USC Football: The Once Golden Perception Meets A New Reality

Marc HalstedCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Pete Carroll of the USC Trojans celebrates after defeating the Boston College Eagles during the 2009 Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park on December 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The USC football program did not garner the attention they wanted during the 2009 season. Shocking losses on the field, NCAA scandal off the field, and academic issues in the classroom have replaced the headlines of wins, national championships, and NFL prospects.

Through it all, USC is still a national power with unrivaled popularity, but has that power and popularity poisoned the culture of college football? 

After reviewing the 2009 season, questions continue to creep into the House of Troy. With the reality of academic problems, ever-present rumors of scandal, and the recent on-field struggles, the perception of Trojan football is again held up for high debate.

Academic Failure

Three USC players were ruled academically ineligible for the Emerald Bowl, played on December 26th in San Francisco. It was yet another blight on the Trojan academic record that has failed to make the headlines it should.

Anthony McCoy, the dynamic USC tight end and starting offensive tackle Tyron Smith, were both ruled ineligible for the bowl match-up with Boston College. Both players were selected as All-Pac 10 Honorable Mention players and both are looking forward to potential NFL careers; And therein lies the academic problem.

Read between the lines, and you see players at the end of their USC careers who chose to become ineligible, thereby letting their team down, letting their teammates down, and letting down the very school that awarded them four-year scholarships to one of the best academic institutions on the West Coast.

It could be assumed that they simply stopped going to class or chose no to complete their course work.

It could be surmised that a diploma from the University of Southern California meant less to McCoy and Smith than their own selfish wants.

It could be said that this is yet another overt example of how the professional atmosphere of USC football has degraded the concept of the student-athlete in college football. The USC football graduation rate for 2008 was 54 percent, good for 52nd in the nation. The Pac-10 ranked fifth out of the six BCS Bowl conferences in 2008. 

Head coach Pete Carroll showed the appropriate amount of modern media savvy in responding to questions of the academic casualties.

"We're really disappointed these guys didn't come through,” Carroll said.  “They had all the help in the world to get it done and they didn't do it."

Coach Carroll and his players aren't the only ones who should be disappointed.

The Stain of Scandal

Reggie Bush may have accepted over $300,000 in benefits during his career at USC.  Joe McKnight may or may not have received the benefit of a 2006 Land Rover over this past season. Dwayne Jarrett very well could have violated NCAA rules by not paying his share of the $10,000 in rent to the family of Matt Leinart who let him live in their house for free during his last year at USC.

In addition to the stain of real or perceived NCAA violations, the USC football program has faced numerous problems with the law. Carroll has dealt with an array of arrests that have included names like Ray Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, and Fili Moala.

Then there are the scandals that connect back to the academic world that have involved everything from illegal foreign language classes in 2007 to the 2001 plagiarism problem involving the writing of papers for USC student athletes.

And finally, from the mundane to the moronic, USC football has been well-documented as the sideline-pass home to such illustrious convicted felons like Snoop Dog, O.J. Simpson, and Shug Knight.

These allegations, violations, arrests, and embarrassing accounts, are not necessarily the headlines that the students, faculty, and alumni of USC had in mind when they first put on the cardinal and gold.

Moral Defeats

The Trojans beat BC on Saturday night, 24-13. They overcame a dominant second quarter by the Eagles and beat back a far less talented and less accomplished Boston College team that struggled with the likes of Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland and actually lost to Notre Dame.

But 2009 will be remembered for the losses to Washington, Stanford, and Arizona along with near defeats to the 6-6 Fighting Irish, Arizona State, and the alleged Trojan-Killers from Oregon State.

It wasn't the year that most Trojan fans envisioned, nor was it the season that most prognosticators predicted back in August. The 2009 season will go down as the year that began with the high hopes of Carroll, Barkley, RoJo, Williams, McCoy, McNight, Bradford, Mays, and the rest of the five-star roster of exceptional talent.

All of this begs the question: Is the University of Southern California the true face of NCAA college football for the next decade?

Is the faint scent of scandal and the faltering culture of academic integrity enough to permanently stain the image of the Trojans? 

More importantly, will USC simply be seen as a professional football factory devoid of academic character or the strict institutional control that so many call for in the CFB world?

The reality is that Pete Carroll is a master coach with media savvy, tremendous recruiting abilities, and the powerful persona of a winner. USC is a legendary program with a bright on-field future and the Trojans continue to churn out NFL-ready players who will make millions in professional football.

The world loves winners and despite the missteps of the 2009 season, the Trojans, and Pete Carroll, will still find their way into the top-25 next season, they will still be the destination of dozens of top recruits and the American sporting public will continue to celebrate their on-field success;and that’s a shame.