One Man's Opinion

Well, not since Pete Carroll held his initial press conference at USC have I written an opinion that had so little to do with actual football and so much to do with the "off the field stuff"! I suspect that every Trojan Fan alive would agree that the past couple of weeks have been nothing short of "interesting" at best and potentially disastrous in a worst case scenario.

It is hard to know when to comment on the current state of things, but with the NFL Draft now history, with stories about the Griffin/Bush Family not dominating the headlines quite as much as they had been, with the recent revelation that the Sanchez Family has hired an attorney and that the case has been turned over to the District Attorney, and with the headlines no longer covered with stories about the apartment and living arrangement shared by Leinart and Jarrett, I figured now might be a pretty good time.

There are a few facts that must be stated. These things would appear to be indisputable. First, Reggie's Family lived in a house for about a year that they did not own. They have since vacated that residence. Mark Sanchez was arrested for allegedly being involved in some type of sexual assault. He was also in a bar and he is not yet 21. Dwayne Jarrett and Matt Leinart were roommates and shared an apartment for which Jarrett did pay rent, simply not enough to cover 50% of the official cost. In the past several years, a group of USC players have had significant off the field issues, most of which have embarrassed the student athlete and the University of Southern California. Hershel Dennis was accused of sexual assault. Eric Wright was accused of sexual assault and there were illegal drugs found in his apartment. Both of these guys were never found guilty in a court of law, but nonetheless, the scenarios were well documented. Dennis has not played any meaningful minutes in some time and Wright is now at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Winston Justice missed a year of school after being disciplined for waving what turned out to be a toy gun at another student. Justice also had problems with allegations of solicitation. Then there was the saga of Manny Wright. He also had off the field issues. I wish the list ended there, but it does not. This season, Rey Mauluga was involved in an off the field altercation and just recently he was assigned to community service and various types of anger management classes to enable the book to be closed on his situation.

In addition to the above situations, there have been many kids held out of practices time and again due to seemingly never ending "academic issues". Each fan can decide for himself whether or not the plethora of academic weaknesses amongst members of the football team is a problem or not. In recent years, the arguments on the internet boards about "books vs talent" have been furious and without a solution. There seem to be at least three separate camps. There are those who could care less so long as the good players are eligible. There are those in the middle that are concerned about the academic standing of so many players, but are not in favor of more restrictive admission standards. And then there is the group who feel that the weak students and academic liabilities water down the prestige of the university and should never be allowed to matriculate at a great university in the first place. After all, the University is not all about football, and why should so many exceptions be made for these talented ballplayers.

While stating these facts, it is imperative to also mention that in the past several years, there have been many other events as well, with the positive far outweighing any negatives, though we seen the major headlines emphasizing the negative as of late . To start with, three of the last four Heisman Trophy winners have come from USC. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush accomplished something that we may never see again in our lifetimes. The USC Trojans have won or shared two of the last three national titles and their loss to Texas in the most recent Rose Bowl Game was a contest for the ages. USC has resurfaced as one of the most dominant teams in College Football and Pete Carroll and staff have proven to be as fine a group of recruiters as I have ever seen. Under Pete and company, the Trojans have recruited as well as any team in the country and some of the major services have rated the USC recruiting classes number one for three consecutive seasons. To make it short and sweet, the loss to Texas notwithstanding, the Trojans have been at or near the top of the heap for several years and it is obvious that nothing anyone does ON THE FIELD can hold the Trojans in check. Few, if any teams, can handle USC on the field. And to emphasize just how amazing Pete and his staff really are, just look at some of the recent commitments from current high schools juniors. Right in the middle of all this controversy, USC has managed to secure verbal commitment from two of the nation's premier high school quarterback prospects Aaron Corp and Sampson Szakacsy, and so far, none of the prior major commitments has publicly rescinded his commitment, though there are grumblings about a running back from Arkansas, Broderick Green, who might be having some second thoughts. And then there is that little item about the draft. USC recently had two guys drafted in the top ten and USC put more guys into the pros this past season than any other team, at least via the draft. However, along with many concerned USC fans, I am now forced to wonder if "OFF THE FIELD PROBLEMS" could be the basis for the undoing of much of what has been accomplished through hard work by the players and coaches themselves.

Despite some optimistic opinions from many, including some people in important positions, and total doom and gloom viewpoints from others, NOBODY KNOWS with certainty how the current situations will be resolved. What we do know is the Pac-10 and NCAA have gotten involved and folks, that is never a good thing, at least in my humble opinion. In multiple threads on many internet sites, and in radio interviews, on television broadcasts and in private conversations, there are many schools of thought. There does appear to be one prevailing thought amongst most Trojan fans. Even in a worst case scenario, USC could not and should not be held responsible for the actions of a private citizen if the University had no knowledge whatsoever of any private dealings whether or not they are related to players. Unfortunately, USC is a member of the NCAA. The NCAA has what seem to be a billion rules, regulations and bylaws. Whether USC fans like it or not, according to what is written, USC could be in big trouble IF Reggie's family did something wrong, even if SC had no knowledge of anything! About now, one might ask, how could any school keep track of private business dealings of any private citizen? I have a very different question. Why would the member schools ever allow the NCAA to have rules that can't possibly be enforced? I am not making excuses here. If a scholarship ballplayer screws up, that is one thing. But, if a school can be held accountable for the actions of an adult who is not employed by the university and who lives far from the campus, it makes no sense. The NCAA and various conferences have no power over free individuals. Yet the schools have allowed themselves to be put at the mercy of this organization because parents can do what they please, regardless of how many times they have been told what the long term ramifications to the students and school can be. Obviously, most parents follow the rules and are outstanding folks. However, if even one strays, it could be disastrous for the school and student athlete, at least the way the rules are currently written—ARGH!!.

Make no mistake. If investigations should turn out poorly from an SC perspective, the NCAA can do what it pleases. The NCAA has a history of acting with an uneven hand. The NCAA treats its various members as it so desires. In the end, only time will tell how this will all turn out. However, to think that the NCAA can't do this or that is simply incorrect. Yes it can. Whether or not it will---that remains to be seen. BTW, anyone care to guess just how happy the NCAA was when Pete Carroll publicly mentioned that he thought the Mike Williams situation was handled poorly?

I do have a very personal opinion on this one. Many have wondered how long it will take for these issues to be resolved, with the Bush situation at the head of the list. Some fear that if it drags on for years, somewhat like a situation at Arkansas, things will be very bad for SC, especially when it comes to recruiting. Perhaps that is correct. However, what happens if Reggie has a phenomenal rookie season as many think he will? What happens if Reggie becomes a bright spot for the devastated city of New Orleans? Superstar athletes have a way of doing such things in this society. I just can't see the NCAA making a huge negative move in such a case. To bring down an icon who has brought joy to an entire city and who has otherwise been a model citizen could actually backfire and that is something the NCAA might not want to chance. Similarly, with some talk about the Heisman Trophy being taken back if Reggie is found to have violated this or that, it would be that much harder to do if Reggie is already a megastar as a rookie. Obviously I have no proof of this; it is just an opinion. As for the Sanchez situation, I can only hope all the legal issues come to a favorable end and hopefully, the student athlete will be proven totally innocent of stated allegations and justice will be served. On the other hand, as for what punishment might be deemed appropriate for improper off the field behavior such as drinking and allegedly using a false ID, I have a bad feeling that the hammer will come down pretty hard. We can discuss this issue forever, but it will be up to Pete and/or that student judicial board-if they have jurisdiction in such a situation, to decide what, if anything should be done about underage intoxication and then we might really see what a double standard has come to mean. As for Jarrett and his housing situation, I honestly have no idea. There are as many arguments about this one as there are people who know about the issues. Considering this is USC and the NCAA we are talking about, I am hoping for the best, but am preparing myself for the worst.

So, how does each fan feel about now? Will Pete be in a position where he feels that he has no choice but to make an example of any offender who breaks school and/or team rules either in the future or retroactively? Anyone think that discipline on the team has been too lax? I am not suggesting an answer to either question. I am only bringing up points that have already come up in one way or the other! Will the current situation be a déjà vu all over again? For those who are old enough to remember, does there seem to be an uncanny similarity to what happened after the 1979 season? I mean both the 2005 and 1979 teams might be the two most unbelievably talented teams to not win national titles in college football history. Both teams were coached by great coaches who had their teams at or near the top of the heap. I certainly hope history does not come close to repeating itself, but yes, the thought has crossed my mind. The Domers and Bruins of the world are having a blast watching USC go through tough times, and who can blame them? Trojan fans have been giving it to them for several years, and I suppose turnaround is fair play. But I will say this, with Pete Carroll at the helm, I still feel that it is the Trojans that will end up on top, and despite some bumps on the road, it is USC that will have the last laugh.


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