These four years have sure gone by fast.
At the risk of sounding cliched, it very much seems like yesterday that the Los Angeles Times proclaimed in bold headlines in its June 11, 2010 sports section:
“THIS ONE’S ON YOU, ‘SC”
The USC Trojans’ beloved football program certainly got the brunt of the NCAA’s wrath due to its findings of all-universe superman Reggie Bush and his parents receiving cash and extra benefits, as well as Bush’s folks living in a house in San Diego that they didn’t have to pay rent for during his days at USC.
A two-year bowl ban, vacating 14 wins from 2004 and 2005 and the loss of 30 scholarships over a three-year span definitely fit the description of a program having the book thrown at them, with students, fans and especially the well-heeled alumni and boosters making a big stink about how unfair it all was.
Heads rolled, particularly Bush, who had to forfeit his Heisman Trophy and was officially disassociated from the ‘SC community, and former athletic director Mike Garrett, who showed his arrogance and the culture of such that had permeated USC for decades when he boasted at an school event that the NCAA investigators “…wished they were Trojans.”
This “Lack of Institutional Control” wasn’t confined to the gridiron, as the basketball team got spanked with a self-imposed postseason ban and scholarships reductions due to O.J. Mayo (who is likewise persona non grata at Heritage Hall) taking money and other various gifts from an agent, a blatant NCAA no-no.
Even the women’s tennis team was taken to the woodshed, being forced to vacate all of their victories between November of 2006 and May of 2009.
After four years of sitting in the corner of the proverbial prison cell, Tommy Trojan is about to be paroled as the probation and sanctions that were imposed by the NCAA are scheduled to end on June 9.
So how have the programs affected by this punishment fared?
The Trojan hoopsters suffered most of all as the team has had three losing seasons in a row, playing before tiny crowds at the state-of-the-art on campus Galen Center. 2011-12 and this past season has been especially embarrassing as ‘SC won only six of 32 games with just one Pac-12 win in 2012 went 11-21 with but two conference victories under new head coach Andy Enfield.
Things may be looking up in the future as Enfield has signed a top-20 class, but as I had previously written, they have a long way to go.
As for football…
In all honesty, things didn’t go as badly as people thought they would go as the Trojans won ten games in two of their four seasons under the sanctions, including a 10-2 mark, a first place finish in the Pac-12 South, and a 50-0 pasting of UCLA in 2011 and a 10-4 mark with a win in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013.
Lane Kiffin was made the ultimate scapegoat for the team’s 7-6 record and loss to a 6-7 Georgia Tech team in the Sun Bowl in 2012, in addition to a 3-2 start the next year that included Arizona State scoring 61 points on them, which directly led to the coach getting pulled off the team bus at the Los Angeles Airport, handed his pink slip, and being forced to find his own way back to campus to pack his stuff.
The fact that interim coach Ed Orgeron went 6-2 and essentially saved USC’s season signified the flickering of the light at the end of a long, four-year tunnel; the Trojans following that up with the signing of a top ten class the following February, including three heralded and highly sought after five-star recruits.
Overall, the Trojans went 35-17 during those four sanctioned years, which is not bad at all; a lot of teams would have done anything for that kind of mark.
Most importantly, after trying to get the sanctions reduced the school and the athletic department cleaned house, strengthening its department of compliance and hiring Pat Haden as athletic director, working hard to enable a complete change in culture at ‘SC.
And with new coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm, combined with that stellar class of freshmen and a full number of rides available, pundits are saying that the Trojans may well return to an elite status sooner than later.
After all, Miami and Alabama won national championships – three in a four-year span for the Crimson Tide – after they were hit with bowl bans and lost scholarships.
As the L.A. Times’ Chris Dufresne said in his June 9 column: “Great programs bounce back because they have it in their booster club DNA…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
I dare anyone to say that USC football does not fit that description.
And on top of everything else, the Trojan athletic department’s recently reaching 100 NCAA titles certainly can’t hurt.