USC loses title, but who really pays the price?

Danny O’Neil / The Seattle Times /

Published Jun 9, 2011 at 05:00AM

SEATTLE —

The trophy is gone.

Does everyone feel better now? The Bowl Championship Series has stripped the USC Trojans of their 2004 national championship.

Actually, does anyone feel better?

It’s an honest question and also an important one because it gets to the heart of just what the BCS specifically and the NCAA in general achieves with this type of public defrocking.

What does this change other than a media guide and USC’s trophy case?

Just because you decide to ignore history doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. USC still manhandled Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, and the BCS made millions from people who paid to watch the Trojans do it. That capped USC’s wire-to-wire run as college football’s No. 1 team that season, and the BCS stripping USC of its title doesn’t change how Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu felt about that year.

“In no way,” said Tatupu, a junior middle linebacker with the Trojans. “I don’t care who does or doesn’t acknowledge it. The men in that locker room, they know the sacrifices we made to attain our goal.”

Stripping victories years later is like legislating in a rearview mirror. It is one of the least effective punishments ever devised. It doesn’t change what happened and it’s questionable just how much of a deterrent it actually is in the future.

John Calipari landed one of the plum jobs in college basketball as Kentucky’s coach even though Final Four appearances he made with UMass and Memphis—accomplishments that presumably helped his candidacy at Kentucky—were subsequently vacated.

Erasing history is the easy way out, something no more complicated than designating a scapegoat. Instead of looking at the issues raised by Reggie Bush allegedly accepting money and gifts impermissible under NCAA guidelines, it’s easier to brand Bush as an ineligible player, castigate the school and ignore his accomplishments after the fact. After all, he’s no longer in a position to make any money for the NCAA.

And let’s get this out of the way, Tatupu holds no ill will toward Bush.

“I could never really fault him,” Tatupu said. “To this day, I can’t.”

He is grateful for Bush’s contributions as a teammate.

“I know there’s two games that he won on his own,” Tatupu said of the title year. “Would we have won those games any way? I don’t know, it would have been a lot harder.”

Tatupu is also grateful for the attention Bush brought to the program, something that helped teammates get more exposure in front of NFL scouts.

But now the NCAA has done everything but pin a scarlet letter upon Bush. Never mind that the NCAA’s notion of amateurism seems at best antiquated and at worst exploitive. Forget that the NCAA’s policing seems to be arbitrary. Is it fair to have a current group of USC players who had nothing to do with those violations feel the brunt of the punishment.

That’s what bothers Tatupu more than anything about this.

“You want to take away the trophies?” Tatupu said. “Fine, you took away the trophies, but take these kids off probation.”

The Trojans are only halfway through a two-year bowl ban.

“If what you wanted to do is come hurt us, but give these kids back their college careers,” Tatupu said. “They didn’t do anything.”