Want to get an idea of what USC's NCAA appeal denial, announced Wednesday, really means to the Trojans?
Read athletic director Pat Haden's comments from January, before the school even sat with the Infractions Appeals Committee in Indianapolis later that month.
"The reason I'm not terribly optimistic," Haden said at the time, "is just, statistically, you only win 10 percent of appeals. The burden of proof is high."
Too high, evidently. Too high for USC to publicly maintain much hope its penalty would be reduced, and even too high in private circles among administrators and coaches at the school. In their minds, this was never a case likely to be won.
But to the players?
Many expected to be able to play in a bowl game this season and to be able to compete into December for postseason position. Just look at some of their tweets from last week, when a rumor spread through a portion of the team that the punishments would all be lifted.
Part of that can be attributed to youthful exuberance and part to just not knowing the odds.
The most important part of today's announcement, though, is not the lack of a bowl game. That has long taken a back seat to the issue of scholarships, something that will affect the Trojans for a much longer period of time.
Think about it: The last recruiting class for which the postseason ban is relevant is already in the bag, already signed, sealed and (mostly) delivered. The high-school seniors Lane Kiffin & Co. are recruiting for the next class have always known they will be able to play in a bowl game in 2012 regardless of the appeal's outcome.
But the scholarship limits staying the same? That will really hurt. Over the past several months, USC weirdly didn't appear to pay much attention to the possible constraints on scholarships an appeal denial would entail. That ended up being fine with the 2011 recruiting class, as the decision was announced much later than February's national signing day, obviously, but it's going to be a tough squeeze with the 2012 group.
The Trojans already have eight players committed to join next year's class, per various reports, with one -- top local lineman Max Tuerk -- giving his verbal commitment Wednesday morning, in fact. That leaves only seven open spots for the maximum 15-player class, per NCAA-mandated restrictions that now will come into play next season and stay active until 2015.
Also beginning next season is a 75-man overall scholarship limit for the roster, which will make for even more squeezing. As of this writing, to our best guess, USC plans to have 82 players on scholarship next season, with 58 spring-roster players, 21 newcomers and one returner (receiver Brice Butler).
Only 13 of those players will exhaust their eligibility in 2011, giving USC 69 scholarship players for the 2012 season plus a class of newcomers -- and the Trojans must somehow fit that into the 75-man limit.
That's what the Trojans will be dealing with, along with a sure-to-come bevy of complaints from boosters and fans who took issue with Haden's non-fighting strategy concerning the appeal.
Oh, and the whole "free agency" thing Kiffin talked about last year. That's in effect again, giving every one of the country's Football Bowl Subdivision schools an opportunity to recruit USC's 13 seniors to transfer and immediately play in new locations.
It's unlikely it will have as big an impact this time as it did last summer -- anyone who can transfer now could have last year and chose not to -- but, then again, even one senior departure would likely register as a sizable loss for the Trojans.