I love hating USC as much as the next guy, but this is just getting ridiculous.
Until now, I’ve never had a real problem with the sanctions enforced against the Trojans due to a “lack of institutional control” that allegedly led to improper benefits for former running back Reggie Bush and guard O.J. Mayo. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Don’t be surprised when innocent people get caught in the crossfire long afterwards. Don’t expect mercy from the NCAA when you make a mockery of its dedication to amateurism.
But all of a sudden, it feels like NCAA is making a mockery of college football fans. And the Pac-12.
When the first-ever Pac-12 Football Championship Game is played tonight, the conference’s claim that “the best of the North meets the best of the South” will be utterly invalidated. USC (10-2 7-2 Pac-12) is far and away the best team in the Pac-12 South — nobody else has challenged both Stanford and Oregon — and it’s not even going to be within 500 miles of Autzen Stadium tonight thanks to the postseason ban imposed by the NCAA. Adding insult to injury, the Trojans will be replaced by archrival UCLA (6-6, 5-4), which has lost four Pac-12 contests by the combined score of 124-37, ranks 88th out of 120 FBS schools in points scored (and 87th in points allowed), fired its head coach effective after tonight’s game and, of course, lost to USC 50-0 just a week ago.
Ever since the Trojans received their postseason ban, scholarship reductions and other sanctions, people have been asking how in the world USC was supposed to prevent a sharp dip in recruiting that could send ripples through their program for years. So let me ask a question that’s just as applicable to USC, not to mention Stanford and the 10 other members of the Pac-12: How in the world is a freshly realigned conference supposed to make a name for itself on a national scale, fuel a massive new television deal, eliminate the East Coast (or better: Southeast coast) bias that’s been consistently haunting it in both BCS and Heisman considerations and attract any significant viewership for tonight’s highly touted championship game if it’s bound to be a laugher?
I’d argue that it can’t.
This debacle strikes at the heart of what we consider the “champion” of a conference. Last year, USC could’ve still achieved the title “Pac-12 Champion” if it won enough games. Being officially recognized as the best team in the conference actually had something to do with how you played on Saturdays, not the skeletons hanging around in your proverbial closet.
This time around, the NCAA’s sanctions go too far. By considering the Pac-12 title game a postseason contest, the NCAA is directly impeding the historical success of USC’s football program and directly harming current Trojans players who haven’t done anything wrong. The distinction between that and the prior impact of the sanctions is minor yet still notable.
The same is true from the perspective of the conference as a whole. It’s one thing to keep the conference’s strongest dynasty in recent memory from having the chance to represent the Pac-12 in a bowl for a couple years; it’s worse to keep it out of the record books altogether.
Hopefully we’re never going to have to deal with this situation in the future. Pac-12 teams — not to mention the rest of the country — have probably learned their lesson from the droves of NCAA rules violations in recent years. But regardless, the legitimacy of the Pac-12 title game is severely threatened if a legitimate contender can be excluded so easily, as with USC this year. The same goes for other conference championship games, which will more than likely experience similar issues in the near future if violations continue to appear out of nowhere.
There’s no question that we need to punish violators and discourage improper benefits, and the threats of losing a few years’ worth of bowl games or the vacation of past wins are major deterrents. But preventing future teams from putting their names in the record books? That goes one step too far.
So USC fans, take note: For the first time in my life, I’m supporting you on something. Though you will probably enjoy watching your best friends from Westwood get murdered tonight, you’re the ones who belong in Eugene.
There was a bitter fight over whether The Daily could run this column given its pro-USC lilt, but Joseph Beyda won us over with a PowerPoint presentation and some very impressive spreadsheets. Feel free to let him know how a chance to keep SC down should never be passed up at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.