In the athletic director's office, prominently displayed to the left of his desk, is a plaque. It reads: "USC Rose Bowl Appearances." In the five years since Richard Perry became athletic director at the University of Southern California, there have been three entries on the plaque.

On Perry's desk, next to the telephone, sits a book. The title: "Roses."

In the football locker room, there is a plaque. Recorded on it are 23 scores from the Rose Bowl games the school has played in -- 17 of them victories.

There will be no entry on the plaque this season.

There will be no Rose Bowl, no bowl of any kind for Southern California this season. Like four other members of the Pacific-10 Conference, the Trojans were placed on one year's probation Aug. 12 because 34 football players were on the verge of receiving credit for a course they never attended last fall.

"It's like finding out a child of yours isn't the person you thought they were," Perry said. "(Coach) John Robinson and I worked very hard to try and put together a program that would benefit these kids and then we find out we haven't done the job we were supposed to. It was devastating."

The 34 players were caught not attending three different speech-communications courses taught by the same professor. Once their absence from class was reported, the unviersity scheduled makeup classes for them. In some cases, it was too late and the athletes had to take incompletes. recently a student faculty committee at the school recommended to USC President James H. Zumberge that all the players involved be placed on academic probation.

In the meantime, the school reported the incident to the Pacific-10 Conference and to the NCAA. On Aug. 12, in a blanket action, the conference voted unanimously to place five schools -- Southeren California, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State -- on one year's probation for various offenses, the least serious being those committed at USC.

None of the students involved ever received credit for the course unless he made up the work, but, as Perry conceded, "The mechanism was in motion. The intent was there.

"I think we all feel that considering what happened here as compared to what happened at some of the other schools, we were treated harshly," Perry said. "But I understand why the conference did what it did. They had to take definitive action and say to people, 'Look, we're not going to put up with any of this.'"

Generally, people at Southern California, from Zumberge down, make no excuses. "It's important to the whole school," Zumberge said. "Anytime part of an organism is bruised, the whole body feels the pain. If you break a toe, it's one thing because you can hide that. But if you get a black eye, it's there for everyone to see. We got a black eye."

The penalties should have little effect on the school. The loss of possible revenue from not being a contender for the rose Bowl this season is minimized by the fact that that all the Pac-10 teams share in the revenue whether they participate or not. No games were forfeited and USC will not lose any TV appearances -- unless the NCAA imposes further sanctions.

No one knows yet how the Rose Bowl ban will affect the school in terms of moral, image and recruiting. Zumberge and everyone else at USC is hoping the effects will be minimal.

Zumberge has been on the job just three weeks. His second day on campus he called Robinson in for a two-hour meeting. "I had read what he said in the paper about dealing with the problem and it all sounded good. But I wanted to look him in the eye and see if he had credibility. Because if what he said doesn't have any teeth, we're in big trouble."

Robinson says he blames himself for what happened and he has said he plans to be hard-nosed if such problems occur again. "If I find out the week of the Norte Dame game that my tailback hasn't been going to class, he doesn't play against Notre Dame," Robinson has said repeatedly since the incident became public.

The people at Southern California are sensitive about what happened. They resent being lumped with the other schools on probation. They compare it with a petty larcenist receivig the same treatment as an armed robber.

And, they have become gun shy about their image. At last year's Rose Bowl, reporters delighted in comparing Robinson's methods with those of Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce.

While Bruce grimly held closed practices, cut off his players from the press and only talked to reporters when he had to, Robinson was always available. His practices were open to everyone and so was the locker room, before practice and afterward.

Now, after The Fall, things have changed.

Players still are available to the press -- depending on the subject matter of the interview. If someone wants to ask Ronnie Lott about his chances of making all-America, Lott is available. But if the subject is to be how Ronnie Lott feels about playing his senior season with no bowl as an incentive, well, uh, the team is into two-a-days and, uh, Ronnie's just, uh, trying to concentrate on football.

The same is true of Robinson. Articulate always, eloquent at times, the coach doesn't want to talk about the past anymore -- even though it is linked inevitably with the upcoming season and the future.

"I think John is like a lot of people connected with the school," Hilton said. "He's embarrassed. No one wants to be reminded about being embarrassed."

About 48 percent of the football players who enroll at USC graduate, slightly lower than the campus-wide percentage and about the same percentage as all student-athletes across the country. "That isn't a bad figure," Zumberg said, "and I'm glad it's comparable with the rest of the student body.

"But," he added, pulling forward in his chair, "it isn't a figure I'm satisfied with, either. I want to see us do better."

What effect the probation will have on the football team itself is difficult to gauge.

Most of USC's players have been in a Rose Bowl, since the Trojans have been there three of the four years Robinson has been coach. One who hasn't is quarterback Gordon Adams, who made the team five years ago as a walk-on. Now, as a graduate student, he is the starting quarterback. But he will never have a chance to play in a Rose Bowl.

"It hurt me a lot at first," Adams said shortly after the probation was announced. "But the way I have to look at it is this: I'm USC's quarterback. No one ever gave me a chance to get this far. How can I complain?"

"To the students here, going to the Rose Bowl isn't so much a matter of pride as just really a week of celebration after a good season," said Robert T. Biller, dean of the school of public policy. "I think the attitude around here during the season will be, 'Let Stanford and Cal have their fun this year; we'll be back next year.'"

Ronald Gottesman, director of the school's center for the humanities, thinks there will be at least one negative on-campus by product of the affair. "It will certainly reinforce the jock stereotypes around here," Gottesman said. "Which is really a shame. Robinson has worked very hard to shed those stereotypes and I think he was making a lot of headway. People were beginning to stop thinking about the football team as being in some kind of separate world. Now, I think, you may see some of that thinking crop up again."

If there is one thing that may help Robinson, it appears to be the PR job he had done before the incident occurred. Two years ago, he instituted a series of seminars for the faculty every Thursday. After practice, Robinson would meet with faculty members to talk about whatever they liked. He won over many people that way.

"I think it's fair to say that I was as influenced by all the jock stereotypes as anyone," said Harold C. Slavkin, a dentistry professor. "All my classes were with graduates so I never came in contact with any of the jocks. And that was the way I thought of them.

"Then I went to a couple of Robinson's seminars. I was amazed. In some ways, he was practically begging the faculty to help make sure he got his kids through school. In other ways, what he was doing, the teaching methods he and his people were using with the football players, was far more advanced and sophisticated than the teaching methods we were using."

Slavkin's reaction to the class-ducking incident? "In the society we live in today, I don't think anyone -- students, faculty, alumni -- is going to get that upset with what happened. Maybe 20 years ago, this would be a big deal. But in the world we live in today, it isn't."

The football team has always been a major selling point for Southern California in recruiting students, faculty and contributors. "I've often asked myself just what the hell do sports have to do with higher education," Zumberge said. "And the answer is obvious: there is nothing that has a more unifying effect on a whole university than a good football team.

"Sports in general, football in specific here at SC, are the one thing that cuts across all our generations from those who have been here to those who are here to those who will be here in the future.

"That means the taint of something like this affects all of them."

Already there is tangible evidence of change at USC. The academic counselor who engineered the class farce has been fired and the professor involved has resigned.

New academic checks have been set up for the athletes and there will be an academic counselor for the football players who can go to Robinson at any time and report that the player isn't making the proper progress academically and should not be playing. Robinson says if that happens, the player involved won't play.

"That's going to be a real test," Zumberge said. "The first time we're confronted with the situation before a crucial game."

For USC, the crucial games won't be quite as crucial this season. Perry and Robinson both insist they don't expect the team to play any less hard because the Rose Bowl incentive is gone.

"It's as if it's the week after we've lost 50-0 to Notre Dame," Perry said. "Our kids have been embarrassed, but they're still going to go out and play like hell."

Which, Perry was asked, would he find more embarrassing, probation or a 50-0 loss to Notre Dame?

Perry crossed and uncrossed his legs. "This," he said. "If you lose to Notre Dame, 50-0, you're embarrassed but it passes. Sports are such that if you go into a game trying to win, you also know that you may lose.

"This wasn't part of the deal. It didn't have to happen. We didn't have to put ourselves in a position to be losers, yet we've turned up as losers. There was nothing in the rules that said we had to violate what this university is supposed to be about. We did, so we're paying for it."

Perhaps it was Vance T. Peterson, director of academic relations, who put it best: "This doesn't have to be USC's Chappaquidick," he said. "I think we're sort of like the 18-year-old kid who gets busted for smoking dope.

"If we grow from it, learn from it, then, in the end, we'll be okay; in fact, perhaps better off because we got caught before we did something worse. If that happens, missing one Rose Bowl won't seem so bad. Then it will only hurt us on New Year's Day 1981."