For the first time in five years, USC will field a roster not decimated by sanctions in 2015. The fallout from the Reggie Bush-fueled NCAA witch hunt is all but gone, and the Trojans can finally get on with their collective football life. But as they move forward from sanctions, it's important not to forget their past. Otherwise they run the risk of repeating it, which is exactly what they've been doing for more than a century.
While 2010's NCAA penalties were easily the worst ever imposed upon the school, they were hardly the first. USC has been sanctioned five times since the NCAA began penalizing schools in 1953. They were merely put on probation in both 2001 and 1986, but received much tougher penalties in 1982, 1959, and 1957, including postseason and television bans.
In fact, USC's history of blurring the line between amateurism and professionalism goes back to the beginning of the sport itself. One hundred years before Reggie Bush ever stepped foot in the Coliseum, USC was embroiled in controversy over a pay-for-play scandal involving a different running back (or two).
Dan and Elwin Caley were stud athletes who grew up in a football family from Colorado in the late 1800's. Their brother, William "Big Bill" Caley, was a legendary halfback who played for Colorado and Michigan from 1893 to 1898 (transfer and eligibility rules were a little more lax back then). Both brothers were expected to play big-time college football, but they chose to enroll at USC instead.
At the time, USC was a fledgling football program. Their only real college competition came from Occidental and Pomona back then, while their northern counterparts from Stanford and Cal were considered far superior. They weren't even called the "Trojans" yet, instead going by the slightly less intimidating nickname of the "Methodists." USC was desperate to bring its program into prominence, and the Caley Brothers were supposed to be the men to do it. But before they could join the ranks of the major football programs from the Ivy League, the Big 9 (which would eventually become the Big 10), and the SIAA (a mix of modern SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams), they needed to find a way to beat their rivals from Pomona College.
In the early 1900's, USC vs Pomona was consistently the biggest football game of the year, and USC entered the 1902 season having lost three straight in the series. While the 1902 team was far from great, posting a paltry 2-3 record, their season is noteworthy for the fact that they finally defeated Pomona in a game described by the Los Angeles Herald as "the best played game of football yet seen in Los Angeles [that] year." The 16-5 victory would not have been possible without team captain and starting left halfback Dan Caley and his brother, Elwin, the starting right halfback. Elwin even returned a kickoff for a 107-yard touchdown, setting a record that still stands to this day (mostly because it happened on a 110 yard field, but either way the record still stands).
However, elite talent is too often accompanied by unique drama, no matter what era. After the 1902 season, rumors began to spread that Elwin Caley had dropped out of school and didn't return to class until almost ten months later, just in time for the following football season. This didn't sit well with their rivals at Pomona, who accused USC of playing with a "temporary student." After an official review, Elwin Caley was eventually deemed eligible for the 1903 season and the Caley Brothers helped lead their squad to a respectable 4-2 record that season. However, Pomona refused to play USC as long as Elwin was still on the team, so the biggest game of the year never happened in 1903.
A few months later, USC's troubles with the Caley Brothers would take a shocking turn. The football team's expenses were audited and irregularities were found. An investigation was launched into J.F. Seymour, the manager of the football team, and his spending habits. During a hearing with the faculty and student body, Seymour revealed that he had paid Dan Caley $25 for playing on the team. Only a few days later, Seymour dropped another bombshell, revealing that Dan and Elwin had been promised $150 to split among the two brothers and that a member of the faculty was aware of the arrangement.
The announcement sent shockwaves through the amateur sports landscape. Only $25 ever exchanged hands (that works out to about $675 today), but the damage was done. The scandal tarnished USC's reputation and the scandal set the program back five years (sound familiar?). While there was no NCAA in 1904 to levy penalties, the University took it upon itself to impose major changes.
The Caley Brothers never played again at USC (although Elwin did transfer to Colorado), and the school hired faculty member Harvey Holmes to be its first ever paid football coach. But the Caley scandal bruised more than just USC's ego, it cost the school the first ever Southern California Intercollegiate Football Championship. USC, Occidental, and Pomona had agreed to compete for a very fancy championship banner during the 1903 season. Thanks to the Caley Brothers scandal, Pomona was found to be justified in their refusal to play USC and was awarded the banner by the Los Angeles Herald.
Coach Holmes eventually repaired the contentious relationship with Pomona, and the teams would remain rivals until 1925, the first season for legendary coach Howard Jones. They beat Pomona 80-0 that year and never played them again in search of bigger and better opponents. The scandal was long forgotten by then and USC was finally well on its way to becoming one of the country's most prominent football powers. They would win their first National Championship in 1928 and the rest, as they say, is USC history.
Improper benefits have and always will be a part of major college football. After all, you don't get to be a football powerhouse without a little "improper inducement" here and there. But schools of a certain stature don't always have to operate that way, and USC is one of those programs. Its local talent level coupled with its coaching and recruiting appeal are more than enough to keep the Trojans in the national title hunt year after year. While USC's storied history is littered with memorable moments, both good and bad, it's important not to forget incidents like Reggie Bush or the Caley Brothers, or else the school is doomed to find itself in the same situation.