Remember those birthday parties back in elementary school that you felt like you never got invited to? And there’s no reason why you weren’t invited to the party, besides the fact that the one kid just didn’t like you very much. And all your friends that did get invited came to school on Monday talking about how fun it was. And part of you is happy for all your friends and glad they had a good time, but hearing about how much fun they had really just makes you feel bitter about not getting invited.
That essentially embodies the frustration I felt after hearing that the NCAA was reducing its sanctions against the Penn State football program.
USC finished the bowl ban after the 2011 season but still has to deal with scholarship restrictions and vacated wins from Reggie Bush’s time at USC after he took unauthorized gifts from an agent. Basically, Bush’s “party favor” had a little more candy than all the other kids’.
The Nittany Lions received similar sanctions after football officials covered up a series of horrifying felonies committed by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Countless other top college programs have subsequently committed offenses similar to those made by the USC program, and none garnered more than a slap on the wrist. Fellow Daily Trojan columnist Jake Davidson wrote a piece about the same issue a few weeks ago involving Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, and I’m sure as aggravated as we are about the sanctions, the sports world is just as sick of hearing ’SC fans complain about them.
But there’s really no rational way for the NCAA to defend the sanctions it imposed against USC, as the organization is so clearly inconsistent. The NCAA thought they could fight the issue and make an example of USC. But coaches still push the boundaries on recruiting rules, and they always will. There’s nothing the NCAA can do to stop it without crippling the hugely successful financial asset of college football.
The Penn State concession makes the current treatment of USC even more maddening. And even though reports are now coming out that Haden met with the NCAA in Indianapolis this week, it’s hard to say if the Trojans will actually have their sanctions cut short, especially after NCAA President Mark Emmert stated that the softened stance in Happy Valley was not setting a precedent to reduce penalties for schools that showed a certain amount of compliance.
Much like Penn State’s football program, USC has done a lot to clean up a past of which Trojan fans shouldn’t feel that proud of. The problem wasn’t the program itself but certain members of the program — so USC cleaned house and brought in a much more responsible group of athletic department administrators, led by Athletic Director Pat Haden.
Haden has taken the sanctions in stride and has kept a much tighter leash on the football program’s recruiting process, making Trojan fans like myself proud of the program again — even after that shameful Washington State game.
The only issue within USC’s athletic program that the NCAA could point to as a potential lack of compliance since the sanctions would be the issues surrounding former baseball coach Frank Cruz. He called for more practices than allowed by NCAA rules and was quickly fired by Haden following the investigation. Not only did USC quickly resolve the issue, but it had nothing to do with football.
There are some mild grievances one might have with the way head coach Lane Kiffin altered the football program since taking over, such as deflating opponents’ footballs or changing jerseys during games to gain an advantage over competition, but stuff like that is much more like gamesmanship than cheating.
I guess the only positive takeaway for Trojan fans is that the reduction of Penn State’s sanctions might be the start of the NCAA recognizing the instability of their agreements with football players.
Many call for players to receive pay. I think they already do with their full-ride scholarships, but players should be able to sell stuff like their autographs on the open market like any other service.
The concession the NCAA just made isn’t much, and in my opinion, college players are years, if not decades away from getting paid to play sports in college. But any evidence of rationality from the tyrannical NCAA is a good sign for the future.
So don’t be discouraged by the Penn State news like I initially was. Keep believing in the Trojans we’ll have on the field tomorrow in Tempe for a potential Pac-12 South elimination game, have faith in the future of our program with a fully fielded roster and be proud of how compliant the Trojans have been with the sanctions.
And keep holding out hope for a day when the NCAA doesn’t rule the game we all love.
Follow Luke on Twitter @BirdsOnBats94