday, June 5, 2019, file photo. The NCAA hit Southern California’s men’s basketball program with two years’ probation and a $5,000 fine as the result of a former assistant who violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he accepted a bribe to steer players to a business management company. The Division I Committee on Infractions on Thursday, April 15, 2021, announced the penalties, which include a 1% loss of the school’s basketball budget. The probation runs until April 14, 2023. Tony Bland, the former associate head under coach Andy Enfield, wasn’t mentioned by name in the NCAA report. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, FIle)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NCAA hit Southern California’s men’s basketball program with two years’ probation on Thursday because a former assistant coach violated NCAA ethics rules when he accepted a bribe to steer players to a business management company.

The Division I Committee on Infractions announced the penalties, which include a $5,000 fine and a 1% loss of the private school’s basketball budget. The probation, which does not include a postseason ban, runs until April 14, 2023.

Tony Bland, the former associate head coach under coach Andy Enfield, wasn’t mentioned by name in the NCAA report. He was arrested by FBI agents in September 2017. USC fired Bland four months later. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in January 2019 and cooperated with the NCAA’s investigation.

As part of his plea deal with federal prosecutors, Bland acknowledged accepting a $4,100 bribe during a July 2017 meeting with financial advisers and business managers in exchange for directing players to retain their services when they entered the pro ranks. He received two years’ probation.

USC is the fourth school involved in the federal investigation of conspiracy and bribery in college basketball to be punished by the NCAA.

South Carolina is on two years’ probation; Oklahoma State is on three years’ probation and banned from participating in the postseason for one season; and Alabama was put on three years’ probation.

Other schools that have acknowledged receiving a notice of allegations from the NCAA are Arizona, which fired coach Sean Miller on April 7, Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina State, and TCU.

In Bland’s case, government recordings from the meetings revealed he had touted his ability to connect the company with current or prospective players, noting he had heavy influence over their decisions.

The meetings violated NCAA rules that prohibit athletics staff from receiving benefits for facilitating or arranging a meeting between a player and an agent or financial adviser.

The committee said the coach demonstrated “a recurring lack of judgment” that resulted in unethical conduct.

“Although (the 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 said.

However, the committee noted Bland helped in the NCAA investigation and provided relevant information. It also said USC displayed “exemplary cooperation” and self-imposed meaningful penalties in line with NCAA guidelines.

USC’s self-imposed punishments reduced by two the total number of scholarships it awarded in 2018-19; reduced official visits to 20 during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 rolling two-year period; and reduced the number of recruiting days by 20 in 2018-19.

Bland is also under a three-year show-cause order. During that time, any NCAA school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows why the restrictions should not apply.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn, who wasn’t with the school during the infractions, said he’s proud of the school, his department and the men’s program for its handling of the case.

“Since my arrival at the end of 2019, I have been focused on continuing and enhancing our already-robust compliance program,” Bohn said in a statement. “The NCAA’s findings, comments and acceptance of our self-imposed penalties are a reflection of our commitment to accountability, integrity and transparency.

“We are thrilled this matter is now behind us, and our focus remains on being the most student-athlete centered program in the country.”

Under Enfield, USC exceeded expectations this season, reaching the Elite Eight before losing to national runner-up Gonzaga. The Trojans finished 21-6 overall and second in the Pac-12.

“Our men’s basketball program is pleased the NCAA has come to a resolution on this case. This was a comprehensive process, and we are looking forward to moving on,” Enfield said in a statement. “We remain committed to winning with integrity and dedicated to providing the best possible experience for all of our student-athletes.”

It’s not the first time USC’s basketball program has been in the crosshairs of the NCAA. The ruling body investigated former star player O.J. Mayo in 2009. Mayo was found ineligible for his single season because he received improper benefits from an agent. As a result, the team vacated all of its 21 wins from the 2007-08 season and didn’t participate in the postseason in 2009-10.

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