USC’s Real Football Problem Is That Other Schools Aren’t as Classy as It Is

Professor James O’Toole, a graduate and former employee of the University of Southern California, takes to the Los Angeles Times opinion page today to lament the state of college athletics in general and his alma mater’s college athletics in particular:

The old ideal of the serious student who also is a fine amateur athlete has become progressively corrupted in recent decades, particularly in the top-rated football and basketball programs at roughly 100 universities. As television revenues and professional sports salaries have soared, these universities have taken to offering scholarships to athletes who have little interest in obtaining an education and, instead, view their increasingly brief tenures in higher education as a form of unpaid minor-league preparation for their future professional sports careers. In effect, universities now suit-up unpaid mercenaries in their school colors, then cash in on their efforts.

It is possible that this entire paragraph, minus the television reference, was cut and pasted from a New York Times editorial of 100 years ago, as a prank. But O’Toole seems genuinely upset about the punishment inflicted on USC for its comprehensively corrupt athletic program , which has “sullied” the school’s reputation. The solution? USC and other academically serious schools, such as Stanford and Notre Dame, should take their scholar-athletes and secede from big-time college sports, forming a new league committed to academic excellence, where players will study hard and be required to stay in school for years, etc.

Yes, some alumni would scream bloody murder at the prospect of USC no longer competing in the storied powerhouse Pac 10 and against football factories supported by various state governments. And yes, the quality of the football and basketball played in the new conference may deteriorate a bit as some non-student athletes decide to opt for Ole Miss and Florida State instead of Northwestern and USC.

But most fans will continue to pay to see the Trojans take on the Fighting Irish in the Coliseum, as networks will continue to pay to see Duke and Stanford tussle on the basketball court.

Last year, in the Ivy League—the quasi-model for O’Toole’s league of “first-rate academic institutions”—a crowd of 7,424 turned out to watch Penn play Harvard in a showdown for first place. USC, playing out the string against Arizona in a subpar season, drew 83,753 .

Nor is it clear why an academics-first conference would even take the Trojans. Two of the government-supported Pac-10 football factories that O’Toole disdains—Cal and UCLA—outrank USC in the U.S. News standings * (and cost $30,000 less per year, in-state).

* The U.S. News standings are evil and dumb. But still. USC?