Lane Kiffin is at it again.
The man who has made cheating, both large and small, an art form, is now embroiled in another ridiculous scandal, this one about the proper inflation of the USC team balls, the ones his offense used in last week’s game against Oregon. Why would the balls be less than fully inflated? Because it makes them easier to throw and catch. Caught red-balled by Pac12 officials, USC conducted an investigation and found the following: “The student manager confirmed that he had, without the knowledge of, or instruction from, any USC student-athlete, coach, staff member or administrator, deflated those game balls after they had been tested and approved by officials prior to the game.”
Which, speaking as a former student manager, is complete crap.
I’ll explain why in a bit, but first let’s circle back around, remember earlier this year when USC switched player jersey numbers in order to run a two-point conversion?
“Asked if Kessler’s number switch during the Colorado game was meant to deceive, Kiffin said, “We’re just playing within the rules of college football.”
Of course, Lane, of course.
Remember before the season when Kiffin was whether he’d voted his USC team number one? He said no. Until, you guessed it, his ballot was checked and it was determined that he had, in fact, voted USC number one. The coaches poll was obligated to release his actual ballot, and in the resulting contretemps Kiffin resigned from the coaches poll.
All of these scandals are comparatively minor — especially when you consider what he got away with at Tennessee — but when you combine them all they do reflect upon Kiffin’s coaching character. This is a guy who is smart enough and competitive enough to know the exact rules, and dumb enough to go just a bit beyond them even when he gains a minor competitive benefit at best.
Kiffin will do whatever it takes to make the rules into his favor.
Along the way he’ll lie and cheat. Then get caught lying and cheating and claim that it’s all just a big misunderstanding.
That doesn’t necessarily make Kiffin a bad guy, but it does mean his program is bending the rules whenever it can.
Which is why I’m going to defend the USC student manager now. As a former student manager there is one rule and one rule alone that every single student manager will agree with — you do not want to draw attention to yourself. If you’re doing a good job no one notices. If you’re doing a bad job you’re the lowest man on the totem pole and you get destroyed. Often in public. I’ve seen highly stressed coaches bring 18 year old managers, both male and female, to tears over inconsequential issues, such as whether or not the right bottle caps are on the right water bottles at practice. When I was a freshman at George Washington, I broke Mike Jarvis’s blender while making player smoothies — for some reason he’d borrowed it from the house — and you would have thought I burned down his house.
He was furious.
The blender probably cost $40.
I was an awful and indifferent student manager, not particularly plugged in to details, more interested in watching game plans instituted in practed than in making sure water bottles were filled properly.
There were about ten of us who worked with GW and during the course of a season you’d meet the student managers for other schools too. All of us were the same, like 19th century children, speaking not lest we were spoken to, keeping our heads down and avoiding criticism as best we could. There is no way any of us were doing anything without explicit instruction from above.
Which is why the idea that a lone USC student manager was changing the pressure on footballs is a complete and utter joke.
No one of any intelligence should buy this.
First, how did the manager even know that deflating the footballs helped his team? Someone had to tell him this. It’s not like he’s doing an 8th grade science project in the middle of the biggest game of the year. Can you imagine if he was wrong and he was actually hurting his team’s chances in the biggest game of the year? There’s no way he’s doing this of his own volition.
Second, the pregame ritual is incredibly detailed. Everyone has a responsibility and a locker room is really, really crowded. Deflating footballs is something that others would see. It’s impossible for a lone manager to abscond with the game footballs and return with them deflated. Can you imagine the actual balls this would take?
Third, the manager was smart enough to get the balls approved by Pac 12 officials before the game and then changed them. So he was knowingly deceiving the officials. Again, it’s the height of comedy to believe that a student manager, the guy who is terrified he’s going to get yelled at for not putting enough ice in the pre-game Gatorade, is going to actually cheat the game officials without his superiors knowing.
Fourth, the players would feel the difference. If the Pac 12 officials can tell the difference, don’t you think the players would be able to as well? They knew.
Fifth, college coaches rule their teams like generals on a battlefield, like a dictator in North Korea. Do you really believe they’re letting something as important as the status of the game balls be left to an unpaid student manager? Some pimply junior from Chula Vista is on his own with ball pressure? No way.
There is a 0% chance that this student manager was acting alone.
He was told what to do and he did it.
That’s what student managers do.
Chances are that Lane Kiffin himself knew exactly what was going on with the pressure of the footballs.
Because, check his history, it’s exactly the kind of thing that Lane Kiffin would do.