Everyone’s IQ spikes while playing the hindsight game.
Little bits and pieces that went unnoticed in the past are suddenly thrust under a 400x magnification microscope.
Telling signs we failed to recognize now stand out more than ever.
For USC’s football program, the A-List celebrities hovering in the near background at practices, meetings, and media events sent the wrong message.
It was cool then. It’s a red flag now.
The revolving door, where some of the world’s most recognizable entertainers came and went as they pleased, added to USC’s appeal while the Trojans rattled off record winning streaks, back-to-back national championships, and guaranteed player representation at the annual Heisman Trophy presentation in New York.
Whether Snoop Dogg casually strolled the sidelines on game days at the Coliseum or Will Ferrell rubbed elbows with players, lightening the mood at “all business” team meetings, famous faces had their place on the school bandwagon.
Nothing too strange from their vantage point, everyone enjoyed the ride.
From 2004-08, where the good times never ceased on campus, or on the field, Hollywood’s best and brightest fought over marquee college football tickets, not courtside seats at Lakers games. What’s more, no one gave them a quizzical look for doing so.
Big names and big games created a level of glitz and glamour not seen at any college pigskin factory since lord knows when.
This visible union between football playmakers and box office record breakers made amateur football fun, hip, and a hot ticket every time. A triple shot of entertainment swept through the LA landscape. No harm, just good vibes.
Most 18-year-old, red-blooded American males, even five star recruits, would sacrifice everything to don a yellow and scarlet helmet on Saturdays. Toss in a hustle and bustle atmosphere, where powerful stars take time out of their day to seek players out, and the USC pitch sounds all the more delicious.
I’d happily spend three hours in line just to snap a quick candid with Snooki. How could a wide-eyed blue chipper turn down national championships and Snoop Dogg?
That’s not to say Snoop, Ferrell, or the dozens of other celebrity USC supporters tampered or tinkered with the program in any way.
They’re fans, which they have every right to be.
Their relationships with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White, or any other roster player may have been limited to a few quick handshakes and several “How are you doings?” right after a home win.
Yet with so much turmoil now surfacing at USC, every past nook and cranny commands attention.
What once seemed like a little innocent fun amongst star studded pals and performers is now a telling sign of how much the thriving program enjoyed the rush.
The context changed once the sanctions came down.
College football coaches pride themselves on strict practice sessions and tough love. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban crack smiles about once every national championship. It’s a year round job for both coaches and students. There’s no place for fun in such a high stakes atmosphere.
Pete Carroll provided a welcome exception. Pete brought the good natured antics to a team that almost forgot how to lose in the process. The work hard, play hard collective mentality his team adopted sat well with local and national football fans alike. That so many entertainers participated in some of the practical jokes and media moments only added to USC’s appeal.
Having celebrities in the picture isn't an NCAA violation, but it's a poor judgment call.
Only now, when the happy-go-lucky chuckles and backslaps have quickly evaporated, does their influence seem questionable in its format. It looks like another example where a powerful program developed a big head and lost sight of its core values. It looks like another case of entitled athletes having the world at their feet. It looks like another situation where the athletic department didn’t protect their kids.
USC’s players acted properly, they couldn’t avoid the stars anyway. And why would they pass on such a limited opportunity, which could make any teenagers day, or even their week? And again, the rich and famous have every right to care.
Carroll, the assistant coaches, and school executives shoulder the blame on this one. They set up these meet-and-greets for their athletes. Critics would ask why they didn’t offer the same unique perks to the water polo team or the pre-health sorority. The answer, of course, is an easy one.
The football team brought national attention to the school and executives rewarded their money maker.
The jury’s still out on USC’s NCAA punishment. School officials have to wonder where they went wrong. While the constant celebrity presence didn’t shatter the program’s glass, the decision to allow such behavior led to a crack at the very least.
It’s a big bullet point for how USC gradually adopted a self-satisfied persona while the football world applauded.
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