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Past transgressions surface again at USC

LOS ANGELES – Southern California hadn’t even taken the Coliseum field for its first game after its football postseason ban ended before reports of even more possible NCAA violations surfaced.

While the top-ranked Trojans wait weeks, months or years to find out what comes out of the latest allegations, they’ll try to concentrate on improving a football team that looked ready to contend with the nation’s best once again.

USC pounded Hawaii 49-10 in its season opener Saturday, but also learned that an employee of the Los Angeles County assessor’s office apparently gave gifts to long-departed tailback Joe McKnight and basketball player Davon Jefferson.

Just when athletic director Pat Haden, USC President Max Nikias and coaches Lane Kiffin and Kevin O’Neill might have thought they had fully cleaned up the mess left behind by former athletic director Mike Garrett and coaches Pete Carroll and Tim Floyd, more trouble surfaced Saturday in the report by the Los Angeles Times.

“We have discussed those allegations with the NCAA and Pac-12, and we will thoroughly investigate them and take any and all necessary actions,” Haden said.

USC is still on probation from severe NCAA sanctions leveled against the athletic department in 2010 for an array of misdeeds related to Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush and basketball star O.J. Mayo. The Trojans were hit with the NCAA’s harshest sanctions in a quarter-century, including the bowl ban and the loss of 15 football scholarships per season over three years.

The Times report implicated Scott Schenter, the former appraiser who was already a peripheral figure in the Trojans’ troubles after he apparently loaned a Land Rover to McKnight during the 2009 season. The Trojans and the NCAA already investigated that relationship several years ago, and Southern Cal wasn’t punished.

The new report includes descriptions of illegal gifts including a different car, an airline ticket and cash given to the two athletes by Schenter, who isn’t considered a USC booster. The alleged infractions are still within the four-year statute of limitations set by the NCAA for pursuing punishment.

Yet USC also is likely to get credit for its strenuous attempts to run a clean department under Haden, who took over in July 2010.

“We have diligently worked to enhance a culture of compliance throughout the athletic department and the university,” Haden said. “We have been a national leader in athletic compliance matters. I can personally assure you that USC takes its compliance obligations with NCAA and Pac-12 rules extremely seriously, and we are dedicated to playing and competing the right way.”

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