USC began fall semester classes Monday, but the mood around Heritage Hall and outside the McKay Center was not overflowing with back-to-school spirit.
A day after Coach Steve Sarkisian publicly apologized for his behavior and language during a booster event on campus Saturday night, it was quieter than usual.
The Trojans did not practice Monday, but Sarkisian addressed the team in the McKay Center. The players displayed no discernible emotion as they exited the building.
“Whatever it is,” one player said later, “he’s got to take care of it.”
Sarkisian had slurred words, said several opposing teams “suck” and uttered an expletive before the rallying phrase “Fight On,” according to boosters and video clips from Saturday’s annual “Salute to Troy” event. Sarkisian appeared intoxicated, some boosters said. The event was closed to the media.
At least one thing will be different when USC returns to practice Tuesday.
Sarkisian typically addresses reporters after workouts when players have concluded interviews.
On Tuesday, he will meet the media before practice begins. A few players selected by the school will then be made available. There will be no media access afterward.
USC, ranked eighth in the preseason Associated Press media poll and 10th in the coaches’ poll, is less than two weeks from its season opener against Arkansas State at the Coliseum.
Players are once again gearing up for a season that will begin amid controversy and possible distraction.
The Trojans’ veteran players are accustomed to the scenario.
Fifth-year seniors such as quarterback Cody Kessler, fourth-year juniors such as offensive lineman Zach Banner and juniors such as linebacker Su’a Cravens have played through plenty of potential distractions during their USC careers.
All came to USC when the program was under NCAA sanctions. They played through the firing of Lane Kiffin and the interim tenures of Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton in 2013.
Last season, they also played through an incident involving cornerback Josh Shaw that occurred on the night of “Salute to Troy” and hung over the program through the first 10 games.
The drama did not hinder USC from attracting a top recruiting class last February.
And two high school seniors who have committed to the Trojans said Monday that the incident involving Sarkisian does not affect their view of the coach and the program.
“Some people are overreacting,” Santa Ana Mater Dei offensive lineman Frank Martin said.
C.J. Pollard, a defensive back from Gardena Serra — and the son of former USC player Marvin Pollard — said his father attended “Salute to Troy” on Saturday.
C.J. Pollard said Sarkisian was “a good guy” and “everybody makes mistakes.”
“I still believe in him and can rely on him,” he said, “and don’t question his ability to coach the team.”
Bryce Dixon lost his latest legal challenge against USC on Monday when a judge denied his request that some privileges he enjoyed as an athlete be restored.
Dixon, 19, was expelled in May after a USC investigation into alleged sexual misconduct.
On Aug. 12, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien put Dixon’s expulsion on hold pending further review of USC’s investigative and hearing processes in Dixon’s case. USC restored his athletic scholarship and Dixon registered for fall semester classes, but the university will not allow him to represent the school as a student-athlete.
Mark M. Hathaway, Dixon’s attorney, filed a petition after Dixon last week received a letter from USC that imposed “interim actions” for his return to campus. For example, Dixon cannot access USC team athletic training facilities or utilize the dining facilities in university residence halls.
Hathaway said last week that Dixon had put on hold an attempt to legally compel USC to put him back on the football team.
Dixon said after the hearing that he would wait for the process to play out.
“I just want to play football at ‘SC,” he said. “I’m just trying to go through any process it takes to come back and play ‘SC football.”