If you're one of the many fans whose first reaction to the heavy-handed NCAA sanctions handed down against USC last summer as punishment for the assorted crimes and misdemeanors of ex-Trojan star Reggie Bush in 2004-05 was "That's not fair," this is the weekend you've been waiting for: USC officials will be in Indianapolis over the weekend for a last-gasp appearance in front of the Infractions Appeals Committee, which will hear the university's argument to lift the second year of a two-year bowl ban (the Trojans have already served the first year) and scale back scholarship restrictions by half, from 10 fewer schollies per year over the next three years to five fewer per year.
Athletic director Pat Haden isn't getting his hopes up, given the roughly 10 percent success rate of appeals, but some smart outsiders are more optimistic about the Trojans' chances. Based on the committee's usual timeline, there won't be a verdict either way for 4-6 weeks.
In the meantime, coach Lane Kiffin has a recruiting class to finalize, and sanctions haven't had any discernible effect on the quality: As usual, every major outlet ranks the Trojans' 2011 class among the top five incoming classes in the country based on these standing list of verbal commitments and early enrollees, which this year includes seven players ranked among Rivals' top 100 overall prospects in the country. Among that group, the Trojans have commitments from two of the top five overall players, local headliners George Farmer and De'Anthony Thomas, and two of the top three "pro-style" quarterbacks, early enrollees Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Typical.
Even with sanctions pending, though, the quantity is also typical. At the moment, the incoming class is 25 members strong, eight of whom have already signed and enrolled, counting against the (unrestricted) 2010 scholarship cap. That leaves 17 likely signees already in the fold, with three more expected by signing day on Feb. 2. If he wanted, Kiffin could theoretically ink a full, 25-man class on signing day to round out the roster to a full 85 scholarship players – the maximum allowable under NCAA rules.
Those numbers are possible despite the mandated scholarship reductions, according to NCAA spokesman Stacy Osburn's statement to the Orange County Register, because "generally speaking, when a school is appealing a penalty, that penalty is staid until a decision by the Infractions Appeals Committee is rendered." In other words, because USC won't know the result of its appeal on Feb. 2, it can essentially proceed as if it's going to win. In this case, that probably means a 20-man class, in anticipation of the penalty being slashed from 10 lost scholarships per year (limiting the Trojans to 15 signees) to five per year (limiting them to twenty).
Of course, if the Trojans lose the appeal when the verdict comes down in March or April, they face either a significant roster purge or an even stricter cap in 2012, when they could theoretically be reduced to signing a mere ten players to make up for this year's (apparent) overage. But it looks like the plan is to forge ahead and jump that ditch when they come to it.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.