The USC student manager who deflated game balls during the Trojans’ loss last Saturday to Oregon was fired today, reports Matt Brooks of The Washington Post. Paul Myerberg of USA Today reported Thursday morning that the Pac-12 Conference imposed a fine against USC for the incident, the latest in a series of head-scratching off-field problems surfacing from the program.
The fired student manager is being characterized as a rogue, suggesting perhaps a one-time occurrence. However, unconfirmed reports are circulating that Oregon was aware such a possibility of deflated balls existed in the Coliseum, prompting the Ducks to plan accordingly.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was non-committal when discussing the issue on SiriusXM Radio’s College Sports Nation with Mark Packer and Eddie George (audio courtesy of Andrew Fitzpatrick, SiriusXM):
Until confirmed or refuted otherwise, the deflated balls used on Saturday should be treated as a one-time problem addressed swiftly. However, this is hardly an isolated incident of the silliness that’s plaguing USC’s derailed championship season.
Against Colorado last month, USC players changed jersey numbers. The Trojans needed no schematic advantages against one of the worst teams in the Bowl Subdivision, of course. Said Lane Kiffin when confronted about possibly violating an NCAA rule:
“We change jerseys all the time with our guys. We’ll change some more this week. Everything’s within college rules.”
Was this an effort to throw off opponents’ film evaluation? Policies Kiffin has instituted throughout the season exhibit a fixation bordering on paranoia about game planning advantages. The university’s policy of barring reporters from publishing injuries suffered in practice is not exclusive to USC — its enforcement of a nonexistent rule on reporting injuries discovered through other means, that briefly suspended Los Angeles Daily News, was USC-exclusive.
Kiffin’s had other run-ins with the media, running out of a post-practice press conference when asked about an injury. The tenuous relationship that has existed between Kiffin and the media is likely behind some of the criticism sent the coach’s way. And there’s been plenty of criticism — after suffering its third loss, Pete Thamel wrote that Kiffin is responsible for some of USC’s failings.
The “disappointment” of not marching to a BCS championship was contrived from unrealistic expectations. USC lost its best player from a season ago in All-America left tackle Matt Kalil, and the team’s depth took a serious hit due to NCAA-imposed sanctions limiting scholarships. The Trojans always had an uphill climb to reaching the Rose Bowl, let alone Miami and the BCS title game, and the expectations placed on them were undue and unfair. Kiffin’s decisions regarding injury reporting and jersey swaps might stem from the pressure of an impossibly high bar set for his team.
But then, other on-field problems have kept USC from reaching its full potential. The Trojans defense has cracked in its last two outings, surrendering over 100 points to Arizona and Oregon. Kiffin’s play calling as offensive coordinator has been confounding at times. Most notable is that USC ranks dead last in the FBS for penalties, drawing 9.4 per game for 78 yards.
Ball deflation may have been a one-time problem caused by a renegade student manager, but it’s a surprisingly apt representation of the current image USC football conveys.