College Sports

Discipline problems at USC won't be quick fix

It wouldn't have fit Eric Hyman's M.O. to duck the question.

Conversing with South Carolina's athletics director Thursday when he came to Rock Hill, we chatted about several things. I deliberately left one question until the end, wanting to see what he'd say.

The subject -- discipline. Specifically, why there seems to be a lack of it among the Gamecocks' athletes.

Hyman, who was going around the state explaining to Gamecock Club members why he's raising dues and football season-ticket prices, answered the question honestly, which is his usual. One doesn't attempt to pump $200 million out of long-suffering fans by double-dealing.

"I look at the percentage of the problems our student-athletes have in relation to the student body," he began. "We mirror the student body.

"The difference is, and I don't see this changing, I see it getting worse, is the player visibility."

In case you've been on sabbatical for the past three years, USC has gained an outlaw reputation lately. The most recent was the arrest of freshman football player Quintin Richardson, who apparently decided to celebrate still being alive after seven stab wounds by returning to the scene of his attack with marijuana in his pocket.

That bust brought the total of football players arrested since Nov. 2004 to an eye-popping 20, and that doesn't take into account the players who were rumored to take part in illicit activities or the ones who didn't get arrested but were kicked off the team anyway. And while football holds the lion's share of offenses, it's not the only offender.

Over the past four years, there have been arrests or disciplinary infractions in men's basketball, volleyball, men's swimming and baseball. It's enough to turn any man's hair gray.

But Hyman is taking steps to hopefully prevent any more mishaps. He said Thursday he's tinkered with the program designed to introduce incoming athletes to Division I college life, talking to them about the consequences of getting in trouble instead of just asking them to avoid it.

"Not only do I talk to them, but this year we're going to bring in the solicitor, the police chief, one of our coaches wants to talk, an attorney, Casey Manning, who's a judge, and just talk about this," Hyman said. "They're under a microscope."

Hyman pointed out it's not fair to blame the coach or the athletic department because USC gets the kids after someone else has had them for 17 or 18 years. It's also not fair to solely blame the parents or family, because sometimes, even that can fool you.

Without naming names, Hyman said that of the disciplinary incidents he's been forced to deal with at USC, a surprising number come from "good stock." One checkered player has two brothers who went to Harvard, another has a police chief for a father and another came to school on a full academic scholarship, never scoring below an A in high school.

"We're not miracle workers," Hyman said. "The foundation's already been laid."

The main problem, Hyman said, is the amount of attention being paid to the kids. If it was just Joe Blow from Possum Holler who mouthed off to a bouncer at a beer joint, big deal.

But if Joe Blow had 14 individual tackles and recovered a fumble against Vanderbilt last week, well, someone at the jail's going to call his buddy, the buddy's going to call his cousin and the cousin will call John D. Anonymous, who dutifully reports it to the newspaper.

When there's a rash of incidents within a short period, as USC has had, the smart-alecks on ESPN trot out the "outlaw" tag, once held by Oklahoma, Miami, Kentucky, Alabama ... the list goes on. And Hyman or some of the Gamecock Club officials at the meeting Thursday don't think that's fair, although they're not trying to say everything's rosy down in Columbia.

"I guess the first reaction is typical of most people. 'Why do we recruit these kids? He's obviously going to get in trouble,'" York County Gamecock Club Vice President Butch Bailey said. "These kids are 17-18 years old and you got to look. (USC coaches) haven't had any influence on these guys."

"I tell them there's good news and bad news," Hyman said. "I say, 'The good news is, there's 80,000 people who are passionate about Gamecock football. The bad news is, there's 80,000 people who are passionate about Gamecock football.'"

Translated, "Don't get caught, buddy, or you might as well get your inmate number tattooed on your back."

It's not reasonable to ask Steve Spurrier or Ray Tanner or Shelley Smith or Ben Somera to babysit these kids 24-7. College athletes have precious little free time as it is, and if they choose to use it by doing something in the public eye, that's their choice.

With the new program, though, maybe being in the public eye won't be such a good idea.

"We've become a lot more transparent and a lot more visible," Hyman said. "And that's just something we have to be vigilant on."