In April 2006, when we first caught wind of rumors involving Reggie Bush’s family getting rent-free housing with the understanding that the money would be made back — and then some — via the representation of Bush as an NFL player, we had a feeling it would cause plenty of problems for Bush and for USC.
We had no idea the process would take so long that, by the time a conclusion was reached, no one would really care.
After years of sluggish investigation limited by the impotence of the NCAA when it comes to former college athletes but ultimately buoyed by a lawsuit Bush stubbornly refused to settle, Bush lost his 2005 Heisman last year. Now, as the boys at CFT explain, USC has lost its 2004 national title due to the fact that Bush was ineligible to play.
It would have been even worse for USC, if Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns hadn’t overcome the Trojans a year later in the BCS title game. But for Young’s late heroics, USC would have won — and ultimately lost — two national titles.
On one hand, it’s difficult to chastise the Trojans, given what we’ve since learned about (The) Ohio State and what we all now suspect regarding each and every successful college football program. Guys are getting paid; the only question is whether they are also being discreet.
For Bush and USC, the worst-case scenario arose not because of indiscretion but because Bush consistently refused to pay back money that he received with the understanding that he’d hire Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels to handle his lucrative marketing rights. If Bush had only forked over a small piece of the millions he pocketed from adidas and Subway and other sponsors in 2006, he could have saved his Heisman, along with USC’s national title.
That said, the fact that it took so long for the NCAA to reach a conclusion makes it easy for the men who played for USC to shrug at the outcome. “We all got our rings, we’ve moved on, and I don’t think this decision has affected the way we view that season,” quarterback Matt Leinart told ESPN earlier tonight.
We suspect that Bush and Pete Carroll and every other member of that team will feel the same way. The passage of more than six years from winning the title to losing the title tends to do that.
And so the real lesson going forward is that: (1) the NCAA needs to do a much better job of enforcing its rules on a timely basis; (2) the NCAA needs to do a much better job of enforcing its rules on a consistent basis; and (3) the NCAA needs to dump its rules and allow schools to pay these kids a fair amount for the risks they take and the revenue they generate.