Long term hopes not dashed by sanctions


Hey, Trojan fans — do you remember where you were when you found out that your favorite football team would be banned from the postseason for the next two years?

It happened around mid-day on June 10. Midwesterners and West Coasters, you probably found out right around lunchtime on that Thursday from — well, you know.

East Coasters, you might have been on your way home from a stressful New York City internship or settling in for what you expected to be a nice, peaceful dinner at home.

Well, whenever and wherever it was that you heard the news, I’m willing to bet that it’s probably not a happy place for you  anymore — and with good reason. But for those of you who wonder if the Coliseum will take on the same hellish attributes, I’m here to say you can safely hold on to some hope.

Here’s the thing: Upon examination, the sanctions aren’t as extreme as they seem.

The postseason in college football is completely different than the postseason in college basketball. On the basketball court, a postseason ban could mean a loss of seven games; on the gridiron, it can’t possibly mean more than one.

In that same vein, you could very well argue that the self-imposed one-year ban for the basketball team in January was a stricter punishment — at least from the players’ perspective.

Yes, football’s two-year ban technically makes the next two seasons meaningless for the Trojans, with a national championship out of the question.

But other big goals are possible. It’s not like the Trojans are banned from winning all their games. And a 13-0 season would surely be regarded as an indubitable success for the 2010 Trojans, BCS bowl game or not.

It’s all about perspective, really. A 13-0 — or 12-1, even — season is unlikely for this team. But, truthfully, those records weren’t going to be likely even if USC had come away scot-free from the whole Reggie Bush debacle.

And here’s the other thing. If you ask first-year coach Lane Kiffin what he thinks the implications of the NCAA-imposed sanctions will be for the future of the USC football program, he’ll minimize them.

If you ask rival coaches what they think the implications of the NCAA-imposed sanctions will be or what the future holds for the USC football program, they’ll maximize them.

Kiffin might or might not be many  of the things that he is believed to be by many members of the public — a good coach, a bad guy and all that stuff.

But he is definitely one thing: a good recruiter. The man — and his lead assistant, defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron — can recruit with the best of them.

And they are very, very familiar with how to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths.

That’s what the semi-immediate future of the football program (think 2011 and beyond) will come down to. Given a significant headstart of sorts, will other teams in the conference and the nation be able to out-recruit Kiffin, Orgeron and company?

Maybe, but maybe not.

The loss of 10 scholarships a season — bringing the allotted total down from 25 to 15 — beginning next August and continuing until the 2013 season will be significant, yes.

But deadly?

No.

How many scholarship players do you think the Trojans have in the class of 2014?

Fewer than you think — 18. And only 17 have actually enrolled at the time this article was published.

So you’re telling me, essentially, a loss of two December or January games and nine or so recruits over the next three years will mean the death of the USC football program.

Sounds a little extreme when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

Much more likely than complete implosions are a couple 11-2 or 10-3 seasons for the next two or three years and a return to glory by about 2015.

The University of Miami had similar sanctions placed on its football program back in 1995. The Hurricanes won a national title just six years later, in 2001. That’s entirely possible for the Trojans.

In the meantime, you’ll have to deal with some taunts from your Pac-10 school-attending friends and some smaller crowds at the Coliseum for the Washington States of the country, but it’ll be over before you know it.

Seriously.

“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at pmoura@usc.edu.