USC’s Deflating Year of Untapped Potential

Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans are having a season to remember, for all the wrong reasons.

Welcome to Southern California, where bush league play is not only endorsed but welcomed with arms wide open.

No, we’re not talking about the Lakers’ defensive play of late. Instead, we’re referring to the once great University of Southern California and its seemingly unstoppable attempts to be named the ‘Most Shady Program in Sports.’

This week we learned of the school dismissing an unnamed student-manager who had admitted to deliberately deflating game balls during last weekend’s 62-51 loss to Oregon.

According to the unnamed assailant, the decision to take the air out of the balls – but not the Oregon Ducks – was one that was not influenced in any manner by any other member of the program, including the coaching staff.

The Pac-12 weighed in by handing the school a $25,000 fine, a veritable slap on the wrist. Reasonable? Yes, but only if you accept the argument that this was not orchestrated from higher up. Do you?

How can anybody believe that a lowly student-manager not only took this decision but implemented it also without the prior consent of somebody/anybody further up the hierarchy?

The answer to that is simple: we can’t. Maybe we could if this was a team of high standing and integrity, but Southern California lost any such public standing a long time ago.

So what we have in front of us is another episode in the ongoing saga of ‘USC and the Dishonest Bag of Trickery’, a series of not-quite-scandals that have had even the least cynical of us wondering.

It was only three weeks ago that we learned of the ‘Case of the Ill-Fitting Jersey.’

Against Colorado – of all teams – backup USC quarterback Cody Kessler donned the same number jersey as punter Kyle Negrete. Then, looking to take any kind of advantage against the worst team in the conference, the Trojans attempted a two-point conversion with ‘fake punter’ Kessler on the field.

Now, if you look at the NCAA rule book, changing jerseys during game time is a big no-no, but there was Kiffin to remind us that: “We change jerseys all the time with our guys.” Um, maybe somebody should investigate that statement.

Then there was the ‘Case of the Too-Well-Informed Clark Kent.’

Ahead of the Trojans’ game with Stanford, Los Angeles Times reporter Scott Wolf reported that kicker Andre Heidari had undergone surgery. The next thing the journalist knew he was banned from attending practices by Kiffin. Quickly reinstated by USC Athletics Director Pat Haden, Wolf would only be the subject of Kiffin’s wrath for a day or so.

And who could forget the ‘Case of the Blink-and-You’ll-Miss-It Press Conference’?

The week after the Stanford game, Kiffin conducted an after practice press conference that lasted a grand total of 29 seconds. The coach’s heart-to-heart with the media was rudely interrupted by a question about injuries. Rather than dismiss the question and move on, Kiffin upped and left.

What we were left with was an incident that smelled of bush league antics and proved an unnecessary distraction for a team that doesn’t need distractions.

Remember, this is the team that was banned from the postseason thanks to the antics of Reggie Bush – he of the receiving and handling of non-permitted goods fame – and running backs coach Todd McNair – who knew of the above. Add to this Dillon Baxter and his golf cart ride in 2010, and you have a perennial offender in the dishonest and downright shady antics league.

It seems that Kiffin and the football program have taken one leaf too many from the Trojans of old. These Trojan horse antics are doing nothing for the team but paint it in a poor light, something a team that spent two years on probation should really be avoiding.

When the dust settles on this season, few people will remember how well USC fared. It doesn’t matter if the team is successful this weekend against Arizona State and then knocks off UCLA in two weeks’ time on the way to the SEC Championship Game. This season is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Picture it now:

“Hey, do you remember when the Trojans were 3/1 favorites to take the National Championship and ended the season with 3/4/5 losses [delete as applicable] and a storeroom full of deflated footballs?”

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