Berg is the Word: USC athletic department’s reputation hits new low

first_imgTherein lies the power of winning, and USC lacks that advantage right now. Its secondary teams have been proficient (although water polo is now embroiled in this scandal), but the major teams are well below average. The football team, one of the sport’s traditional blue bloods, is in a performance and reputation crisis. The basketball team, which struggles to attract attention even when it’s good, has been unable to capitalize on its strong recruiting numbers. The baseball team, which has won twice as many championships as any other school, has one College World Series appearance under the current leadership and hasn’t seriously contended since 2001. Now, the department is facing more scrutiny as part of  a nationwide FBI investigation into bribery in college admissions. The big name involved is men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who was arrested last week for helping students get admitted into USC as recruits without even having played the sport. Other members of the department were also implicated for the same reasons, including senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel, who was taken into custody. This marks a low point for USC Athletics; in the last few months, the once-hallowed department has taken multiple big hits to its reputation. After a disappointing football season, Athletic Director Lynn Swann decided to retain maligned head coach Clay Helton while firing a fair amount of the rest of the coaching staff. Swann then brought the University more embarrassment by bungling the Kliff Kingsbury signing. Kingsbury was hired as offensive coordinator for about a month before he used his tiny buyout to scorn the Trojans for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching gig. Much like many of its teams, USC Athletics is at a crucial crossroads. Swann and his staff need to start making positive steps because it could still get worse if more corruption is revealed. Until the teams improve, Swann needs to make up ground by tightening up his department and preventing further corruption. USC teams need wins between the lines, but perhaps more important is the department avoiding losses off the field. The reason this latest scandal represents the department’s low point — until it screws up again, anyway — is the dismal state of its teams’ performance. It would lessen the blow if the department at least had good results to point to, but there are no positives to find when the organization is corrupt and still can’t produce winning teams. Like it or not, winning covers up a lot of moral and legal concerns for fans and executives alike. Do you think any USC fans would trade the excitement and success of the Bush era to escape the embarrassment of what followed? Maybe some would, but those teams carry so many fond memories for fans that it seems doubtful that many of them would rather it never happened. Things only got worse as the men’s basketball season continued. Despite a promising recruiting class and returning productive starters in forwards senior Bennie Boatwright and junior Nick Rakocevic, the Trojans floundered to a 16-17 season marked by inconsistency and dysfunction. This included Swann’s puzzling decision to remove the Song Girls from basketball games, which became controversial due to a lack of logic or explanation. That’s not to say any of the University’s teams is more important than the others, but, in terms of the athletic department’s reputation and the discourse around it, the perception of these three teams (and specifically the football team) are bigger factors than the others. Whatever the states of those teams are will decide much of how fans and the media view the department, and right now, those three are struggling mightily. Those failures make it so much harder to rebound from humiliating scandals. It’s not morally right that team success can make up for corruption, but USC Athletics’ lack of integrity both on and off the field does explain why the program is at an all-time low. USC is no stranger to scandals and controversy, and its athletics department is not immune. The illegal benefits case surrounding former running back Reggie Bush, which also applied to basketball player O.J. Mayo, is perhaps the most well-known college athletics scandal of this century. Last year, then-assistant coach Tony Bland was one of a few college basketball coaches named in a FBI probe that found recruits were paid under the table to choose certain universities. USC is even related, albeit indirectly, to one of the most famous court cases of all time, involving former running back O.J. Simpson. Aidan Berg is a sophomore writing about sports. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Berg is the Word,” runs every other Tuesday.last_img

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