Audacity of hope versus the latest news: After UCLA's spring football game last month, Rick Neuheisel took the microphone at Drake Stadium and said, "There can only be one first-time Pac-12 champion, and it might as well be the Bruins." We know now that it can't be the Trojans. USC has, at long (really long) last, lost its NCAA appeal and everything that goes with it. The Trojans were trying to plead back the second year of a two-year bowl ban and half of the 30 scholarships it lost in last June's lowering of the NCAA boom. The NCAA, though, rarely cedes territory. There isn't a dog-ate-my-homework story it hasn't heard. In rendering these matters, it is the cold, heartless, monolithic, staple-punch dictator it is.
So, USC will not get to compete for the first Pacific 12 Conference title, or go to a bowl, or get scholarships back. The Trojans will lose their 2004 Bowl Championship Series title flag, captured by Pete Carroll using an ineligible player, Reggie Bush. The NCAA can be ruthless and hypocritical, all right, but it's not always wrong. USC fans, coaches and administrators had false hope in thinking the NCAA's recent inconsistent rulings on Auburn and Ohio State might help the Trojans' appeal cause. In reality, USC never had a chance — and probably didn't deserve one. The outrage last fall over Auburn quarterback Cam Newton being allowed to play amid swirling pay-for-play rumors lacked one thing: irrefutable proof. As smelly as it all looked, there was no direct evidence that anyone at Auburn paid Newton or even offered to pay him. The NCAA investigation is still going, however, and if proof is discovered, Auburn should lose its BCS title and Newton his Heisman Trophy. If Auburn cheated and doesn't pay, hand me a torch, a mob and directions to NCAA headquarters. The decision to allow Ohio State players to compete in the Sugar Bowl and defer suspensions until the 2011 season was bizarre, and probably wrong, but different from USC's case. More important, the case isn't over yet. Part of the problem in December was Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel's holding a lie he hadn't confessed. The case to reinstate Buckeyes players also had the powerful backing of Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany. Knowing then what he knows now, Delany says he would have handled the matter much differently. Also know this: The NCAA, knowing what it knows now, is likely to give Ohio State the USC treatment — or worse. But that has nothing to do with USC, which admitted it broke rules and was only contesting the punishment. USC's problems were multiple and systemic. The NCAA hit the school with "lack of institutional control" and USC had only a twig to hit back. You can argue USC got treated too harshly, but not that it got treated. USC fans should view the NCAA appeals ruling as the "get on with it" moment necessary to move the football down field. Embrace the positive that has emerged. The school has weeded out the incorrigibles, hired an honorable athletic director in Pat Haden and a flotilla of compliance officers. USC is so clean now that Tommy Trojan squeaks. Coach Lane Kiffin, whatever you think of him, did a good job of short-term managing by signing players early and using the appeals process to defer scholarship losses. USC ended up signing one of the nation's top classes. Is probation going to hurt? You bet — it should. The Trojans lose 10 scholarships a year for the next three years, so don't make major bowl plans in 2015. USC was obligated to appeal its case to the NCAA. Every school with a fight song has the right to fight back. Now that it's over, though, isn't it time to fight on?