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A program in turmoil

Sanchez arrest latest in a litany of troubles at USC

Posted: Friday April 28, 2006 1:27PM; Updated: Friday April 28, 2006 6:17PM
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The scene, as it was described in published reports late Wednesday, read like something out of a Law and Order script: LAPD cars descending on the parking lot of an apartment complex across the street from the USC campus, there to arrest a young man accused of committing sexual assault.

For followers of the prestigious Trojans football program, the identity of the alleged culprit was nothing short of shocking: Mark Sanchez, USC's affable, curly-haired, golden-boy quarterback long ago hailed as the next Matt Leinart.

Less than three weeks earlier, the redshirt freshman was basking in the glory of an impressive performance in his first USC spring game. (He started in place of injured junior John David Booty.) On Wednesday afternoon he was being led away in handcuffs to a downtown detention center where he submitted DNA and hair samples, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, and was released early Thursday after posting a $200,000 bail, according to the Los Angles Times.

For Trojans fans, the disturbing news comes as something of a double whammy, fresh on the heels of a mini-scandal involving 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush. But there's a big difference. While the Bush saga has received national attention due to his status as the likely No. 1 pick in this weekend's draft, the story isn't nearly as salacious as it's been presented. As best as one can surmise from the details available, an aspiring sports marketer leased a house in San Diego to Bush's parents in hopes of landing Bush as a client. He failed and is now going public with the dirty details. Bush and his family have denied any wrongdoing. This wasn't Leigh Steinberg or Drew Rosenhaus giving out $100 handshakes in the USC locker room.

A star quarterback arrested on the suspicion of sexual assault, on the other hand, that's the story that should be sending shivers through the USC community.

In the name of fairness, let it be stated clearly and unambiguously that Sanchez has not been charged with a crime. Sanchez has been accused of sexual assault by a female student and is scheduled to appear before a judge on May 17, but police investigators are still in the very early stages of gathering evidence. (Sanchez hasn't publicly commented on the charges.) All we know from published reports is that the quarterback returned from a popular night club near campus early Wednesday morning, appearing intoxicated, according to witnesses, and that the alleged assault occurred sometime shortly thereafter.

No matter what did or didn't occur, however, the stain on both Sanchez and the USC program has already set. In light of the national uproar surrounding the Duke lacrosse scandal, Sanchez's name will undoubtedly be linked to that story in coming weeks by academics and pundits looking to espouse on the ills of big-time college athletics.

More pertinent to Sanchez's case, however, are some legitimate questions about Pete Carroll's program, questions that have been simmering under the surface for quite some time but, due to the hysteria surrounding the Trojans' quest for a third straight national title last season, were for the most part ignored.

First and foremost, does USC's widely revered head coach run too loose a ship?

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