After watching USC take down eight consecutive opponents, including winning the Diamond Head Classic and starting off 2-0 in conference play, it seemed the tales of the demise of SC hoops had been greatly exaggerated. Then just like that -- in a move swift, decisive and thorough -- athletic director Mike Garrett announced there would be no postseason basketball for this rag-tag group of second-chance Trojans.
Garrett's move is an attempt to precede the NCAA in their ultimate findings, but it also reeks of both hypocrisy and a soullessness that leaves most in college basketball thinking the same thing: USC does not care about its current basketball players or its basketball program. Instead, USC simply believes -- at least in my mind and that of many others in the sport -- that by giving up its hoop dreams, the NCAA will go light on the school's football program.
If that's the case -- and it's unlikely we'll ever truly know -- that speaks to a sad state of affairs in collegiate athletics.
There is precedent for this, mind you. Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson was seen several times driving a Lexus and starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn were getting paid for work they were not doing (both from the same dealership, Big Red Sports and Imports). Bomar and Quinn were eventually dismissed, but the school faced no penalties. Yet the NCAA, along with the school, hammered Kelvin Sampson for more than 500 illegal phone calls.
Trust me, many Big 12 followers snickered. It's their belief that hoops, almost always less of a money-maker than football, is generally "thrown under the bus" in cases like this. In the Big Ten, Ohio State self-imposed a postseason ban, fired coach Jim O'Brien in 2004 (he later sued for breach of contract and won) and took away scholarships. Yet when Maurice Clarett, star running back of the 2002 national championship team, later said he was given money and other gifts, nothing ever came of the investigation.
Think about it realistically for a second. Look at the scandals in college sports over the past 20 years. Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Indiana have all been on basketball probation in the Big Ten alone (and Northwestern had a point-shaving scandal), yet no one in the league has broken a rule so severe that there has been a major scandal on the football side? Come on.
The truth is, Reggie Bush's family may still bring down SC football. Just last week, a court denied a motion to keep private details of alleged payments his family received during his last season on campus.
But the sour taste of a double standard is just one of the issues many fans of the college game have a problem with.
In addition, there is the fact that both the player (O.J. Mayo) and the coach (Tim Floyd) are no longer with the university, and thus punishing the current players seems to make as much sense as punishing the current coach. If the argument is that none of these players would have been at USC without Floyd, then so too is it true for Kevin O'Neill.
And while we are at it, what are the ramifications for the USC administration? Garrett stood by as Floyd either recruited Mayo or Mayo recruited Floyd, depending on who you believe. In truth, Garrett, if anyone, should take some of the fall for this latest episode of ineptitude. He is on his fifth basketball coach in nine years at USC, and while he is most known for his one magical hire in football (Pete Carroll), that was his third shot -- and frankly, would have been his last had it not worked out.
The worst part is that senior point guard Mike Gerrity simply wanted a place to play -- and he got that at SC. Gerrity is 23, engaged to be married to his longtime sweetheart, and when he walked on for his first semester as a Trojan, none of this was an issue. Now all the hard work is kind of for naught. Sure, the Trojans can still win the Pac-10 regular-season title for the first time in school history. But no postseason? That's a tough pill to swallow.
As for Marcus Johnson, he was set to play professionally overseas during the offseason. And while that may not have been overly lucrative, it would have started him off professionally. But he turned it down for one more opportunity at an NCAA tournament. When Johnson first transferred home to USC, the Trojans were at the peak of the Floyd era. Now he too loses the carrot thanks to the actions of others.
Alex Stepheson also came "home" to USC, transferring from North Carolina to be closer to his family and to gain playing time. Stepheson, like many other Trojans players, was warned by other coaches about what might eventually happen to the SC program -- but that does not make it any easier to take.
In truth, there was a sense that Floyd was "dancing with the devil" by bringing in Mayo and former teammate Davon Jefferson. But again, how do you punish the current team for the past team's NCAA violations? I just don't get it. There must be consequences, but where is the accountability of the athletic department? It seems as though the coaches and players on the current team are the only ones truly accepting the blame for past transgressions.
Why not anyone else?
Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com.