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You can't really take USC's title

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Pete Fiutak

Pete Fiutak writes previews, predictions and prognostications for CollegeFootballNews.com.

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Who won the Super Bowl for the 2004 season?

It might take you a few moments to remember, unless you’re a New England fan.

Who won the 2004 NBA title, or the World Series, or the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

If you lead any sort of a life and you don’t waste valuable brain space on useless sports lists – guilty as charged – you’d probably need your entire lunch break to come up with the Detroit Pistons, Boston Red Sox, and UConn Huskies, and only after you looked up at least one of the three.

Every week there’s something big happening in the sports world, pumped up by a relentless, memory-blurring news cycle that marches from one major event to the next. How disposable are sports titles in today’s day and age? Give this an honest run.

Pull up the stopwatch on your phone and hit Start ... now.

Name the four teams that played in the 2011 NCAA Final Four.

It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, it happened just two months ago and it was supposedly the biggest sporting event in America next to the Super Bowl.

The BCS “presidential oversight committee” – which includes several school presidents, led by Penn State’s Graham Spanier playing the role of Greg Marmalard – is trying to unring the bell of the 2004 college football season, the 2005 Orange Bowl and the 2006 Rose Bowl, but instead just put a bright, shiny, “hey, look at me” sign on the USC teams that won the 2004 national title and lost to Texas in an epic title game following the 2005 season.

Just like Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman campaign will forever stand out because of the controversy that ensued, the BCS has unnecessarily called attention to an era of Trojan football that’ll now be even more unique and even more memorable than it already was.

Going forward, what this ruling proves is that 1) nobody really cares, because anyone with a brain knows that Bush was hardly a lone offender in the college football world and this really wasn’t a unique case; 2) nobody really cares, because you can’t take away a win or a season in a meeting; and 3) nobody really cares.

The ruling won't serve as a deterrent in any way. Ask any Ohio State fan if he cares a lick about possibly vacating the 2002 national championship a decade after the fact. Ask any USC fan, or any real college football fan, if anything changes just because a few guys in suits chose to use the Delete key. Ask any university president that voted to strip USC of the title about the knee-deep puddle of history the committee just stepped in.

If you’re going to take away the 2004 USC national title, and the 2005 team’s appearance in the 2006 Rose Bowl, then what are you going to do about Colorado’s share of the 1990 national championship after the admission by agent Josh Luchs that Kanavis McGhee was given money? How about watching the documentary, “The U,” complete with Luther Campbell’s bragging about how he funded players throughout the program’s legendary run in the 1980s and 1990s? And those are just the layups to go along with a slew of other historical scandals and controversies – Cecil Newton, your table is ready.

More than anything else, this is just another case of hypocrisy in college athletics. One player took money from a marketing company, which isn’t actually illegal, and USC now supposedly wasn’t the best team in 2004. Meanwhile the Fiesta Bowl head honchos got in trouble for real world problems – and not the made-up kind of rule breaking USC is getting tagged for – including reimbursements for political contributions as well as former head man John Junker’s $1,200 “business expense” at a strip club. Both were major no-nos for a supposedly non-profit organization.

After a fine, a little bit of finger wagging, and a house cleaning, everything is back to normal and the Fiesta Bowl is still a part of the very, very lucrative big-time bowl picture. The BCS took care of its own and ruled favorably when its purposes needed to be served, and now it thinks it’s looking out for itself by trying to take away USC’s 2004 title in an attempt to preserve some semblance of integrity for the bizarre system that says it's okey-dokey to get a $300 gift card and a t-shirt in a bowl game gift basket, but it's evil to sell that t-shirt or to take $30,000 from a marketing company.

One of the big keys to the ruling and how unnecessary it was is to understand what actually happened in the USC case and why the program was given the Coma Penalty. Basically, to oversimplify the ruling, USC got in trouble for not doing enough internal leg work and because the compliance department wasn’t as tight as it should’ve been. That’s really it. No, USC didn’t get in trouble for anything booster-related to Bush. Yes, it screwed up because it wasn't nearly proactive enough in uncovering Bush's shenanigans and all the dough he was given. This could’ve happened anywhere, and worse things allegedly happened at Ohio State.

Ah yes, Ohio State. If you really dive into the guts of the NCAA’s USC ruling, the Lack of Institutional Control label was used a bit too easily considering that no institution actually has any sort of control over all the athletes. Granted, there was the repeat violator element, and O.J. Mayo’s issues were part of the problems for the athletic department as a whole, but in the case of USC football the transgressions really weren’t that bad compared to what’s being reported in Columbus. USC and Pete Carroll were way too loose, but Ohio State, as a university, apparently had no control whatsoever over Jim Tressel. If Tressel's sins go back far enough, then the BCS committee that just took away a championship might have to look just as hard at the 2002 OSU national title and will certainly have to do the same for future offenders – and there will be future offenders.

The AP has already said it’s not changing its 2004 final poll. USC fans will still have their memories of the 55-19 wedgie applied to Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, along with the pain of losing the 2006 Rose Bowl to Texas. And the BCS once again showed how toothless it is when it comes to punishments after the fact, while unwittingly doing USC a favor by immortalizing the Bush era.

Yes, you’ll remember who won the 2004 college football national title. And yes, USC, with Reggie Bush, did win the 2004 college football national title.

(By the way, it was Connecticut, Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, and Kentucky.)
 

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