I realize that this won't be the most popular opinion among the University of Southern California faithful, but today's sanctions against the program and the news of PAC-10 expansion might just be the sword that takes the Trojan football team down permanently (or at least for several years). OK, so I'll probably get a lot of grief for this story. It comes with the territory.
If you didn't catch the news over the last few days, here is a recap: Due to a variety of NCAA infractions and improprieties, USC is banned from postseason play in football for the next two seasons. A more staggering penalty assessed is the loss of 30 football scholarships over three seasons.
Then, there is the matter of vacating 14 victories from 2004 and 2005 during the time Reggie Bush played and received numerous inappropriate benefits, according to reports. The BCS is likely to force Southern Cal to forfeit their 2004 national title, although that in itself and the stripped wins are the least of the school's concerns for the future.
Also today, the PAC-10 announced that Colorado will be joining the conference. By tomorrow or early next week, several reports have Nebraska heading to the Big-10 and then the huge dominoes will reportedly fall. Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State would likely jump ship to the PAC-10.
Now, let's examine the impact of these events on the future of the USC football program.
The Trojans can certainly survive the financial impact of not making two bowl games. Besides, revenue from bowls is basically shared evenly in the PAC-10 after a team's expenses are deducted. However, how are current players going to react, especially junior and seniors, knowing that they won't be making a final trip to end the season?
I expect a few players, especially those with more than one year of eligibility to at least consider transferring (Matt Barkley?). Consider that a bowl game is one last shot for a player to impress a professional scout and one last playing memory to take forward for the rest of the player's life. Just curious, but how did missing his team's bowl game and his last collegiate game work out for the University of Florida's Carlos Dunlap? His draft stock plummeted. Certainly, not quite the same situation, but you get the point. Dunlap can never get that moment or the value that comes with it back.
Current head coach Lane Kiffin is a top flight recruiter, but imagine this sell job to incoming freshman. Come to Southern Cal and you might make a bowl by your junior year.
What does losing ten scholarships a year for a three-year period mean? Coaches complain about having only 85 scholarships now. While Kiffin suggests it won't affect recruiting, it will cripple it.
USC will still get its fair share of upper tier talent due to its name brand. However, that second or third four-star receiver isn't coming, Lane. More importantly, neither is the two or three-star receiver who typically makes up for a top prospect that doesn't fulfill expectations, such as recent Trojan flame out Vidal Hazelton.
Injuries, substitution packages, and academic attrition will whittle away at what depth there is left. Just ask former Alabama head coach Mike Shula what impact lost scholarships (the Tide surrendered seven scholarships a year) had on his tenure. Granted, Alabama eventually rebounded with a national title, but it took seven years and a new coach.
Then, there is this topper. Before, Southern Call could go to a recruit and say that since 1959, the team has won the PAC-10 18 times and has gone to the Rose Bowl for 30 trips. Pete Carroll, who conveniently left this mess along with basketball coach Tim Floyd (I leave the basketball matters to someone else), could have said with a straight face, "Young man count on winning multiple league titles and maybe national championships while you are here."
Why? Because, with the exception of an Oregon, Cal or back several years ago, Washington, there really wasn't any significant competition. UCLA has been dormant for decades. Now, the PAC-10 is on the verge of bringing 'heavyweight champs' Oklahoma and Texas to the league without either of these teams facing similiar restrictions. Without sanctions, the Trojans would be hard pressed to take home more than one league crown per four years. Now, they have virtually no shot and the young men who are recruited by Southern Cal will be advised of that by the competition.
A Trojan supporter will likely insist that USC is still USC and the name sells itself. So just one more thing to consider: Kiffin. Does he really strike even the most ardent USC fan as a guy who is going to stick around the five or more years necessary to redeem this program?
Kiffin spent a little over a year with the Oakland Raiders and then just under a year at Tennessee. Yes, I know he was the offensive coordinator for five years at Southern Cal, but if he has an iota of success with these limitations, don't you think he'll look for greener pastures at the first chance?
His track record is also squeaky clean with the NCAA and college football. Well, except for the time he accused Urban Meyer of violating NCAA recruiting rules, which happened to be incorrect and a violation of Southeastern Conference rules.
Or when he referred to recruit Bryce Brown as a 'great player', which is a violation of the NCAA rules that prohibit coaches from commenting publicly on recruitable athletes.
Then, there was the incident when he allegedly told a recruit that "if he signed with the University of South Carolina he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to the school."
In short, Kiffin's apparent ethics don't exactly inspire confidence for a team in need of a moral compass. If he violates even a single rule, what punishments will the Trojans face then? I shudder to think.
Just one more reason you shouldn't expect to see USC football back to national prominence. At least, not in the forseeable future or for far longer than that.