Gone. Much like Carroll, now coaching the Seattle Seahawks, or Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy, which has been mailed away. Video breakdown of USC practice.
Article Tab : USC quarterback Matt Barkley works on drills during the first day of football practice at the Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Football Field on Wednesday. USC football practice was closed off to the public due to the recent NCAA sanctions.
Gone. Much like the fans, entourages and hangers-on who used to pile five-deep around the sidelines.
The flashy, more peripheral and entertaining amusements and features of the Trojans’ football carnival have been stripped away, leaving the NCAA-hammered program more spartan when it opened fall camp Wednesday afternoon at a Howard Jones Field that resembled a fortress.
Five security officers patrolled the area around the field’s walled perimeter and stood in front of the cardinal-painted, metal, double-doored entrance before practice. University employees, sentries with white “Athletic Compliance” binders within reach, turned Trojans fans away and provided clearance to only pre-approved visitors.
Boarding an international flight or getting onto a military base is easier than seeing this season’s NCAA-sanctioned Trojans in practice. As in seasons past, the players arrived and did their traditional touches of the stone above the doorway.
But to start this 2010 penalty-phase season that will not end in a bowl game, they added a new move, tapping the gold “Lock In” sign on the left door. This was a motivational reminder for the necessary focus required by this season, which also deserves to carry the message, “Lockdown.”
The altered state of USC football kicked off Wednesday, going high with institutional control and tight with NCAA compliance. For the first season since 2001, practices were closed to the general public.
Locked-down practices, along with the two-year bowl ban and the 30-scholarship reduction over the next three years, are among the NCAA sanctions stemming from violations relating to Bush’s improper acceptance of more than $300,000 in cash and prizes from a fledgling sports agent/marketer during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
“That was one player, one agent and something that happened five years ago, but we’re all paying for it now,” said Matt Thomson, 31, a USC fan visiting from St. Louis, who was not permitted to watch practice. “I understand why the NCAA is doing this but we fans weren’t the problem. We’ve been the people supporting the players.”
No fans were allowed through the entrance, which was guarded full-time during practice by a campus police officer. University staff members, including the new NCAA cleaning crew of Athletic Director Pat Haden, associate athletic director J.K. McKay and university president C.L. Max Nikias, had to wear lanyards and credentials to gain admission to the field.
The only non-USC personnel permitted through the gates were about 15 immediate family members and about 60 pre-approved media members. Each visitor was required to get a wristband and sign an admission form on which he or she agrees not to talk to recruits and promises not to “provide any benefits to any current USC student-athlete.”
The form also requires that each practice visitor to certify that he or she is “not an agent (e.g. sports agent, marketing agent or financial advisor to athletes) or any such agent’s employee, representative or affiliate (including “runners”). No lie-detector tests were required for entrance, though there might plans to install an electrified fence and a moat with piranha.
A dozen loyal followers, fixtures for attending practices faithfully over the years, put on their USC hats and tees and wristbands and gathered before practice in the walkway from the team’s locker room to the field.
“Go get ’em!” a USC-capped fan told cornerback Shareece Wright, who smiled and waved.
“Have a great practice,” a woman told defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo (Century High), who raised his arms and shouted “I believe!”
This was all the contact these fans could get. Cheers, pats on the players’ shoulder pads, fist bumps and high-fives to taped hands and “Fight on!” messages were the only extra benefits these USC diehards have been giving to players for decades.
“We were watching practice forever, from days when coaches were pulling guys out of trees,” said one practice mainstay who was there Wednesday with his the regulars he called the “Competition Tuesday” group. “I’m sad that it has come to this because watching football is what we did.”
Hearing the horn sound off the start of practice and being stranded outside the field’s walls “was like a dagger to heart,” one Trojan diehard said.
“Thank you for coming out,” walk-on linebacker Luke Freeman told the fans with whom he knocked knuckles on his way to the field.
Inside the gate first-year coach Lane Kiffin held an intense, non-stop 2 hour and 54 minutes practice with a single “light” spot coming during stretching to Jamie Foxx’s “Winner” blared on the field’s speakers.
“I really don’t think it (having fans allowed at practice) has anything to do with winning or losing games,” said Kiffin. “That’s really what we’re about – recruiting and winning and losing games are the things that matter.”
What matters will happen outside these walls and beyond this locked-down field. And that the world will see.