After a 48-hour whirlwind of conference shakeups, shakedowns, and shaking fists my head is left spinning and my heart mainly dejected for the punishments passed against The University of Southern California on June 9th.
Any sports fan who hasn't been living under a rock is aware of the NCAA's recent ruling, including USC's two-year bowl ban, four years' probation, loss of 30 scholarships, and forfeits of an entire year's games (2004). But the more the university gets smacked around the more despondent I feel, especially for the student athletes who will suffer the majority of the penalties.
The litigation, appeals, procedures, definitions, allowances, waivers blahblahblah blah blahasdflkdkljekhfgakhguerq - it's been non-stop for the past two days and will continue to be so for at least the next two years. And I don't prefer to analyze it more. At this point, I'm so heartbroken, enraged, and apathetic about it all I simply want to shake my head at all the numbing nonsense and change the channel. (Then I see the Gulf spill and...uggggh same feelings... hhhhhhhhhhhh...)
Look, I get it, it's an incredible opportunity to be a student athlete. Athletic scholarship provides tuition, books, dorm housing, and meals. Access to state-of-the-art health services and facilities. Chartered flights. More Nike than you can wear, more Gatorade than you can pee. Often throngs of adoring fans follow your every Tweet. Then there’s the potential to earn millions if a professional career can be established.
However, for the majority of players, most of this stuff isn’t as flossy as it’s supposed to be.
Books…sure, that’s nice, I guess.
Tuition…definitely. Especially for out of state or private school attendees.
Yet, after awhile, even Gatorade grows old.
Sure, it's cool to get free sweat suits and gloves, but rolling around on the "sluddy" (muddy slush) of 6am winter conditioning doesn't request that protection, it demands it. At Cal, our program’s winning percentage was often ridiculed by the student body – no player even wanted to wear our flippin-sweet Russell Athletic gear on campus! Not to mention “The Swoosh” didn’t adorn my lapel until senior year.
And pro ball? Forget it. Less than 2% of all NCAA footballas will play in the NFL.
But you know what is special? Bowl games.
Christmas break. A month of hype. Senior year. One last shot. What can compare?
The one bowl game I played in was the pinnacle of my collegiate career, not only because of the way it ended but because of the entire atmosphere surrounding the game. The week of interviews and practices in Arizona. The trips to different evening events. The fans crowding the hotel. The bowl ring. It was unlike anything we as players had ever experienced before. Not to mention the FREE-OF-NCAA-RESTRICTIONS after party. It felt good to be an adult again.
Which is why I reiterate how heartbroken I am for any team whose seniors automatically miss out on the chance to leave their mark on history. Especially when 99.9% of them had nothing to do with anything.
Again which is why I reiterate how enraged I am at the few who did: respective coaches Pete Carroll and Tim Floyd; respective players “What’s In The Fridge” O.J. (&) Mayo and Reggie Bush; and disgustingly pompous athletic director Mike Garrett who, on Thursday night at a coach’s tour event at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, quipped:
“As I read the decision by the NCAA, I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they were all Trojans.”
Look, I get it. It’s an incredible opportunity to attend the University of Southern California. I graduated from there three weeks ago, forever able to claim a little part of me as a Trojan because of my time (and money) spent as a student. And I will forever be thankful for what I gained in pursuing a degree from their program.
But for the athletic leader of said institution to claim NCAA sanctions on behalf of jealousy? Another reason why, in my line of business, USC is first on my resume but Cal first in my heart.
Let's set it straight, however. The prestigious University of California, Berkeley is not without its black eye either. In 2002, the NCAA imposed a one-year football postseason ban on our team, restricted nine scholarships and placed Cal on five years' probation after two players – who had since been kicked off the team – received credit for a course they either didn’t show up for or were often caught sleeping in.
I remember the team meeting that summer when first-year coach Jeff Tedford sadly revealed our bowl ineligibility. A few players cried out. Some buried their heads in their hands. Others threw towels or empty cups at the floor, furious. As a junior punter, I sat there silent and confused: we were a horrendous 1-10 the previous year, why the outburst? Did we really believe we had a chance to qualify for a 12th game the upcoming season???
Apparently we did.
Finishing 7-5 in 2002 – the greatest W/L turnaround in the nation that year – our seniors missed out on what should have been, for many, the final game of their collegiate careers.
Which is why I reiterate how apathetic I am with the whole NCAA process. What does erasing record book wins do? Or removing USC’s championships? I don’t care what Cal did or ever will do, you’re crazy to think anyone’s taking away my Insight Bowl ring.
Here is a website that counts how much money Pete Carroll made per second based on his 2009 salary of $4.4M – at the time the highest-paid private university employee in the United States. (I’m up to $10,000 as I write this.) Granted, Carroll’s no longer with USC but I’d wager a bet it isn’t Top Ramen and Wheaties for dinner coaching in the NFL.
So what’s Reggie Bush’s punishment, now living comfortably in New Orleans, Heisman Trophy nestled warmly betwixt NCAA Championship and Super Bowl rings? Or O.J. Mayo, now of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies? Or Tim Floyd, prepping for his latest gig as the Division I head coach at UTEP?
In a statement, Bush said: "I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players. I am disappointed by today's decision and disagree with the NCAA's findings." Way to fulfill those PR obligations, Reggie.
And Carroll, sitting amongst a fern like a Zack Galifianakis skit, comes across more cowardly than controlled, shielded by a non-responsive YouTube audience from the confines of the some bland facility, most likely in Kirkland, WA.
Insider Trading: when an insider at a corporation trades based on non-public information obtained during the performance of the insider's duties at the corporation.
Thankfully, there is silver lining in all of this. ESPN is reporting that the NCAA, in a rare concession, will allow USC juniors and seniors to be contacted by outside schools and retain the ability to transfer without serving the typical one-year penalty. The only roadblock keeping opposing coaches from licking their chops and wringing their hands is a team's current scholarship availability - if already maxed at 85 per program there isn't much breathing room to attract the likes of a Mitch Mustain, C.J. Gable, or Dave Ausberry.
In the end, if Garrett's rah-rah ramblings are as spot-on as he blatantly believes then consider these sanctions a giant leap for the NCAA but only a small step back for Trojankind. Personally, I look forward to watching USC be competitive for many years to come, however, as a Cal fan, I can't help but be slightly interested in the rest of the Pac's increased chances now that Troy has been wounded. Apparently we've now earned the sole title of 2004 Pac-10 Champions after sharing it with USC, for what it's worth five years later.
But I guarantee ain't no one getting back those rings.
Fredrickson was a punter and placekicker for the California
Golden Bears from 99-03 and then went on to play four years in the NFL
with Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Washington & Oakland. He's a graduate from the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern
California and consumes Star Wars and his 360
probably more than an allotted daily allowance
should permit. And wine. He drinks like a
horse. Not really.
But not really.