Thursday, June 10, 2010

USC gets the hammer

Sweet merciful crap:
The NCAA threw the book at storied Southern California on Thursday with a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits of an entire year's games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans' 2004 national championship.

The penalties include the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season.

Any Song Girls need consoling? No? Fine ...

OK, I try not to brag about my correct predictions -- I get enough wrong that I don't really wanna go back and review all of them -- but I'd like to point out a few things. First is ESPN Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller's prediction, which was posted last week:
... even in the worst-case scenario for the Trojans, the NCAA sanctions should -- and almost certainly will -- fall under the penalties Alabama earned (in 2002, when the Tide were handed a two-year bowl ban and docked 21 scholarships).
Then there's CBS college football idiot writer Dennis Dodd's prediction:
USC football is going to walk. There will be no NCAA jail. ... I'm not claiming to know how USC has wriggled free. I'm just telling you it has happened. That was part of Kiffin considering the job.
Errrr yeah. It's a good thing Lane Kiffin knew the results of the investigation six weeks before USC even met with the NCAA. Way to use the ol' brain, Dennis.

Anyway, here's my prediction from last Thursday:
  • Vacating of all wins from 2004 and 2005
  • Four years of probation
  • Two scholarships lost for a two-year period
  • Ineligible for postseason play for two years
I have no inside knowledge of NCAA operations and no inside sources at USC. I simply used past precedent and some common-sense conclusions to come up with an educated guess, and I ended up a hell of a lot closer than the guys who get paid to do this stuff. There were only two things I had not quite right: USC only had to vacate two wins from 2004 (instead of all of them) and lost 30 (!!!) scholarships over three years instead of two for two.

The vacating of wins was a given from the beginning; it's been common knowledge for a while now that Reggie Bush was ineligible during at least the 2005 season. But losing wins from from the end of the 2004 season means that USC is no longer the 2004 national champion -- that title will be vacated and there will be no official champion (even though both Oklahoma and Auburn finished with perfect regular-season records).

It's the other penalties that will REALLY hurt, though. It's been seven years since a Division I school (Alabama) was banned from postseason play; this isn't a common thing. Every junior and senior on the roster will now go the rest of his career without playing in a Rose Bowl or having a shot at a BCS title. Don't be surprised to see a few transfers (not a lot, but there'll be a few guys who escape).

And losing 30 scholarships (10 per year from 2011 through 2013)? That is absolutely devastating. I don't care how much talent you have on your roster, there is simply no way to overcome that unless you have remarkable luck with your recruiting and development. Think about this: Since the NCAA recruiting-class limit is 25 players, USC's yearly limit has now been cut to 15. In 2014, there will be -- at the absolute most -- 45 non-freshmen on the roster (I suppose there could be a few fifth-year seniors still around, but I don't see how USC will be able to afford to redshirt anybody with that sort of personnel deficit).

Even in a best-case scenario, recruits pan out as quality starters at about a 50% rate (that'd be for an entire team of five-star players). So even if USC brings in nothing but the best players and develops them as well as anyone else, there will probably be only 20-25 good players on the roster heading into 2014. There might be enough superstars and enough capable players to field a still-pretty-good team, but they'll constantly be an injury away from starting a walk-on. Lane Kiffin better hope he has a freakin' unbelievable recruiting class in 2014 -- and 2015 and 2016 -- or there could be a really rough stretch coming up for USC in a few years (right about the time that bowl ban wears off).

I do feel a little sorry for the players who are caught up in all this, but I can't feel too sorry for Kiffin (who was on the staff back in 2004 and '05) or the people in the athletic department. And I sure as fuck don't feel sorry for athletic director Mike Garrett, who has overseen the decimation of both the basketball AND football programs in the last two years and still managed to come up with this gem of a statement:
"As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was, I read between the lines, and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans."
Stop. Stop right now. You're an idiot if that's your interpretation of this:

"The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee," the report said.

The report also condemned the star treatment afforded to Bush and Mayo, saying USC's oversight of its top athletes ran contrary to the fundamental principles of amateur sports.

"Elite athletes in high profile sports with obvious great future earnings potential may see themselves as something apart from other student-athletes and the general student population," the NCAA report said. "Institutions need to assure that their treatment on campus does not feed into such a perception."

The investigation found exactly what it should have found, and USC will be feeling the results for at least the next seven years. It will be a while before we see the Trojans playing for another BCS championship. I'd also say the door is wide open for Oregon to assert itself as THE dominant team in the Pac-10, which would have been a ridiculous statement about five years ago.

Will these penalties completely destroy the program? No, nor should they. There's enough high-end talent -- both players and coaches -- that USC probably won't revert to being bad like in the late '90s. But if you look at Michigan and Tennessee over the past couple years, you can very clearly see the struggles of teams playing well below the scholarship limit (neither was penalized scholarships, but both had a series of transfers and whatnot that led to a lack of depth). It won't be an easy recovery, especially if teams like, say, Texas and Oklahoma happen to be joining the Pac-10 around the time USC's scholarship limits are really taking effect.

We're about to find out just how good of a coach Lane Kiffin really is.

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