Even convicted felons get time served.
While the media lines-up to take shots at the University of South Carolina football program, (some even reverting to references of the Tommy Chaikin/ Sports Illustrated induced steroid scandal story from twenty years ago0, Gamecock fans know the true story.
No doubt, there were infractions of the most minor sort committed under Lou Holtz, infractions that Holtz had no way of knowing were being committed at the time.
Holtz was made privvy to the violations only after the fact. But that too, is neither here nor there. Holtz's legacy will be tagged with these violations and penalties for all time. Chaulk it up to poor management, failing to properly supervise those under his helm, losing control. Those were always predisposed and predetermined conclusion instigated by certain members of the media, both locally and nationally.
It could affect Lou's chances at making the College Football Hall of Fame and that would, in and of itself, be a crime.
Lou Holtz took a devastated 1-10 football program that had been driven into the ground by now Clemson assistant Brad Scott, and went 0-11 in his first season at South Carolina.
But the Gamecocks played hard.
In the next two seasons Holtz proceeded to take Carolina to two consecutive Outback Bowls and two consecutive wins over eventual mythical National Champions Ohio State. The Gamecocks were the last team to beat the Buckeyes prior to their undefeated run to the title. (How ironic that some of the talking heads rant that Carolina should be forced to forfeit both bowl victories over Ohio State citing ineligible players in the mix. How quickly they forget that OSU committed violations during the same period and were playing with ineligible players as well.)
As the 2002 season began, the NCAA came knocking at the door and everything began to fall apart for Holtz's rebuilding project. Cut down in its prime. Just as the fruit of Holtz's labor was ripening.
Yet no violations, save one, would actually occur until after the actual beginning of the investigation.
Are you with me so far?
It doesn't matter that these so-called five major violations did not involve payments to players or gifts or anything else of the sort. The types of violations normally associated with recruiting inducements that might give a program an advantage. These violations involved helping a few student-athletes realize their full potential as students. Violations that surfaced in the form of tutoring prior to enrollment, a transcript change after the fact, or a borrowed car.
I repeat. A couple of improper tutoring charges and the big one, helping Derek Watson transfer to South Carolina State.
Did you get that? Tom Perry helped Derek Watson transfer AWAY from South Carolina to South Carolina State by "allegedly" altering his final transcripts at USC. It was an attempt to help a kid continue to improve his life at another school.
Ironically, it was the recruitment of Derek Watson that beget the investigation in the first place. It has been rumored in hushed tones in dark, smoke-filled rooms, that Tennessee's Phil Fulmer was the one that raised the flags on Derek Watson with the NCAA.
There is a lot of hearsay evidence that continues to float around out there. Many would say there is evidence to support these claims.
Phil Fulmer has friends in high places in Indianapolis, we all know that. Ask Alabama fans.
Watson was the most highly touted, highest ranked recruit in the class of 1999. He was actively being sought by the Volunteers. Then he did the unthinkable, he decommitted at the last minute and chose to stay in-state. At that point, he became an academic/public relations liability to Fulmer. (Albert Haynesworth and Terea Smalls were the vehicles used to raise questions among the media. A smart move by Fulmer in the plausible deniability game if correct.)
Fulmer abhors last minute decommits. Any potential student-athlete not smart enough to sign with Tennessee after being committed for so long, was also obviously not smart enough to qualify to attend any other institution of higher learning. Especially an institution competing against Fulmer in the SEC Eastern Division.
Lou Holtz's presence worried Tennessee and Clemson people alike. South Carolina had been fertile recruiting ground for the Vols for years and Holtz was threatening to build a fence around the Palmetto State.
So the flag was raised on Watson and the investigation got underway just before the Virginia game of 2002. A game in which the Gamecocks were obviously the superior and favored team, yet they lost in a heartbreaker 21-24. The weight of the recent investigations announcement seemed to distract their every move in the week leading up to the game. The distracted Gamecocks committed a record six turnovers in the game and still should have won.
Almost three years later, after finding no improprieties where the recruitment of Derek Watson was concerned, the NCAA finally found a boo boo where his transfer was concerned. And they call it 'major.'
There was an old joke that was in effect for the past five decades or so at South Carolina. 'They can't be cheating. They're too mediocre to be cheating.'
South Carolina's football program has never been investigated for recruiting violations up until now.
But mediocrity is no protection when you are recruiting against some of the big boys out there. You have to get down and dirty to win in the deep Southeastern United States it seems. You have to learn to play the dirty game or else you are constantly pounded even further down, never allowed a chance to climb the ladder of football prominence in a region of the country where college football is King.
Outsiders have no idea.
Take for instance these juicy bits of insider gossip and perhaps you will understand the beginnings and the end of the witch hunt.
Phil Fulmer, well known for his involvement in the Alabama investigation, is upset that Derek Watson turned his back on Tennessee at the last minute, the night before signing day, and cast his lot with Lou Holtz's Gamecocks. And Watson disappeared no less. He was hidden away in some distant hotel. Trying desperately to avoid the last minute meddling of the Volunteer coaches, (who were said to be scouring Watson's hometown looking for the star running back during the no-contact period).
Lo and behold, that information was mysteriously being passed from people in Knoxville, to people in Clemson (South Carolina's hated arch rival), where, according to some, it allegedly ended up on the virtual desk of Clemson's compliance officer Becky Bowman - allegedly. And Bowman, a former NCAA case worker, is said to be close personal friends with Jackie Thurness, the NCAA case worker overseeing and directing the field investigators during their occupation in Columbia, SC.
And it has been suggested though not verified, mind you, thanks to the NCAA's no-comment policy regarding any on-going or concluded NCAA investigations, that Thurness had some sort of grudge against Lou Holtz. Some speculate it traces back to a prior investigation she was involved in while Holtz was at Notre Dame.
And who was another key player in the minds of many where these farcical findings are concerned?
Why Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips, of course. Good old T.D. Phillips. Some say T.D. was orchestrating so many leaks surrounding NCAA information, the Upstate Town of Clemson was being renamed 'NCAA Indianapolis South'. At least where the SC investigation was concerned.
Yes, that's right. There was talk of so much information being leaked about the investigation via Clemson, that Clemson fans on message boards often seemed to know more about what was going than Mike McGee, South Carolina's Director of Athletics during the bulk of the investigation. It is said that Bowman was receiving more calls about the Carolina invesitigation than she was receiving about the day to day activities within her own program. The leaks began to give new meaning to "information superhighway".
Clemson became the hub of the entire case. The powers that be at CU VOLunteered to be the middlemen between the Tennessee rats, (angry over the Watson decommitment), and the NCAA. Or so it has been suggested.
Clemson people were all too happy to oblige. At least that was always the feeling you got from Clemson fans reveling in the investigation taking place in Columbia and bursting with anti-Gamecock NCAA investigation news at every turn.
And still, three years later, it comes to this. Ten infractions, five considered major, none involving illegal payments or gifts or improper recruiting.
Nothing that would give the Gamecocks an advantage on the football field. Nothing that would indicate a rogue program gone mad in their attempt to win within the rugged SEC East.
But you wouldn't know that listening to the talk shows or reading some of the national media's take on this thing. To read or listen to the talking heads you would think that Carolina was operating in the same gray areas as ... well ... as Clemson or Tennessee.
Clemson, the second most penalized program in the history of the NCAA. A program that cheated so much during their pre and post Mythical National Championship years that the joke was that players leaving Clemson and going to the NBA or NFL were actually having to take pay-cuts to step-up to the pros.
And Tennessee. The Tennessee Volunteers who somehow manage to turn failing high school athletes into honor students? The program who, it is said, has a parking lot around their athletic facility that resembles the lot around a Cadillac Escalade dealership? Ironically, one of the violations listed was that a poverty stricken, parentless Derek Watson drove, I say again DROVE, a Carolina booster's SUV twice. (2 times)
Thanks guys. You have your revenge. It's not as bad as you had hoped, not as damaging as you wished for, but you have your revenge.
Three years probation and the loss of four scholarships over the next two year period - two each out of the next two Spurrier recruiting classes.
Steve Spurrier will have to beat you with only 83 on the roster rather than 85. No biggie.
And Gamecock fans who have had to endure this for the past three years, will now have to live with it for the next three. Take heart. Seek no revenge for you shall have your day soon enough. The sleeping giant is merely slumbering and will soon awaken in Williams-Brice. It is only a matter of time now. Those dressed in orange, those who are insecure knowing what is coming, have fired their last volley ... their wads are shot. Payback is coming. Not from the seedy underworld dealings of being associated with NCAA investigations these days. Oh no. You shall have your payback on many future November Saturdays. Payback on the gridiron against those who have attempted to do you harm. And the payback will be all the sweeter knowing it was done with the talent, leadership and integrity that has become the signature trademark of Steve Spurrier. Let this become part of their bad karma now ... not ours.
In the meantime, ignore the talking heads who know nothing. Their opinions are meaningless. Take your licks and suffer the consequences of the actions of those you placed in charge. You are still on the right track and that has been proven by the panicky actions of those to the north of you. Everything is going to be ok.
Three years was too long to end with next to nothing. But the NCAA, like the IRS, can always find something if they look long enough and hard enough. The additional year added to the two was simply a show of power, a heaping-on, by those who one day will not be in power. Their days are numbered, too. The best thing Gamecock fans and their program can do is take their punishment and drive on with the mission.
That is something South Carolina Gamecock fans know how to do. They always have been and always will be the most resilient, most undying, college football fans in the country.