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NCAA Denies USC's Appeal, Now What?

Scott Enyeart |
May 30, 2011 | 1:24 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

What's in store for USC football fans? (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
What's in store for USC football fans? (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
In 2006 the NCAA launched an investigation into the USC football program for rule violations committed during the Reggie Bush era. 

In 2010 the governing body of college athletics handed down some of the harshest penalties ever levied on a member institution, which USC naturally appealed.

In 2011, after a more than five-year process, the NCAA finally closed the USC case. Appeal denied.

Probation, vacated wins, a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years are included in the hand USC has been dealt.

While the rest of the college football world is consumed with Jim Tressel's resignation in Columbus, reality is finally setting in in Los Angeles. Trojan fans are learning how to live life under sanctions. But it's uncharted territory to many of them, and they still have questions. 

To help answer those questions, we asked the experts: Bryan Fischer, Lisa Horne and Ryan Abraham.

Fischer covers college football and national HS recruiting for CBSSports.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

Horne, also a member of the FWAA, is one of FoxSports.com's national college football reporters and is a frequent guest on radio shows across the country.

Abraham, with whom many USC fans are familiar, is the publisher of USCfootball.com, a Rivals.com affiliate. Abraham's site was the first to break the news of USC's appeal being denied by the NCAA.


Much of the discussion surrounding USC's penalties is about how severe they are. When a team is hit with sanctions, it's felt in two stages. First, there's the actual duration of the punishment. Second, and perhaps more important, is recovery from the punishment.

How long do you see the effects of the NCAA's ruling being felt on the field?:

BF: I I think it will hurt this year in terms of attitude, once they lose a game. It's tougher to deal with because they expected to go to a bowl this year. If Barkley, Kalil and others stay for 2012, they have a chance to win the Pac-12 with ASU, Stanford and Oregon (probably) having to reload that year. Beyond then, you'll see some numbers crunches which will put some really young teams on the field. I think it will be 2016 at the earliest before they're really at full strength. 

LH: Even though USC stockpiled in anticipation of this verdict, they'll still be 10 men short compared to other schools and may have only a handful of scholarships to hand out in 2012. 

I think the key for USC is to minimize injury to starters. If you're only at 75 players on scholarship [which sanctions dictate for three years] versus 85, then keep the ones you have healthy. Does that mean no-contact practices? Perhaps, and that may translate to some poor fundamentals being displayed on the field, But, they'll be eligible to play post-season and that may be the catalyst that fires them up and keeps them focused. 

RA: Well, at the very least the next three years USC will be at 75 scholarships maximum, for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. But it will take a couple of years after that to really get back up to full strength. But as we have said all along, if there is a program that can handle these scholarship reductions, it is USC. After this season I think the program will see effects, but will still be able to recruit top talent and compete at the highest level.

When Lane Kiffin returned to USC as head coach he brought a "super staff" with him. His dad, Monte, is one of the most innovative and respected coaches in the game and Ed Orgeron one of the best recruiters in college football. 

Are Kiffin and the current staff the best men for navigating USC through the "sanction era"?

BF: Truth is, there's no one "best equipped" for navigating these waters. That said, Kiffin and Co. are better equipped than anyone else because they've been here before and love the school.

LH: Lane Kiffin and his staff have done a phenomenal job. Think about this: USC landed a top-five recruiting class while under major sanctions. I think that speaks volumes. If he keeps UCLA at bay and prevents some poaching, then he is the right man, right now.

RA: Lane Kiffin and his great staff have what it takes to get USC through these tough times. This staff can recruit, and with only 15 scholarships a year, recruiting is going to be the name of the game even more so.

Recently the NCAA passed legislation making it easier for them to suspend coaches for violations committed at previous coaching stops. Kiffin has been named in a notice of allegations from the NCAA to his former employer, Tennessee. This is a concern to some USC fans who feel the NCAA has an "agenda" and will try punish the Trojans further.

Will the NCAA punish USC or Kiffin further based on the Tennessee allegations?

BF: The NCAA won't hit USC with any more penalties, but Kiffin can probably expect a game or two suspension coming out of the UT mess.

LH: The NCAA has been inconsistent, but ask Kelvin Sampson (former Indiana basketball coach who was punished for violations while at Oklahoma) how that ended up for him. Not very well. 

RA: If I learned anything from this process it is that one should never try and predict what the NCAA is going to do.

There's little doubt that these sanctions will be tough to manage--even USC's enemies think they're too severe--but for the Trojans to survive them then they'll need a plan.

Now that the appeal has been denied, how does USC move on? How do they manage and minimize the effect of the sanctions? 

BF: "Just Win Baby," needs to be the new motto, though I'm not sure Lane will adopt that exact one. 

LH: The way to minimize the effects is to get the fans pumped up for the team. I remember some players telling me at the end of the 2010 season that the lack of a bowl game opportunity and lackluster attendance affected them psychologically. The fans need to support the team by showing up to the games and being loud. Maybe discount some tickets to put butts in seats? L.A. fans are notorious for that "bandwagon" mentality, so the university needs to be proactive.

RA: Essentially recruiting becomes a more precise endeavor. You can’t miss on kids or it could affect the team for years. Recruit top players that are good students that don’t cause problems off the field and then hope for the best.

Bryan makes a good point, it's all about winning. It's been said that winning covers a multitude of sins, or is it love? We'll stick with winning. If USC racks up wins this "sanction pill" will be easier for the Trojan faithful to swallow. But does USC have what it takes to win at a clip that keeps the fans content?

What are reasonable expectations for the 2011 team and how long is Kiffin's leash?

BF: I think Kiffin needs eight to nine wins this year and then double digit wins next year. After that things get interesting, but no reason to think they couldn't be a consistent nine-win team going forward with as much talent as they normally bring in. I think Haden has a decent leash on Lane but 6-6,-7-5 isn't going to cut it.

LH: A reasonable expectation for USC every year is to get to the Rose Bowl. That can't happen (because of the bowl ban), but the team's overall record should still be conducive to a BCS Bowl berth bid if they were eligible. In other words, they should produce a win-loss record that would be BCS-worthy. Personally, I'm all for chaos because chaos creates change. Why not create more controversy with a 12-0 team that is denied a BCS Bowl?

As far as Lane Kiffin's leash, i believe it was short the day athletic director Mike Garrett "resigned." Remember, Pat Haden didn't hire Lane Kiffin. Moreover, since USC is a private school, the specifics of Kiffin's contract are not disclosed.

While his leash may be short, unless Haden has a head coach in waiting, Kiffin should retain his position at USC.

RA: USC is a talented team that can easily win double-digit games in 2011. The big question will be how Kiffin keeps these guys motivated now that a bowl game is out of the question.

Kiffin’s leash length shouldn’t be tied to on-the-field performance at this stage. He has dealt with horrible sanctions that were not brought on by him. He has still recruited well and he will be competitive on Saturdays. If he stays out of trouble, I don’t see the administration replacing him.


USC isn't awaiting the unknown any longer. The NCAA has spoken, and now the program can move forward. One thing is clear, the university's "Fight On" slogan has never meant more than it does now.


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