LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California hasn't given up hope the NCAA will lighten up on the heavy sanctions that have weighed down the football program for more than three years.
USC athletic director Pat Haden spoke with NCAA President Mark Emmert this week about the possibility of re-evaluating the Trojans' penalties. During a previously scheduled meeting on other topics, Haden said he "argued for some consideration regarding the 2010 sanctions during the last year of our penalty."
Haden said he felt compelled to have the discussion in light of the NCAA's recent decision to lessen the scholarship reductions levied last year against Penn State following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"As I have stated on numerous occasions, I believe the penalties imposed on our football program in 2010 were unprecedented and inconsistent with NCAA precedent in prior cases," Haden said. "I also believe the sanctions have resulted in unintended consequences both for our football program and our student-athletes."
After Thursday's practice, coach Lane Kiffin praised Haden's effort for attempting to lighten the burden of losing 30 football scholarships over a three-year period. USC faces one more year of scholarship restrictions, with a limit of 75 scholarship players instead of the usual 85.
"Any change would be good news for us," Kiffin said after Thursday's practice. "The numbers have done a lot to us, and as he mentioned in there, there's a lot of thing outside of just the number punishment. Scholarship reductions with transfers that have really changed our program. They've changed the way we practice, the number of reps our guys play, and at some point it becomes a player safety issue."
With their reduced numbers, the Trojans have frequently changed their practices in recent years to minimize injuries, often sacrificing physical work. The Trojans also have several players who participate on nearly every defensive play and special-teams snaps during games, making them more susceptible to injury, Kiffin claimed.
"Really, you don't want it to be that way," Kiffin said.
The Trojans (3-1) have a slim depth chart. They will travel to Arizona State this weekend with just 56 recruited scholarship players.
"People will say, 'Well, that's easy, the NFL plays (with that number),'" Kiffin said. "Well, the difference is when they get injuries, they sign new guys. Obviously, we don't have the ability to do that. It's a situation we're in. We're just trying to maximize it. It's a difficult situation, but I think it speaks a lot to our players that they're playing this well and everybody expects us to win every week in spite of the numbers."
The NCAA sanctioned USC after a four-year investigation, ruling that former Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush received improper benefits from two aspiring sports marketers. The Trojans were cited for a lack of institutional control in the NCAA's heavy sanctions.
Kiffin was hired a few months before the NCAA delivered its sanctions. USC President Max Nikias dismissed athletic director Mike Garrett a month after the sanctions and hired Haden, a former USC quarterback and businessman.
The NCAA already rejected an appeal by USC in May 2011, keeping in place the harshest penalties leveled against a school in a quarter-century. But since Nikias, Haden and Kiffin took over, USC has been praised by the NCAA for its commitment to playing by the rules.
"Pat and Max, over my three years with them, have been extremely dedicated to compliance," Kiffin said. "Changed the staff, changed the whole atmosphere around here. This is just another example of Pat fighting for us. This is not the first time he's done it."