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Musings from Arledge: Spring Optimism and the Admissions “Surprise”

I’m writing this volume of Musings from Berlin, having just arrived this afternoon after eight days in Spain’s Costa Brava. I skipped Musings last week. Frankly, the Costa Brava is a pleasant place – I enjoyed myself – and USC is not currently in a pleasant place, which made the thought of diving into our university’s most recent weekly scandal particularly unpleasant. It gets demoralizing after a little while. Oh well, enough whining; let’s start with some football.

“The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.”

Philosopher Bernard Williams

It’s hard not to be optimistic in spring football. Assuming Oregon State still has a football team, they’re probably having spring practice, and they’re probably optimistic. Well, Oregon State being what it is, unadulterated optimism might be too much to ask. They are probably having their own intramural fights between the optimists and the pessimists, but only spring could bring out Oregon State football optimists, and this being spring, the optimists are probably in the ascendancy. That’s just how the spring is.

And spring football matters. A lot. What happens during these spring practices will have a huge impact on Saturdays in the fall. And there is reason for optimism. I like what we’re hearing from Graham Harrell, and this offense has the talent to generate huge yards and points. For those of you who are in show-me mode, having heard the happy talk before, I get it. But let’s not dismiss what’s happening yet. We should wait and see whether enough changes are being made to change the trajectory of the program. Likewise, the army of optimists should cool their jets. Everybody gets rose-colored reports from spring practice. And the simple fact is that nobody knows much of anything based on spring ball.

Spring practice is like the week just before finals, when the library is full of students cramming for their upcoming exams. What the students are doing is critical. And it looks like everybody is doing the right things. It looks like everybody is working hard. If you ask the students, virtually all of them will tell you that they’re studying hard and getting prepared.

But none of that matters. Because it’s not test day. And only test day matters. On test day we will see that all of the students were not doing what needed to be done to succeed. That’s just the way it is.

In the spring, every football coach in the country is saying the right things. Every program is optimistic. Everybody is saying they’re hungry and that they learned some important lessons last year. But it’s not test day. USC isn’t traveling to South Bend or Seattle in the spring. It’s not lining up on 4th and 1 against a Pac 12 opponent with the game on the line in the spring. Until test day, we just don’t know.

Here’s what you can tell from the spring: whether individual players appear to be growing into contributors/stars. And we might be able to tell whether USC is practicing in a more physical fashion. We’ll see soon whether Clay Helton is going to have real scrimmages this spring.

In addition to the reasons for pessimism, some of which has been catalogued in Musings, much to the dismay of certain sunshine pumpers, there is also real reason for optimism around USC football right now, because there has been an upgrade at some important coaching spots, and the team still has a ton of talent on the roster. As Clay Helton said recently, USC has at least as much talent as anybody on the schedule. He’s right. This team should win 9 or 10 games. I’m not saying it will; I am saying it should. When Devon Williams is your fourth or fifth-best receiver, you have some talent on the roster. The backs are solid, especially if Stephen Carr is actually healthy now. The O line has talent and finally has a quality coach working with them. Sears and Daniels can both light it up in this offense. I don’t like the depth on the line, and I don’t yet trust the TE corps after last season’s debacle. But this is a very talented offense, and it now has what appears to be a true pro coordinating. If they can run the ball when it really matters – always a challenge with this style of offense, and a huge problem for a few years now – this offense might impress.

Defensively, there are also things to like. The DT’s and Solo and EA should make USC tough up the middle. We’ll see if USC has a pass rusher. I expect the youngster from Corona to get on the field early and often, because I’m not sure there’s another natural pass rusher on the team. But if he can cause problems off the edge as a freshman, that will help tremendously. USC needs to get pressure from its front four so it doesn’t have to blitz so much. Because while I like the talent in the starting four in the defensive backfield, there is very little proven talent, and there is no depth. Greg Burns is going to be asked to earn this money this year. Keep an eye on the young corners over the next few weeks. These guys might make the difference between 7-5 and 9-3.

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Kevin Bruce forwarded me an article a couple of weeks ago where the writer asked how much jail time college football fans would accept if it meant their team would win the national title. Assuming nothing goes on the record, there’s probably some amount of jail time I’d accept. But I’m going to want to see that facility before I commit. (“Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”)

When Kevin sent me that article, I planned to do something with it. Now I’m not sure I can, being that a number of USC officials have apparently decided on jail time, though I suspect it won’t get Troy any closer to another national title.

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With that segue, let’s address the elephant in the room.

I don’t need to spend a lot of time telling anybody here that USC’s administration is an embarrassment. Our interim president tells us that USC is a victim here. Well, okay. But when high-level USC officials are, on a weekly basis it seems, engaged in illegal, unethical, and highly embarrassing behavior, how long can the university continue to pretend that there isn’t rot deep in the heart of the place? USC is a victim the way Wile E. Coyote was a victim; sure, lots of bad things happen to him, but he tends to have it coming in light of his own behavior. If you’re willing to sell your soul for a dollar, and if you foster a culture of unaccountability where practically nobody ever faces the consequences for the various criminal acts that take place under their watch, then these sorts of things happen. And happen again. And happen again. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we discover that Benedict Arnold had been acting on orders from USC’s Board of Trustees.

Because accepting responsibility is no longer part of our culture, I fully expect that no heads will roll this time either. Everybody is always blindsided; everybody always learns lessons from what happened; and nobody ever actually loses a job as USC employees pile up almost as many felonies as the Corleone family.

The only thing that makes the statements from USC officials look a little less silly is the comparison to this gem from the US Attorney who announced the charges: “There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and, I’ll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.” Umm, I don’t want to be the one to break it to him; he’s probably happy having the naivety of one of those silly college freshmen in a Che Guevara T-shirt arguing in the dorm that Communism actually is really awesome it just hasn’t been tried yet. Someday he’ll understand what the whole world knows: that there is and always has been a separate admissions system for the wealthy, and there is also a separate criminal justice system for the wealthy, too.

This scandal just lowered the bar for “wealthy.” It used to be that you had to have real wealth, buy-a-building-for-the-university wealth, to get your moron kids into school. Now somebody comes along and allows the moderately successful to participate in the same game. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to get your drooling offspring into an elite school. You just have to have a vacation home to liquidate. Call it the democratization of wealth and privilege.

It shouldn’t surprise us that this sort of thing was happening. College largely ceased being an endeavor in which people sought an education a long time ago. Sure, you can still get a top-notch education at all of the universities involved in this scandal, but you can also attend any of them and graduate without breaking a sweat. With grade inflation, not to mention the death of the once-treasured belief that students should have be grapple with varying points of view, an outdated concept replaced by safe spaces, virtue-signaling, and progressive indoctrination, any student who can read at a ninth-grade level can hand pick the right professors and make it through certain humanities departments without actually opening a book. Get the piece of paper and make some contacts; it doesn’t matter that you learned nothing and accomplished nothing. And therefore Hollywood C-listers cheat to send their brain-dead progeny to an elite school, even when the child tells the entire world on social media that she actually has no interest whatsoever in any academic pursuits.  

Besides, admissions has been a joke for a long time. A Vietnamese student who grew up without any wealth or privilege after her parents fled the Communist takeover of their home country is actively discriminated against in admissions because she is the wrong type of minority. And a perfectly qualified student who worked very hard to get into his dream school might be denied admission because some other less-qualified student can play field hockey or row, each of which is a perfectly acceptable hobby that is perfectly value-less to a university and the wider community. Don’t take offense; I played football at a small midwestern institution. That provided no value to anybody either, a fact that did not escape my attention then or now. What’s my point? When admissions are already something far from a meritocracy, and when college has ceased to be about rigorous academics, why should we be surprised when some people try to rig the game in their favor?

In this case, at least, the wrongdoers will likely get their just desserts. And USC will continue to be staffed by the same merry band of misfits. And the university system will continue to become more and more transparently broken.

On that optimistic note, I’m out. I’m in Europe. Send all complaints, especially the really ugly ones, to Erik McKinney. He loves that stuff.  



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Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.


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