Turns out the NCAA did give USC the Alabama slammer. And then some.
The NCAA hammered USC with sanctions on Thursday, as the Trojans were banned from postseason play for two seasons, lost 30 scholarships over the next three years and must vacate all wins from December 2004 -- the BCS title game included -- through the entirety of the 2005 season.
USC was cited for a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits, exceeding coach staff limits and unethical conduct by a running backs coach Todd McNair. Because of violations in 2001, the program also was considered a "repeat violator."
The penalties, USC's sixth case of major infractions since 1957, exceed in severity sanctions Alabama received in 2002 and what Washington received in 1993 -- major violations cases you can review here.
USC can appeal the ruling, but then it runs the risk of simply delaying the penalties further into the future.
The first question: Why did the NCAA hit USC so hard with sanctions?
Answer: It didn't buy any of USC's defenses.
"The general campus environment surrounding the violations troubled the committee," the report said.
"The committee noted that the violations in this case strike at the heart of the NCAA amateurism principal, which states that intercollegiate athletics should be motivated primarily by education and its benefits," the report said.
The 67-page public report recounts a laundry list of extra benefits provided to Reggie Bush and his family, much of which has been widely reported. The committee also found that McNair not only knew about Bush's dealings with would-be agents and sports marketers, he lied about what he knew to NCAA investigators. McNair, whom new coach Lane Kiffin retained as the Trojans running backs coach, is banned from all recruiting activities for a year.
"The committee finds ample reason in the record to question the credibility of the assistant football coach [McNair]," the report said.
The only gesture of mercy: No television ban. Said the report, "The committee seriously contemplated imposing a television ban penalty in this case. However, after careful consideration, it ultimately decided that the penalties below adequately respond to the nature of violations and the level of institutional responsibility."
So what does it mean?
First, there's the embarrassment of the vacated wins, which could mean the BCS takes away the 2004 national title.
But the NCAA obviously wanted to make a strong statement, and the only way to do that is to hit a program where it hurts: The present and future.
Losing 10 scholarships from each of the next three recruiting classes is a significant blow. Losing potential bowl berths for the next two seasons also will be a blow to recruiting as well as school finances.
In other words, these penalties will send the program that has won seven of the past eight Pac-10 titles back to the pack. Will it crush the program? Probably not. But let's just say the Trojans probably won't win the Pac-10 when they are again eligible for the postseason in 2012.
The unfortunate thing is the folks who will suffer most under these penalties -- players who weren't around in 2004 and 2005 -- are not the ones to blame. Most of the principals have moved on to bigger and better things. Bush and O.J. Mayo are NFL and NBA millionaires. Bush's parents, stepfather Lamar Griffin and mother Denise Bush, used their son's fame for profit, breaking NCAA rules in the process, probably couldn't care less. Former coach Pete Carroll signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Seahawks. Tim Floyd is the basketball coach at UTEP.
USC looked like a slight Pac-10 favorite entering the 2010 season. Now that they are only playing for pride, who knows what the product will look like on the field.
The door is open for another program, or two, to make its move. Further, in 2012, the Trojans will re-enter the race after Pac-10 expansion in a weakened state, which means the opportunity window figures to be open for a few more years.
The NCAA doesn't like to talk about sending a message, but the USC ruling should do just that.
You can run -- or run your program loosely -- but ultimately you can't hide. Even if it takes four years, the NCAA will eventually have its say.