LOS ANGELES -- If the NCAA really wanted to destroy the USC Trojans' football program through sanctions, they should have included a true freshmen ineligibility addendum. Now that really would have been the lethal kryptonite to the Superman program built by former head coach Pete Carroll.
Imagine how an NCAA freshmen ineligibility sanction would have crippled the Trojans in recruiting. Unless a blue-chip recruit always wanted to play for the Men of Troy, it's a safe bet that the Trojans would have lost out on a number of high-valued players that helped keep the program afloat and winning during those sanctioned seasons.
Now let's fast-forward to last season, Steve Sarkisian's first at the helm of the Trojans' storied program. Ask yourself, where would the Trojans have been in 2014 if there had been a freshmen ineligibility rule as part of the general college football landscape?
Apparently what the NCAA never did during the Trojans' sanctions -- freshmen ineligibility -- has now become a hot item in college football. The Big Ten appears to be spearheading a potentially seismic shift in the way college sports do business. The Big Ten wants to consider freshmen ineligibility, and it's getting positive support from both the Pac-12 and the Big 12.
And the powerful SEC?
Are you really surprised the SEC hasn't shown public support of the Big Ten's freshmen ineligibility concept? In theory, consider Sarkisian recruiting nationally against Alabama's Nick Saban, and Sark's Pac-12 has freshmen ineligibility and Saban's SEC doesn't. It would be the recruiting theatre of the absurd, and you know which university the high school phenom would likely select.
In all likelihood, a freshmen ineligibility rule won't pass because all stakeholders invested into the College Football Playoff would need to be on the same recruiting playing field. Of course, the SEC would be more than happy if the other conferences went to a freshmen ineligibility rule and they didn't.
From a USC football program point of view, had a freshmen ineligibility rule been in effect last season, it might have been disastrous even after finally being set free from NCAA sanctions.
Given the limited numbers and depth issues, imagine if the Trojans couldn't have had the 2014 services of those three true freshmen prodigies that started along the offensive line -- namely Freshman All-American left tackle Toa Lobendahn and physical guards Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama.
The crème de la crème of the true freshmen, of course, was Freshman All-America corner/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson, whose sensational 98-yard kickoff touchdown return and electrifying 71-yard TD catch-and-run ignited the Trojans to a 45-42 victory against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the National University Holiday Bowl.
Speaking of the Trojans' Holiday Bowl win in San Diego, the Cardinal and Gold started six true freshmen -- four on offense and two on defense and also received support from two additional true freshmen talents in tight end Bryce Dixon and corner Jonathan Lockett.
There is little argument that true freshmen need time to adjust to college life academically, athletically, and socially. However, this isn't the 1970s. Priorities and professional career paths have changed dramatically, and players and their parents more than ever see the riches of playing in the NFL and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.
For those that cry academics are hurt by true freshmen eligibility, after high school graduation many incoming freshmen players immediately enrolled by their university into summer school classes, thus getting a jump-start on a college degree, academics, social life, and immersion into their sports' pathway.
Yes, times have changed.
Just this January at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, which features many of the nation's premier senior high school football players, two-way star Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly) declared on national television that he was taking his talents to the University of Southern California for "the next three years."
Naturally, Ross's "next three years" declaration as opposed to "next four years" brought forth a lot of discussion, but the teenager was just echoing what most incoming freshman football players of today are thinking, and that's heading to the NFL immediately after their junior season.
Yes, times have changed.
The Trojans already have four of Ross's true freshmen teammates (offensive linemen Chuma Edoga and Roy Hemsley, linebacker Cameron Smith, and quarterback Ricky Town) enrolled in USC's spring semester. All four wanted to forego their spring senior semester at their respective high schools and begin their college careers early -- to not only adjust to college life but to participate in spring practice, which begins March 3.
There is very little debate that freshmen ineligibility was once a noble and admirable transition from high school to college, but there are way too many variables and options in today's college football world to go back in time.
And if any university can attest to the values and benefits of freshmen eligibility, the Trojans' football program can because they have lived it in more ways than one.