Commentary

USC won't be the last domino to fall

This, too, shall pass, Trojans fans. The negative headlines are sure to move on soon

Originally Published: June 7, 2011
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Reggie Bush: Long gone to the NFL, still tiptoeing around the full truth about his time at USC, and rich.

Pete Carroll: Rushing onward to his next great adventure with the Seattle Seahawks, his appointment arriving five months before the NCAA roof caved in on the Trojans program he essentially built and then failed to monitor. Also rich.

Pat Haden: Applied for and was bestowed the right to absorb the body blows on behalf of the USC athletic department, and once again taking his program's punishment like a man.

The program itself: Stripped of its BCS title from the 2004-05 season, unburdened of 30 scholarships and generally held up as a textbook example of a big-time football factory run amok.

But don't worry, USC. You won't be here in the headlines for long. You'll be yesterday's news as soon as tomorrow, or the end of the week, or perhaps by next month.

[+] EnlargeUSC
AP Photo/J.Pat CarterVictory was sweet for Matt Leinart and Pete Carroll. At the time.

This is the high-risk, high-reward college football game, after all, and it is being played from coast to shadowy coast. There are any number of top-level programs which are but a series of well-asked questions away from some kind of scandal or other. Isn't that right, Coach Tressel?

It won't be long, USC. You're almost off the clock already.

Monday's news that the BCS has vacated the results of its 2005 national championship game, a 55-19 laugher for USC over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, was long expected. Which isn't to say it landed without notice. It's news, all right, any time a crowning body like the BCS decides to leave its own coveted title without a recipient.

(On the other hand, I watched that game. Can't give it to Oklahoma, let's be honest.)

But Haden and USC saw that coming. It was all but assured after the NCAA's original sanctions came down, after the Trojans program admitted that Bush was an ineligible player in that title game because of the improper benefits his family received, after the NCAA pointed out how relatively un-monitored USC's sideline and locker-room situations were, after Bush returned his Heisman Trophy. After all of that, there wasn't a lot of surprise left.

In fact, Haden probably was eager for Monday's news to finally arrive, so that he could immediately accept it on behalf of his athletic department and start moving forward again. I'm not sure what remains for USC in terms of public humiliation; the Associated Press already has said it will continue to recognize the Trojans as the 2004-05 national champions. Maybe all that's left is to serve out the NCAA's probation and deal with the loss of scholarships.

That, and wait for the next scandal to blow USC back out of the picture.

It was intriguing beyond belief that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops spoke at length about Tressel's travails at Ohio State. This was just last week, remember. (In Columbus, they're probably thanking the BCS for its impeccable timing in sweeping the Buckeyes off the screen for a few minutes.)

Stoops, in an interview with The Oklahoman newspaper, basically told the truth: There's no way in the world a college coach can know what 100 college athletes are up to. His method of dealing with that reality is to repeatedly set the bar of expectation among the players, then throw 'em out if they're caught cheating. Still, will some of them be caught cheating? Stoops' own program suggests the answer is yes -- sooner or later, someone, somewhere.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/Kevork DjansezianReggie Bush, here in the 2006 Rose Bowl loss to Texas, wasn't eligible even to strike a pose.

In OU's case, the someone was quarterback Rhett Bomar. In 2006, Bomar was caught taking excessive benefits, meaning he got paid for an off-campus job at which he didn't do anything. Stoops said his subsequent conversation with the player was brief.

"We'll move on," the coach remembered telling Bomar. "You can transfer."

Effective, perhaps. After the fact? Absolutely, and that's the reality. Stoops was making the suggestion that his program is attempting to preempt the kind of behavior that'll get it sanctioned by the NCAA, perhaps in contrast to the stuff going on around Ohio State. But the larger implication for both programs is that, given enough time, enough high-profile athletes, enough eager boosters and enough drive to win, just about any serious Division I program is going to find itself up against an unhappy truth.

That's to say nothing of the family angle, which takes us almost immediately into Cam Newton territory. Anybody here sure the Newton story is all finished being told?

None of this mitigates what happened at USC. The Bush episode is just so sorry on every front, and it is of course a cynic's dream of a situation because it reinforces every worst thing anybody ever said about big-time college football. (We're not even on the subject of O.J. Mayo and the basketball program, either. Let's take this one ball-peen hammer blow at a time.)

But as staggering as it is to see a huge program take such a public hit, every experience with the NCAA, the BCS and all that jazz suggests that the Trojans won't be in the news much longer, at least not for the quality of their scandal. There is another one around the bend.

That's not pessimism. That's history.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. His coming book, "The Voodoo Wave," is available for pre-order from Amazon.com. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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