The road to irrelevancy is paved with good intentions. The University of Southern California will be appealing the NCAA penalties levied against its program, and when it does so it will be doing it to keep its football program from becoming a program who’s exploits are detailed in Wikipedia but removed from the average college football fan’s recollection. The program is fighting for its life.
Yes, I understand that people will say; “Hey its USC, they’ll be back, a couple of recruiting classes once the sanctions are done and USC will be back to business as usual; ruling the roost in the Pac-10.”
My answer to that is a Lee Corso; “not so fast my friend”, many who are reading this are old enough to recall that USC did not always dominate the Pac-10. Look back to your days as a child, teen or young adult watching the Rose Bowl on New Years Day (the years when the college football season ended January 1st and New Years Day was a smorgasbord of college football). The Rose Bowl would go from a day game to the lights coming on at the stadium indicating dusk and the helmets would glisten in the stadium lights. Do you remember those helmets being red with a gold Trojan or were they metallic gold with a script UCLA or a Purple “W”? If you remember, UCLA and Washington were programs that were consistently in the top two or three in the Pac-10. During the regular season ABC would attach Keith Jackson’s unmistakable delivery to a Pac-10 game and the viewer knew the game was either in Seattle or at the Rose Bowl (UCLA’s regular season home) on ABC’s late broadcast. USC was a consistent program, would contend for a conference championship every 3-4 years, but was by no means dominant. In fact there was a year where a Petros Papadakis led USC team finished with a sub .500 record. USC fans and those who believe the men of Troy will be reeling off Pac-10 championships again need to realize that being a dominant program is not as simple as location and tradition.
There are many examples in the college football world of programs that have been on the wrong end of the NCAA gavel and been irrelevant for years and had to make the climb back to being relevant; Oklahoma in the late 80’s, Alabama and Miami in the mid 90’s immediately come to mind. All three programs made the climb back to relevancy, and in the time they were struggling there were programs that emerged to replace them. Oklahoma struggled in the early 90’s and coincidentally longtime rival, Nebraska, started winning national championships. Even Colorado won a championship while Oklahoma was hibernating, one could say Colorado’s rise was a product of Oklahoma being down. Alabama had long been THE program in the south and when the Tide took a forced nap, Tennessee, Auburn, and even Mississippi St. started enjoying success in the late 90’s. Those programs with Alabama not taking all of the good recruits, became powers (Tennessee was always a good program but may have benefitted from Alabama’s demise and cashed that in for a National Championship). Alabama was a program in turmoil, how many coaches did “script A” have between Stallings and Saban; Franchione, Price (for 1 week), Shula for starters.
The final example is Miami, with the ‘Canes struggling there were programs in the ACC which benefitted (though Miami was in the Big East), the athletes in south Florida wanted to play close to home at programs that could be successful; so North Carolina, Clemson and programs of the like benefitted, in fact “Wide Right U (FSU)” finally got one to split the uprights and won a National Championship when the ‘Canes were on some sort of NCAA probation. I am not saying USC will never return to glory, as all three programs mentioned have won championships since the NCAA sentenced those programs to wander the NCAA desert, but while USC is wandering there will be programs more than willing to take its place and take recruits that in past few years would don the cardinal and gold. The climb to the top is difficult because there are programs that will be occupying that spot and do not want to be knocked from that place. USC’s probation could directly affect programs like Washington, and UCLA or even newcomer Utah, which will make things interesting on the west coast for the next few years.
The worry for some might be that a program like Utah which does not have national appeal could rise to the top of the Pac-10 and further damage the national perception of the conference. Imagine if you will a Rose Bowl with Utah versus Iowa in 2013, that may be must see television in Salt Lake City and Des Moines but not in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago or even Phoenix, Kansas City or Albuquerque. This becomes more of a possibility with USC not getting every 4 and 5 star recruit on the west coast. Which bring us to USC wandering the NCAA desert. The Pac-10 will ultimately be alright as a conference without a dominant USC, and college football in the west will be fine as well. College football is bigger than any one program and USC not being the dominant force in the Pacific Time Zone will matter very little. History has shown that programs rise and fall. USC cannot make the argument that college football will suffer, in the hopes the NCAA lessens the sanctions. Fact is that USC should accept the sanctions and hope they can return to prominence before 2020.