Losing the Will to Fight On

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I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m that USC football fan. You know, the one who firmly believes in the West Coast bias. The one who thinks running Pete Carroll out of town was a travesty. The one who will always remind you that our sanctions were basically threefold of an institution who purposefully covered up the fact there was a pedophile on the staff.

So, a day removed from the ESPN doc “Trojan War” and less than a week removed the firing of Steve Sarkisian, you may expect this blog to be a lot of bitching. Trust me, I can bitch endlessly about the 2006 Rose Bowl, a game so poorly officiated, the NCAA implemented coach’s challenges and revamped instant replay in its wake.  But I will also readily admit that blown calls are a part of football and we wouldn’t have even been in that game were it not for a blown call on the Bush Push.

Instead, I am here to talk about how ashamed I am of my alma mater and how it is handling the latest drama deflating the spirit of Troy. I’ve been a diehard USC fan since I got my acceptance letter in 2001, and this is the first time I am not proud to be part of the SC family.

The Steve Sarkisian situation deserves way harsher sanctions than Reggie Bush riding in a limo, but the crazy part is I don’t think we’ll be punished at all for it. And that only makes me more depressed about the NCAA and the USC Athletic Department.

I feel for Coach Sarkisian, as anyone handling a substance abuse problem is facing an uphill battle. I am sure he had no ill will or intent when it came to his actions this football season. Nonetheless, it was clear to AD Pat Haden and USC that something was wrong before the season even started. They can try to deny knowledge of his problems in the vetting process, but they cannot deny that as early as August they knew this person, whose job is to motivate, inspire, and educate young men, was not in a position to do so.

And they did nothing.

This is sadly not the first time one of my favorite teams hired someone completely ill-equipped to coach a high-profile sports team. I was sad when the University of Kentucky ditched Tubby Smith, for even though he played a very boring defensive-oriented approach to basketball and only posted modest results by UK standards (making it only to the Sweet 16 is modest in Bluegrass country), he was a role model. He clearly cared about his players. Instead, the university brought on Billy Gillispie, and the stories started leaking basically from the jump.

First, it was about Gillispie’s drinking. He had a house on the side of town I grew up in, and often I would see him at the bar of the popular steak house down the road. Most times he was visibly intoxicated, so rumors of the Lexington police following him home each night monitoring me were pretty easy to believe.

Then the stories started coming out about how he verbally and emotionally abused his players, most notably threatening to make a player he believed was faking an injury walk home instead of take the bus with the team. If you think that is an appropriate thing to do, you should not be employed by a higher education institution.

What really saddened me about Gillispie is that we as Big Blue Nation all knew this was happening and we didn’t demand he be fired the next day. The people of Kentucky needed their basketball so badly, we overlooked a situation in which the health and safety of the players we loved so much were legitimately in danger. We didn’t even fire him because he was a danger to the team. He got fired because he didn’t win enough. And that mentality really is inexcusable.

So you can yammer all you want about how Coach Calipari deserves to be sanctioned and that we allegedly pay our players. You can scoff when he said the goal was to get seven guys to the NBA this season. But guess what? That is his job. He is an educator who is trying to help young men transition into professional basketball and he takes that responsibility incredibly seriously. This year’s NBA Draft was an indication not that UK is a corrupt organization, but of the fact Coach Cal is a really effing good basketball coach who is incredibly dedicated to helping these players succeed both on and off the court.

Pete Carroll is the Calipari of football. He knows the system is broken and he gamed it to recruit amazing talent. Then he mentored that talent, checked on how they were doing on and off the field, taught them how to get drafted in the NFL, and helped them achieve their lifelong dreams. When I see how many former UK players and USC players Tweeting about their alma maters or communicating with their old coaches, I can’t see why we are claiming we don’t want people like this coaching college sports.

USC broke some rules, though how many we broke remains up for debate. To hold Carroll accountable for what one of his player’s parents were doing 200 miles away will always be insane to me. During Trojan War, the documentary mentions that Bush’s parents were months behind on rent. They couldn’t afford a place to live. If I’m a 20-year-old Reggie Bush, I’m helping my family find a place to live, sorry. I don’t believe Carroll or running backs coach Todd McNair knew about the house. They may have been willfully ignorant on the subject, which is against the rules and deserved some sort of punishment. Permanently disassociating Reggie Bush from the school, vacating 14 wins and a national title, a two-year postseason ban, and 30 lost scholarships was not that punishment though.

Once again, the NCAA has proven it cares very little about the welfare of their athletes. It isn’t right that Reggie’s #5 jersey doesn’t hang with the other Heisman winners at the Coliseum because he made some questionable decisions at the age of 20. I thankfully made plenty of dumb decisions when I was 20, but there wasn’t an onslaught of media constantly scrutinizing me. It wasn’t right of Mike Garrett, Pat Haden, and the USC Athletic Department to let a kid take the fall for them. They could’ve fought for Reggie, but they didn’t.

if you had told me all those punishments were for our university knowingly let Sarkisian run the team in the condition he was in, I would have no place to whine. It basically amounts to child endangerment and should be punished. I know it isn’t fair to the kids to punish them for their program not taking their welfare seriously, but I don’t know how else we convey that letting this kind of behavior go is not acceptable. The other problem is that the NCAA decisions on sanctions recently do nothing to reiterate that is the case. USC got the toughest sanctions in 20 years for questionable booster activity. Miami had to self-impose a postseason ban for two years because of financial gifts to a number of players that amounted to $2,000. Syracuse had 100+ wins vacated for grade shaving. And then PSU had one year of punishment for what many would call institutional cover up of someone who was a danger to any student in the football program with no formal investigation by the NCAA. So clearly, the NCAA has a priority problem.

If we are telling people who are really good at motivating and mentoring young athletes like John Calipari and Pete Carroll that we are not okay with them coaching, but we are okay with Billy Gillispie and Steve Sarkisian coaching, I just don’t know how much longer I can be a diehard fan. I will always want those SC student athletes to Fight On, but I don’t know if I can fight on as hard so long as Pat Haden refuses to put the players first.

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2 thoughts on “Losing the Will to Fight On

  1. One of my big complaints about the NCAA is it isn’t there to cover the athletes or their issues, it is there to protect the institutions and the coaches that make up the organization. Another big complaint is they make billions of dollars off of kids yet have no issue with tossing them to the side when they get hurt and/or don’t reach the professional ranks (many of them leave school with no degree…that’s a crime). The NCAA needs a major revamp, otherwise it is as corrupt as many professional sports organizations.

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  2. The Athletic Deptartment Administration’s blind eye to Sark’s drinking is not the only example. They also let Kevin O”Niel embarrass the university and himself with his well-publicized alchohol-fueled antics.

    Maybe it has something to due with the fact that alchobol has a large presence in university life. Maybe Haden didn’t think it was a big deal because he remembers John McKay (Pat’s coach at USC and the father of his best friend and assistant JK McKay) closing down Julie’s every night after drinking everyone under the table. It’s easy for Those of us who don’t have addictive personalities to assume that if Coach McKay could do it everyone else can too. But times and attitudes change. The pressures and demands on a head coach at a high profile program like SC are much more than anything Coach McKay faced. Today every fan is a “journalist” armed with cell phone camera and the need to publish, so hiding anything from the public is much harder even in small college towns let alone a major media center like LA. Couple those pressures with a divorce that results in losing your wife, kids and house with easy access to booze and it is a recipe for disaster for someone prone to substance abuse.

    Couple Haden’s seeming Laissez-faire attitude to alchobol with a reluctance to come down to hard on a friend who is having a hard time and you become an enabler rather than a help. I know there was a “zero-tolerance” clause agreed to by both Heritage Hall and Sark after the Salute to Troy debacle, but the smart thing, the kind thing, at that point would have been to insist on immediate rehab under a LOA at the very least. To expect someone with a substance abuse problem to withstand the rigors that Sark’s job exposed him to was foolish at best and cruel in the end.

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