USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin has raised many eyebrows throughout his coaching career. Already this season, he’s cracked down on media reports about practices, banned a reporter from practice, and walked out on a press conference.
After Kiffin’s weekly Sunday press conference, Scott Wolf, the USC beat writer for the Los Angeles Daily News (and the reporter who was briefly banned), tweeted: “Lane Kiffin said he did not want discuss why Kyle Negrete is holding on field goals ‘for obvious reasons.’”
As it turns out, Negrete, the Trojans’ punter, wasn’t holding on field goals.
USCFootball.com’s Lindsey Thiry tweeted Sunday that it was actually backup quarterback Cody Kessler, wearing Negrete’s #35, and it was confirmed by the school on Monday, per The Orange County Register.
Kessler, wearing No. 35, ran the ball on a two-point conversion attempt that was negated for a holding penalty.
The move has raised questions about whether the deception is just another example of gamesmanship, or if it’s unethical, or even prohibited by the NCAA.
Under the “Coaching Ethics” section of the 2011-2012 NCAA rulebook, “Changing numbers during the game to deceive the opponent” is listed as an “unethical” practice.
In the section about Players and Player number, though, the rule states: “Numbers shall not be changed during the game to deceive opponents.” Below that, it reads: “Penalty – Live-ball foul, unsportsmanlike conduct. 15 yards from the previous spot. Flagrant offenders shall be disqualified.”
Players can change jerseys during the game – just not with the intent to deceive. If Kessler started the game wearing #35, though, it might be a dubious but technically legal tactic.
Kessler apparently changed jerseys during the half, back into his standard #6, which he wore when he took snaps at quarterback late in the game. Negrete wasn’t on the field to punt for USC until the third quarter.
The switcheroo is just one more example of Kiffin clawing for every competitive advantage he can get.
The bigger question shouldn’t be whether it’s right or wrong, but why it was necessary. Disguising a quarterback as a punter on a “field goal” is obviously a ploy to prevent the opponent from realizing the kick might be a fake. But keep in mind the opponent was Colorado.
The Trojans probably wanted to see if they could get away with it when the stakes weren’t too high, and they nearly did.
If a team is just flat-out dominant, though, it doesn’t really need any gimmicks. It dominates opponents by overpowering and outplaying them.
Sure, USC might gain some advantage by swapping jerseys on the sly, but the team will be in an even better position to win games if it keeps the offense on track and cuts back – way back – on penalties.
As coach of the second-most penalized team in the country, Kiffin should have more pressing things to worry about than jersey scams to confuse opponents.