It isn't very often that an elite program is penalized so harshly by the NCAA as USC has been. So how will the sanctions, including the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years and a two-year ban from postseason play, affect the Trojans? Will they cease to be a national power in the next few years?
Remember what happened to Alabama? Ten years ago, the Crimson Tide was penalized by the NCAA for recruiting violations and fell from the ranks of the national powers for a period of five years. The same thing could happen to USC.
But there is one big difference. USC has some great recruiters on its campus, particularly head coach Lane Kiffin and chief assistant Ed Orgeron. At the time of Alabama's infractions, there were no great recruiters on the staff to pick up the pieces.
UCLA, USC's crosstown rival, can benefit from all of this turmoil. It should open doors for UCLA. The Bruins had a narrow door opening when coach Rick Neuheisel arrived. Now, with USC limited to only 15 scholarships a year and no postseason exposure for the next two years, UCLA can become the team of Los Angeles as it was in the 1980s under coach Terry Donahue. Look for Neuheisel to take advantage.
The penalties will hurt USC for the next few years. Its reputation has been greatly tarnished. But kids have short memories. After the probation is over, USC will be back because of Kiffin and Orgeron, two of the five best recruiters in the country who can talk kids into anything. If anyone can weather the storm, it will be them. For the next three years, USC has absolutely no margin for error in recruiting.
Seantrel Henderson, the offensive lineman from St. Paul, Minn., who was the No. 1 high school player in the nation last year and committed to USC, can't leave. Recruiting is a buyer beware process and Henderson signed his grant-in-aid a month before the probation was announced. I can never recall a player being released from his commitment under these conditions.
The person who should be held responsible for all of this, the one who should be fired, is athletic director Mike Garrett, a former Heisman Trophy winner at USC. Football isn't the only sport that got USC into trouble. Basketball and coach Tim Floyd and NBA lottery pick O.J. Mayo are part of this mess, too.
Garrett is in charge of all sports at USC and no one mentions his name. What happened to institutional control? At USC, the players seem to be running the asylum, players like Mayo and Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.
I'm convinced that every major school has a Sam Gilbert, the wealthy and overzealous alum or friend of management who supports athletes behind the scenes as Gilbert did in the John Wooden era at UCLA. He is an athletic director's worst nightmare, a sugar daddy who looks (illegally) after kids, provides cash and jobs for their parents or relatives or friends and never is implicated when the whole system implodes.
There always have been a lot of rumors about USC recruiting. In fact, there are about 10 elite programs that are rumored to be corrupt and USC always was one of them...shady dealings, unethical and illegal recruiting practices, very little institutional control, payoffs to players and relatives, overzealous alumni.
College coaches are paid so much money that they under enormous pressure to develop winning programs. Money rules everything in college football. The USC issue won't make other schools more watchful or fearful, maybe a little more careful. There is too much pressure on them to recruit great players to fill the seats in those giant stadiums.