During all the hooting and hollering erupting from the NCAA bowl season, USC was conspicuously silent.
The Trojans, muzzled by NCAA sanctions, have known since the summer that no matter how well they performed this year, they would be sitting at home during the postseason.
It must have been hard watching Stanford smash Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The Cardinal played with the swagger and confidence of a program on the rise, characteristics that were once practically a trademark of USC.
It must have been grueling to watch Auburn lift the crystal ball after taking down Oregon.
But alas, sanctions are sanctions. One year down, one more to go. But to think, the Trojans will be back in this same position a year from now…
Or will they? More importantly, should they?
USC athletic director Pat Haden and his staff are preparing vigorously for an appeal in front of the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee that is set to take place Jan. 22. Haden will seek a softening of the harsh penalties levied by the NCAA, which include a two-year bowl ban and a reduction of 30 scholarships over three seasons.
The appeal, once thought of as a formality without a chance in you know where, now looks, to a rational person at least, like it might have a realistic shot at succeeding.
This has been a nightmare season for the NCAA’s image. I’m sure it expected the debilitating penalties USC received to at least scare some of the other programs into following the rules.
Just the opposite happened.
The season was littered with news of violations and penalties for schools across the country. Most notable, of course, was the controversy swirling around Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, which included Newton’s father shopping him around when he was being recruited out of junior college.
Most recently, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and teammates were found to have been selling jerseys and championship rings, while receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor and its owner.
These were the two highest profile cases in a season that also started out with major violations occurring at North Carolina. Oh, and there was the whole issue of the former agent who came out and said he routinely paid dozens of college athletes throughout the ‘90s.
With all this foul play exposed on a seemingly weekly basis, the NCAA had a chance to show that its highest priority was to making the game fair again, rather than fattening its pocket book.
But instead, when the NCAA was about to take a financial hit, the penalties never seemed to fit the crime.
Newton was cleared to play without penalty because there was no “sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware” of his father’s pay-for-play scheme. That sounds about as likely as Reggie Bush not knowing that his parents were getting rides in limousines and living rent-free.
Newton quickly emerged as the game’s biggest star, and the NCAA was not going to do anything to get in the way. It meant a Heisman Trophy, a national title appearance, and a whole lot of dollar signs for the NCAA.
Pryor and his Ohio State teammates were suspended, yes, but not for the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA knows ratings and ticket sales would have plummeted if Pryor were absent for the bowl game. The NCAA, in their profit-driven wisdom, settled on suspending the Buckeye players for the first five games of next season.
Decisions like these scream injustice, and I’m sure Haden is going to pull out all the pie charts and graphs he can to make the appeals committee see this. He should demand the second year of the bowl ban be dropped. He should demand 10 scholarships be returned.
But, of course, knowing the NCAA, this is a long shot.
“The notion that the NCAA is selective with its eligibility decisions and rules enforcement is another myth with no basis in fact,” the NCAA said in a statement after the Ohio State decision. “Money is not a motivator or factor as to why one school would get a particular decision versus another.”
“Any insinuation that revenue from bowl games in particular would influence NCAA decisions is absurd, because schools and conferences receive that revenue, not the NCAA.”
Right — as if the NCAA is some non-profit organization seeking only the sanctity of college athletics.
Haden has a strong argument and he will make it. But if next year is another USC-less bowl season, no one will really be that surprised. We’re all used to the hypocrisy by now.