Over the weekend, Fanhouse published an article claiming that USC basketball got off light for the violations they committed during the Tim Floyd and OJ Mayo era.
They do have a point -- Floyd recruited Mayo through Ronald Guillory, a known runner who had already gotten the USC basketball program in trouble. Their punishment -- the loss of a few scholarships, some hours recruiting, and last year's postseason ban -- seems relatively benign compared to the book that was thrown at the Trojan football program.
Having said that, the article seems to gloss over a few important details. First and foremost, they fail to mention that the USC athletic department, in an attempt to protect their football team, essentially threw the basketball program under the bus. All the punishments listed above? Those were self-imposed, six months before the NCAA's ruling came down.
The other issue I have is with the way the writer ignores what last season could have been. Sure, the Trojans ended up a mediocre team in a terrible Pac-10. They lost their head coach, their three best players, and their top four recruits as a result of the NCAA's investigation. New head coach Kevin O'Neill was playing against a stacked deck with the 2009-2010 Trojan team, and he was winning.
When news of the self-imposed sanctions came down on January 3rd, USC was he best team in the Pac-10. They had beaten two ranked teams in Tennessee and UNLV (the only non-conference wins over ranked teams for any Pac-10 team), they had just swept the Arizona schools, they were in the midst of an eight game winning streak, and senior point guard Mike Gerrity had just gotten eligible.
Its feasible that USC could have own the Pac-10 last season had they had something to play for. But without the Pac-10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament to look forward too, how hard could one really expect the Trojans to play?
I'm not saying USC was a Final Four team. I'm not saying they could have made the Final Four of the Pac-10 Tournament. What I am saying is that the school, in an effort to save the football program, effectively ended the 2010 basketball season in early January.
Last season could have been memorable to USC. Not a soul believed that this team, which had been decimated by players, recruits, and coaches abandoning ship, had a shot at any kind of success last year. As of early January, USC was the best team in the Pac-10.
That is a story good enough to be a movie's plot line. Think about it -- vagabond coach takes over a program everyone's written off; injuries pile up early in the season; but something clicks, players start believing in the program; vagabond point guard playing at his third school in his last semester of eligibility then joins the team, and provides the spark to get the team from competitive to the favorite.
We all missed out on that.
And while the punishments, on paper, don't look over whelming, let us not forget how disappointing it was when we found out USC was banned from the postseason last year.