We’ve been all around the USC program in the past week, but we’ve got time for one more post. At the end of every week we like to take a step back and look at the overall state of the program – not just how the team performed last year or is expected to perform next year, but what the long term prognosis for the program is. And with USC, much like it has been with their basketball program for some time, the future is cloudy. As we pointed out in the first post of the week, it has been 26 years since the Trojans earned a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 years since they won a conference title outright (back when there were only four other teams competing in their conference). By comparison, in that same time frame the Trojans have won six national titles in football and vacated another one. It’s absolutely no secret that the importance that the athletic department puts on the success of their basketball program pales in comparison to the football program. Heck, basketball probably isn’t even a second fiddle to football, as numerous other programs around the SC campus have won multiple national titles (baseball, for instance, has won nine national titles since the basketball program last won a conference title outright; men’s water polo has won seven national titles; and men’s tennis has won 16). Let’s call basketball the gong at the back of the orchestra.
One thing USC’s basketball program does have going for it that it hadn’t had in the past is a beautiful on-campus arena in the Galen Center, which opened in 2006. A definite upgrade from their previous home – the decaying publicly owned Los Angeles Sports Arena – the Galen Center jumps right onto the list of the nicest Pac-12 venues and gives SC a clear recruiting boost. When it opened, there was talk of a newfound commitment to the basketball program around Heritage Hall, and the arrival of O.J. Mayo on campus a year later certainly instilled a level of excitement around the Trojan basketball program that hadn’t really been felt since the days of Harold Miner. But, after three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament under Tim Floyd, any momentum the program had built up was flushed away in controversy, as stories of payments from Floyd to Mayo surfaced, Floyd then resigned in disgrace, and USC self-imposed sanctions on its hoops program, including a one-year ban on any postseason play.
While all of that could go down as just an isolated incident related to one bad egg as head coach, its overall impact may be bigger. The Trojans were on their way to becoming regular NCAA Tournament participants, and had a bead on a strong incoming 2009 recruiting class including future Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams that surely would have extended USC’s success out a couple more years. Regardless of the history of the program, if SC had been able to string together six or seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, that could have started a positive feedback loop, setting up USC as a legitimate and attractive landing spot for elite basketball recruits.