Sarkisian was let off too easily

first_imgWould it be a proper USC football offseason without some off-field problems? Of course not; it’s a program always under the national microscope, in a city so desperate for drama that it created The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.But even given that, Trojan football had another summer of very bad PR. Not just one, but two separate instances of disciplinary issues have dampened the excitement surrounding such an exciting team.There are so many positive storylines we could be focusing on going into this 2015 season, from having the top-ranked recruiting class to being ranked eighth in the preseason AP Poll to the Heisman hype surrounding quarterback Cody Kessler to the Pac-12 media poll’s prediction of a conference title. But instead, the big story this week is Coach Steve Sarkisian’s drunken tirade at a USC booster event, just weeks after hearing about major developments in tight end Bryce Dixon’s alleged sexual assault.Though it’s maybe not as wild or mysterious as Josh Shaw’s “superman lifeguard” hoax last year, the pair of preseason headline grabbers are equally — if not more — significant and concerning because of the nature of one and the person involved in the other. Both incidents involve questionable decisionmaking while under the influence, but that’s about where the similarities end. It’s an issue with very broad implications across society, and one that’s particularly endemic here at USC.The Dixon incident is still somewhat up in the air. USC’s expulsion has been removed, but an investigation is still ongoing. The issues of Title IX policy, sexual assault and due process deserve their own columns, and he could be absolved of any wrongdoing, but it certainly has not been good publicity for USC football.There’s less uncertainty regarding what happened at the USC Salute to Troy event. There were plenty of people in attendance and a short video clip from it leaked to ESPN. Sarkisian has not denied that he was intoxicated, inappropriate, incoherent and disrespectful at a sanctioned USC event. The question is if Sarkisian can be disciplined. Digging into the personal lives of full-time professional coaches is only slightly less uncomfortable than that of their players, but this comes with the territory in Division I football.After a press conference Tuesday, Sarkisian reiterated his apology but said he was moving on from the incident and that there wouldn’t be any suspension.I’m surprised that there won’t be.I won’t go as far as putting myself into Pat Haden’s shoes and saying he should have been suspended. But I would have guessed that such behavior would warrant more than a public chastising from Haden and a promise to seek help.I would have been surprised at anything more than one game. Daily News columnist Mark Whicker suggested a season-long suspension “at the very least,” and some people I talked to even suggested even termination, which I think is totally going overboard. If Sarkisian showed up drunk at a practice or game, that would be a different story and indicative of some really severe irresponsibility, but the Salute to Troy event was more like a company holiday party.Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for one game for inappropriate public comments last season. Haden suspended former  basketball coach Kevin O’Neill from a portion of the Pac-10 tournament for a verbal altercation with an Arizona booster several years ago. Sarkisian’s comments were at least as embarrassing as Winston’s, certainly more so than O’Neill’s, and he should be held to a similar standard. Offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Clay Helton has successfully served as a head coach in a one-game interim role, and the Trojans should be okay against Arkansas State.This isn’t the first time Sarkisian has had a problem with alcohol. In 2012, he made similarly derogatory comments about Pac-12 schools during a Washington pep rally. Undisclosed sources have said that alcohol was prominent around Huskies facilities, and it wasn’t until after this weekend that Sarkisian banned alcohol in the USC locker room after games, a rule that probably should have already been in place.It is more than just that, and part of his job description is making public appearances. If President Obama showed up hammered for a speech at the Democratic National Convention next summer, it would be a huge deal and certainly prompt some resignation dialogue.But I really don’t think this warrants a firing, just something more than a slap on the wrist. Sarkisian didn’t endanger anyone else; he was irresponsible, but this isn’t anywhere near the level of the Penn State Sandusky scandal that led to Joe Paterno’s firing. There is precedent for a drunken incident costing a football coach his job. Gary Moeller resigned as the Michigan head coach after a public intoxication, but that was met with a lot of surprise from the Wolverine community.While there is a line between personal irresponsibility and harming others, which Sarkisian did not cross at the event, the issue of substance abuse certainly blurs it. Damaging “the brand” of a football team isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. If Sarkisian had missed the event because of a gross underestimation of traffic, it would have been similarly irresponsible. Something like that would be inexcusable for a professional on such an important night. But that barely would have generated a tweet in the press. When inebriating substances are involved, though, the magnitude totally changes even if the end result is the same. How far away is public intoxication from drunk driving? Or a drunken domestic assault?These are real issues on USC’s campus. There have been multiple instances of USC fraternities getting in trouble because of alcohol. The federal investigation into USC’s compliance under Title IX has a lot to do with alcohol-infused sexual assaults. One student died of alcohol poisoning last year, and a visiting student at a USC party was so intoxicated he walked all the way to a freeway on-ramp and was fatally struck by a car. Partying too hard and forgetting to wake up for a midterm certainly isn’t a crime or dangerous to anyone else. But that’s the kind of behavior that gets glorified on BroBible, and if USC doesn’t show there’s some kind of consequence for actions like that, then the only thing students will remember from this incident is the BroBible article glorifying it — “If you told me I had to stand up in front of a bunch of tight-assed donors and kiss their asses on a Saturday night, I’d tell you straight up I’m getting hammered for it,” poetically wrote the blog’s Matt Keohan.There’s a little bit of me that does think this is funny. If there’s any good to come from this, then I hope the usual frat stars who don’t last until halftime now feel a special connection to Sarkisian and actually stay the whole game. Plus, if College Gameday comes to campus for the UCLA game —knock on wood — there are sure to be some fantastically hilarious signs in the crowd.But that looks like it’ll be the only silver lining to this event. Hopefully Sarkisian will get the help he needs and can one day be an example of someone who overcame these problems. But it doesn’t look like this academic institution will take advantage of this learning opportunity and make an example.Luke Holthouse is a junior majoring in policy, planning and development and broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Holthouse Party,” runs Wednesdays.last_img

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