Like many USC graduates, Walt Ransom framed his college diploma to preserve the document that celebrates his academic achievement.
But Ransom, a backup quarterback on the Trojans' 1978 national championship team, laments that he never was able to profit from his academic labor because it took USC a quarter century to recognize that he earned his degree.
"I love the school and people around there," Ransom said, "but I do feel that I was deprived of what I want to do."
Alleging that USC fraudulently denied him a physical education degree in 1981 before awarding it to him retroactively in 2006, Ransom has filed a $2.1-million lawsuit against the university. Without the degree, Ransom, 57, claims he was unable to qualify for teaching and coaching positions that would have allowed him to pursue the career of his choice and to collect salary and retirement benefits along the way.
"It's been frustrating over the years," Ransom said. "It's the only thing I knew how to do and they prevented me."
The six-page lawsuit, filed in August, accuses USC of changing grades and making false representations with "the intention to deceive and defraud" Ransom, a former star athlete at South Gate High who played professional baseball before embarking on a college football career.
"With his background, he could have been a pro coach, and the money they make is well beyond what we put forth in the complaint," said Neal Curatola, Ransom's attorney. "What he's seeking is the value of his lost education over his working career."
Michael Blanton, a lawyer representing USC, declined to comment other than to say, "The university's position is that the allegations that have been made are without merit."
Ransom's ties to USC date to 1968, when he was originally recruited out of high school, and they continue today. For the last five years he has worked for the university's Administrative Information Services department.
"I'm grateful for the job," he said. "But I'd rather be coaching."
As a teenager, Ransom looked as if he might be on his way to a major league baseball career after the Boston Red Sox drafted him as a shortstop with a first-round pick in 1968. Ransom played five pro seasons but never ascended past double-A.
In 1973, after the NCAA adopted a rule that allowed pro athletes in one sport to retain their amateur status in another, Ransom gave up his baseball dreams and enrolled at East Los Angeles College. Despite nearly six years away from football, Ransom won the starting quarterback job and led the Huskies to the 1974 state title. After another all-conference season in 1975, USC came calling again.
"I'm a P.E. major, and that's what I'll major in at USC," Ransom said in an interview with the Daily Signal newspaper. "Sure, I'm thinking of pro ball in two years, but I also want to coach, and you can't coach unless you get that college education."
Ransom redshirted one season and then played sparingly behind Paul McDonald, who led Coach John Robinson's Trojans to the 1978 national title with a victory over Michigan in the 1979 Rose Bowl.
In 1981, Ransom went through graduation ceremonies at USC. He was an assistant on Robinson's staff during the 1981 and 1982 seasons but was not retained by Ted Tollner, Robinson's successor. Ransom worked in the horse racing industry for a year before he began to pursue coaching and teaching jobs at the high school level.
"That's where the problems started," he said.
Ransom said he interviewed for several positions and was on the verge of being hired at one school, but when he went to USC for proof of his degree he was informed that he had not graduated.
Ransom said he was told that he was missing required classes, his grade-point average was too low and that he had been given an incomplete for a class in which he was sure he had earned a B.
"Five times I tried to find out what happened and no one would help me," he said.
During the next 15 years, Ransom said he made repeated inquiries about the situation. In the meantime, he worked for a parking company, operated a batting cage in Orange County and worked in his father's catering business.
In the early 1990s, Ransom said he was told that the degree program in physical education had been eliminated and that the units he earned at USC could not be transferred to another institution.
"They told me I would have to take 24 to 48 more units in kinesiology," Ransom said.
After he was hired by USC in 2002, Ransom said he thought about his situation "every time I walked by the registrar's office."
In 2004, at his request, the school conducted a review of his academic record. Kenneth L. Servis, USC's dean of academic records and registrar, concluded a memo by writing, "I regret to inform you that you did not meet the requirement for the A.B. degree in Physical Education and the degree can no longer be awarded."