Could USC Sanctions Impact Notre Dame?

As a Notre Dame fan I am naturally predisposed to root against USC in all endeavors. It is just part of the deal.

In my younger days I tended to see such things in extremes. It was black and white, good versus evil and there were lines in the sand. Fortunately I have mellowed out quite a bit over the years. Adulthood and real responsibility tend to bring a little more perspective on things. But I still can’t stand USC.

I was at the Coliseum in 2002 on the night that Carson Palmer cut up the Irish defense in the second half en-route to winning the Heisman. As I watched Straight Outta L.A. on the WWL last night they were talking about the Raider fans being completely out of control I had flashbacks to that night in 2002. The Trojan fans were the worst I have ever seen at a college football game. Little did I know that the beat down I witnessed on the field and in the stands that night was only the beginning. It has been rough watching the Irish get worked over by the Trojans for the last several years. In all honesty the Pete Carroll era is something I would rather forget.

When the NCAA started digging into the Trojan program I was initially excited. Like most other Irish fans I thought it was long overdue. As of today it looks like we might find out what punishment the NCAA has in store for the Trojans by the end of the month.

My natural inclination is to hold out hope that the NCAA delivers a nice off season surprise and drops the hammer on Troy. It is the right thing to do. As great as that sounds another thought shortly follows. Could the ripple effect of a harsh penalty for the Trojans actually have a negative impact on Notre Dame? There are a lot of angles here.

Carroll and his fast and loose program have painted the NCAA into a corner. No matter what spin the NCAA tries to put on a wrist slap the perception will be that the Trojans got a pass just because they are a power player. Everything about that is bad for college football as a whole. That said that is what I see as the most likely scenario. I will be surprised if the penalty is anything more than vacating some wins, which is meaningless in this scenario, and the loss of a handful of scholarships.

But on the off chance that the NCAA actually did deliver a severe enough penalty to really derail the USC program what does it mean for the Fighting Irish? Does it really matter? It could.

Notre Dame is fighting to stay independent in the midst of inevitable conference realignment that could make scheduling extremely difficult. An independent Notre Dame could find it even more difficult to navigate the schedules and TV contracts of the superconferences to find quality matchups. The scheduling of teams like Western Michigan and Tulsa has already drawn the ire of Irish fans but could become more the norm than the exception. The upside is that I don’t think 7-4-1 would be sustainable in that environment. To schedule additional quality opponents more home and home deals become a must.

Traditional rivalries with USC and Michigan will have to be maintained and gain importance in that kind of environment. While the current 2010 schedule is littered with several respectable 8-4 type teams we all know that polls and the BCS love big wins against top tier opponents. With no conference championship game to rely on as a kick save those quality opponents have to be scheduled.

Assuming that traditional rivalry games with Michigan and USC are able to be maintained it benefits Notre Dame for those teams to carry as much weight as possible in the polls. The immediate future of Michigan is very much in doubt at the moment which leaves USC. Should the Trojans tank due to NCAA sanctions Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick could find himself staring at a very mediocre strength of schedule.

This is where having sacrificed the ability to schedule another two high quality home and home deals in favor of 7-4-1 comes back to bite you. The fate of USC could actually have an impact.

The whole scenario creates a perfect storm where Brian Kelly could theoretically get the Irish playing championship caliber football again only to have no shot at actually playing for a championship. There was a time when I thought that was impossible, but I don’t see it that way anymore.

Many said that the hiring of Brian Kelly would define the tenure of Jack Swarbrick as Athletics Director. I am beginning to think his real tests have yet to come. What do you think?

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