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National Signing Day 20110: USC Recruiting Could Damage the Trojans' NCAA Appeal

PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 04:  USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin celebrates following his teams victory over the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on December 4, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  USC defeated UCLA 28-14.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IJanuary 22, 2011

Earlier this week I expounded on how USC’s NCAA appeal hearing, which is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, could affect the Trojans' recruiting efforts for this season.

But let’s flip the coin over and consider how USC’s recruiting may, in fact, affect the NCAA’s decision on the appeal.

The sanctions handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions earlier this year seemed unjustly severe in comparison to the offense of one lone football player, Reggie Bush, and his family receiving financial assistance from an outside source not at all connected with the University.

Despite a four-year investigation, the NCAA was unable to find any other players who were not in compliance. 

Nevertheless, the COI slapped USC with one of the harshest punishments imaginable: four years of probation, a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years.

When the sanctions came down, pundits like ESPN’s Pat Forde called it a good day.

“Which is why this is a good day in college sport,” Forde wrote.  “Not because USC took the biggest hit for a major program since Alabama football got slammed eight years ago. Because you, the fan, can trust the NCAA enforcement and infractions arms to go after the big guys with the same vigor as they go after the little guys…Southern Cal richly deserved to get hammered. As the Committee on Infractions' 67-page public report illustrates, USC operated a corrupt athletic institution for years.”

A corrupt athletic institution?

USC and their fans were not only shocked at the unfairness and severity of the sanctions but even more so by the media piling it on.

Pete Fiutak, writing for FoxSports.com and CollegeFootballNews.com, stated that the penalties were not enough:

“Here’s exactly what’s going to happen,” wrote Fiutak.  “USC, which isn’t BCS championship good right now, will miss out on going to a few midlevel bowl games, Lane Kiffin and his terrific coaching staff will get a two-year grace period and will recruit their tails off, hitting it out of the park on nine of every 10 recruits they get, and USC will be really, really good again in 2012.”

And therein lies the problem that USC faces with the current recruiting class.  It is just too darn terrific.  Right now it is rated by ESPN as the No. 4 class in the nation.

That makes it seem as though Fiutak’s prediction is about to come true.  Kiffin and the rest of his staff are recruiting their tails off, and USC is on the road to becoming really good again in 2012.

But the NCAA and the kingpins of college football, namely ESPN and the SEC, did not want that to happen.  Don’t forget the SEC fans are still sore about Auburn getting snubbed for the 2004 title and LSU having to split the title with USC in 2003.

So, up steps the Appeal Committee on Feb. 1, perfectly timed one day before National Signing Day, and they announce that USC’s appeal has been categorically denied.

Get the picture?

Shock waves go through the No. 4 recruiting class.  The staff needs to pull back scholarships.  Recruits scramble, tearing up their letters of intent to USC, and begin calling other college staffs who have been begging for their services.

But wait a minute!

Didn’t Paul Dee and the COI claim that the scholarship reductions were purposely harsh because Reggie Bush was such a high-profile player that simply attracted hordes of 4 and 5-star recruits?

Those recruiting classes had absolutely nothing to do with USC, its history, its tradition, its coaching staff, its academics and its location.  No, not at all.  It was mainly Reggie Bush and the two BCS national title appearances that he single-handedly engineered for the Trojans.

But now USC has had two mediocre back-to-back seasons in which they were blown out four times.  They have had only a peanut bowl in 2009, a two-year bowl ban currently in effect, 30 lost scholarships, and no Reggie Bush, no Heisman, none of his jerseys in the book store and no pictures of him on campus.

And yet they have the No. 4 recruiting class.  How can that be?  You mean high-profile recruits are attracted to USC by something other than Reggie Bush?

Michael L. Buckner, a lawyer who has represented other schools including Alabama in NCAA appeals cases claimed that normally NCAA scholarship penalties are handed out on a two-for-one basis. 

Reggie Bush was the only football player found to be out of compliance.  Therefore, USC should have been penalized two players for each of the two seasons that Bush was ineligible and no more.

In other words, a total of four scholarship reductions, not 30. 

"Where they got 10 from, I have no idea," Buckner said.

And where they got three years from instead of two, I have no idea.

But I do know this.  It was Lane Kiffin, a tireless recruiter and Pete Carroll’s recruiting coordinator, who was responsible for bringing in those top-rated classes and not Reggie Bush.

This year’s recruiting effort proves that beyond any doubt.

Once again, the ball is in the NCAA’s court.  The Appeals Committee must find some substantive reason to justify and uphold the 30 scholarship reductions in the face of another Lane Kiffin Top-Five class, which absolutely negates the Bush Push in recruiting unjustly fathomed by Paul Dee and his committee of henchmen and henchwomen.

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