Nate On Sports: Hammer-time, NCAA Style!

I must admit: I was floored when the NCAA announced the punishment(s) that the University of Southern California would face due to the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received during his time as a “student athlete” at the school.

While I’m not necessarily a full-fledged NCAA conspiracy theorist, I do believe that the NCAA plays favorites.  USC was one of those schools that I believed to be favored; and although I thought they would face some sort of punishment, my assumption was that it would be more of the “slap on the wrist” variety, not the “cold clock on the kisser” variety, which is the ultimate result.

Punishments were also handed out to the Men’s Basketball squad (relating to the Tim Floyd/O.J. Mayo fiasco), and strangely enough,the Women’s Tennis team, for improper phone calls by a former player. For those of you who missed the big news, these are the hits Trojan football is taking from the NCAA:

  1. A two-year bowl ban.
  2. Four years’ probation.
  3. The loss of 30 scholarships.
  4. The forfeit of 14 victories, running from December 2004 through the 2005 season.

That’s a pretty steep price.  Among those victories is the 2005 BCS Title Game victory over Oklahoma, which is effectively now removed from history.  Also in jeopardy is Bush’s 2005 Heisman trophy, and justifiably so.  The two-year bowl ban isn’t exactly going to be a selling point for the program’s recruiters, who have 30 fewer spots to fill at any rate.

In fact, that’s a very steep price, especially for arguably the biggest glamor program in college football.  The irony is humorous (or delicious, if you’re a Tennessee fan who saw Lane Kiffin bolt for USC after one year in Knoxville): their status as a glamor program was ultimately USC’s undoing.  Just look at the accusations, some of which were first unveiled in a Yahoo! Sports report: free hotel stays, first-class, rent-free accommodations for Bush’s family while he was a Trojan, and a limousine and a sparkling new suit for his Heisman triumph in 2005.  As a result, USC was slapped with the dreaded “lack of institutional control” charge, and then you-know-what slapped with the subsequent penalties.

There’s obviously a lot that can be taken from all of this.  First, you can’t help but feel for the legitimate student athletes who were a part of one of the greatest college football teams in recent memory.  That team, even without Reggie Bush (who has, in fact, proven to be more style than substance) was probably the best team in college football.  Bush just changed that word “probably” to “unquestionably.”

Second, you can’t help but think Pete Carroll knew exactly what was going to happen this winter when he took the job in Seattle to coach the NFL’s Seahawks.  Whether it’s right or wrong, his image as a college coach is going to be tarnished by what transpired at USC under his watch.  Fortunately for Pete, however, he got out while the going was still good and is going to make millions of dollars more at the next level – he will, in no way, have to worry about his image as a college coach anymore.

Finally, and something that I think has been overlooked here, is the growing influence of the Internet.  Remember, this story was originally a Yahoo! Sports exclusive – I remember reading it when it broke.  Yahoo! Sports has been particularly notable in breaking news such as this in recent years – just recently, a similar story broke, this time about basketball recruiting infractions at the University of Connecticut.  The USC report spurred the NCAA investigation, and the punishments handed down today are a direct result of that Yahoo! exclusive.  Simply put, it’s another type of media and another type of outlet for such information – an outlet that is growing ever-more powerful.

All is not lost if you are a Trojan fan, however.  Yes, these punishments will set USC back a few years.  And, of course, there are still unanswered questions about Lane Kiffin’s ability to actually coach.  However, USC is still USC – the glamor school – and kids from all around the country will still want to play in the bright lights of Los Angeles, no matter the situation.  And to Kiffin’s credit, the man has already proven to be a recruiting force in his one year at Tennessee.  The truth be told, if Kiffin even proves to be an average coach, USC will be a perennial top-ten team in the years that follow the NCAA sanctions.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they flirt with the top 25 during the time of sanctions.  USC fans just need to look at the Alabama model: Alabama, if you remember, was hit by NCAA sanctions in 2002.  Alabama, as you also remember, won the BCS Championship Game this past January, just eight years later.  USC, despite its problems, isn’t in as bad of condition that Alabama was in just eight years ago.

Regardless, the NCAA, at least temporarily, won over the skeptic in me.  Maybe they’ll make a true believer out of me if (or when) they catch Coach Cal doing something in Kentucky.