LOS ANGELES — Citing a history of misdeeds by an out-of-control athletic department, the governing body for college sports hit USC with a string of penalties Thursday that will keep the powerhouse football team out of bowl games for the next two seasons and could cost the university millions of dollars.
A four-year investigation by the NCAA was prompted by reports that Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush and star basketball guard O.J. Mayo accepted improper gifts from marketers and agents.
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions, which also penalized the men's basketball and women's tennis teams, cited a lack of institutional control, extra benefits and unethical conduct by an assistant football coach, among other issues.
"The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee," the NCAA's public report said.
USC senior vice president Todd Dickey said the school would appeal.
"We acknowledge that violations occurred and we take full responsibility for them," Dickey said. But "we feel the penalties imposed are too severe."
The football program will lose 10 scholarships a season for three seasons.
"It does stink to possibly not play in a bowl game," said USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a freshman starter last season. "But at the same time, I came here to get a degree from one of the best universities in the country and to win football games. If we play 13 instead of 14, then we're going to try to win all 13 of those."
The football team's highly regarded recruits could be in peril. Incoming freshmen would have to ask to be released from their scholarship by the school to transfer without penalty. The program has nonbinding verbal commitments from players who will be high school seniors next fall, and those recruits, experts predicted, would probably wait to see how the appeal progresses.
First-year football coach Lane Kiffin said he expected players would still flock to USC and promised that the Trojans would "continue to play championship football" and "recruit the best players in America to come here."
USC had already imposed sanctions on the basketball team, agreeing to a one-year postseason ban as well as scholarship and recruiting restrictions.
Bush and Mayo have repeatedly said they did nothing wrong.
Bush, who now plays for the NFL's Saints, said in a statement he had "great love" for USC and felt "much regret" about "the turn this matter has taken."
BCS officials said they would meet shortly to discuss whether the 2004 season's national championship would be revoked.
Bush's status as the 2005 Heisman winner also could be in jeopardy if the Heisman Trophy Trust, which declined to comment, takes action. "I don't want the Heisman," former Texas quarterback Vince Young, the runnerup that year, said when asked if he would accept the award.
The football violations occurred during former coach Pete Carroll's tenure.
Carroll, now coach of the NFL's Seahawks, said he "never thought there were any facts that supported significant sanctions."
The violations in basketball occurred before and during Mayo's one season with the Trojans, in 2007-08, when Tim Floyd was coach.