USC's football and, to a lesser extent, basketball programs have been under a cloud for years, beginning with reports that Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and his family accepted improper benefits from would-be marketers in 2004 and 2005.
That episode is finally over, and the final tally is this: USC football, which played in seven consecutive Bowl Championship Series games from 2003-09 under former coach Pete Carroll, is ineligible for a bowl game for a second season (they served the first year of a two-season bowl ban in 2010) and will be docked the full 30-scholarship penalty — 10 a season for three years starting in 2012.
USC continues to claim the penalty does not fit the crime, that there was little evidence that anyone at the school knew of the Bush benefits.
Trojans athletics director Pat Haden said he is "gravely disappointed" and called the NCAA penalties "unjust."
USC President C.L. Max Nikias went further: "We are very concerned that the historical value of case precedent and the right to fair process in the NCAA adjudicative process, both in terms of the ability of an institution to defend itself or prove an abuse of discretion on appeal, have been substantially eroded."
If that sounds like pre-lawsuit saber-rattling, Haden put an end to talk that USC might sue the NCAA.
"We are not going to do that," Haden, a lawyer, said. "We have decided to kind of move on."
And move out from under the cloud. "It's great to have this behind us," Haden said.
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The future could be difficult, though. USC coach Lane Kiffin, while the case was under appeal, signed a full complement of newcomers for 2011. But starting in 2012, USC will have to pare down to 75 scholarship players and face teams with 85, a disadvantage that will last for three seasons.
"I know Lane can bring in good players, and I know they will be well-coached," Haden said. "I know we'll have to be a little lucky. But there's no reason we shouldn't be competitive."
Kiffin said he's still getting a good reception from recruits.
"They understand the value of a USC degree and the opportunities afforded them by playing football here," Kiffin said.
USC had to be happy Thursday to hear their top 2012 prospect, 6-8, 280-pound offensive lineman Arik Armstead, whose older brother Armond is on the USC roster, is still committed.
"I'm sticking with USC," Armstead, also a basketball prospect, said. "Having only 15 scholarships the next three years doesn't mean that much to me … USC normally gets the top recruits, anyway."
Because of the bowl ban in effect for 2011, USC's seniors will be allowed to transfer without sitting out a year, but junior quarterback Matt Barkley hasn't heard of anyone planning to take that path.
"I could be wrong, but having talked to guys prior to this ruling, it doesn't look like that will happen," Barkley said.
The Trojans had a brief team meeting Thursday at which Kiffin, according to Barkley, told the players to "be smart" when it comes to posting reactions on Twitter or Facebook.
Barkley said all he had to do to put in perspective what USC considers an unfair penalty is think about the victims of the tornado in Missouri.
"Life isn't fair for them," he said, "but they're finding a way to fight on."