USC begins its rugged journey back to respectability


The case was stacked against USC — three feet high.

Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, said Thursday that if you piled all the report notes on a table it would measure at least a yard.

Imagine binding it all up and having that book thrown at you.

Alabama fans who chided for years that the NCAA was going to go easy USC because it was somehow a sacred cash cow were wrong.

The NCAA hammered USC to within an inch of its football life. It could have been worse only had “The Death Penalty” been imposed, or had the Trojans been banned from television.

The NCAA hasn’t played the Death Penalty card in football since it nearly wiped Southern Methodist University out of existence back in 1987. But Dee said his committee seriously considered a one-year USC ban for television, ultimately deciding the penalties imposed were sufficiently harsh.

And they were: For football, it was four years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. The school is appealing the NCAA’s ruling.

USC heard the four words you never want to hear from the NCAA: “lack of institutional control.”

The committee settled on a two-year bowl ban because that’s how many bowls Reggie Bush ,participated in as an ineligible player.

USC, which had won seven straight Pacific 10 Conference titles and two national titles in a glorious run under Coach Pete Carroll that started in 2003, is probably going to the Big House for awhile — and we’re not talking Michigan.

How long it might take USC football to recover was a question the chair of the infractions’ committee was actually prepared to answer.

Dee was athletics director at Miami in 1995 when his Hurricanes got hit with a one-year bowl ban plus scholarship losses.

“Thirty-one” scholarships, Dee dutifully informed a reporter during a conference call.

A lot of people thought Miami was finished. Sports Illustrated, in a cover story, suggested the school should drop football.

Miami hired Butch Davis, a former Dallas Cowboys’ assistant, to nurse the program back to life. The Hurricanes dipped to 5-6 in 1997, and went 18-7 the next two years before rebounding to 11-1 in 2000.

A year later, with Larry Coker taking over for Davis, who left to coach the Cleveland Browns, Miami won the national title against Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

How long does it take to crawl out of a hole this deep?

“That depends on the institution,” Dee said. “The institution can accept where it is, work hard with what they have and continue to be competitive. But whenever you limit scholarships you, frankly, limit the chances of making a mistake.”

And that means making every scholarship count.

“You have to be extremely careful in your recruiting,” Dee said. “Only bring in the right people that are going to be able to help you, was our point of view back at Miami. I’m not speaking for the committee, you asked me about Miami…. We hired a new coach at that time and Butch Davis came in and he understood that and he got us back to right on the brink of winning a national championship before he went to the Cleveland Browns.”

It can be done — but it’s going to be a tough slog.

Sanctions imposed against USC were a little more severe, but generally consistent, with penalties levied against power programs Miami and Alabama.

In 2002, the Crimson Tide football team received five years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 21 scholarships.

Alabama’s probation involved boosters and money exchanges and Albert Means, a prized recruit out of Memphis who ended up never playing in Tuscaloosa. Thomas Yeager, the NCAA infractions chair at the time, called the violations “some of the worst” the committee had seen.

Alabama went through a patchy, dysfunctional stretch, which included Coach Dennis Franchione leaving unexpectedly for Texas A&M, the disastrous hiring of Mike Price and lean years under Mike Shula.

Alabama went 26-24 in a four-year span starting in 2003, but then lured Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

Alabama went 7-6 in Saban’s first year, which included a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe, but two years later completed an undefeated national championship season with a win over Texas at the Rose Bowl.

Best guess for the return of Troy, if they play their recruits right?

Circle 2015 on your calendar.