The University of Southern California will get another black eye later this month, as the Heisman Trophy Trust is planning to strip former USC running back Reggie Bush of the coveted trophy.
Two sources close to the Heisman trust said the body’s investigation is coming to a close, and will ultimately concur with the NCAA’s determination that Bush was ineligible during his Heisman-winning season in 2005. Because of that independent conclusion, sources said the trust will relieve Bush of the award and leave the honor for that season vacant. The sources said Bush met with Heisman representatives last month at the New York law offices of Emmet, Marvin & Martin. The sources would not reveal details of that meeting.
The Heisman trust has been conducting its own independent inquiry into Bush’s eligibility since the NCAA ruled in June that the USC star had committed multiple violations by accepting cash, gifts and other impermissible benefits while playing for the Trojans. Yahoo! Sports first detailed the extra benefits in September 2006. In its findings, the NCAA retroactively ruled Bush ineligible for part of the 2004 season and all of 2005. The NCAA also ordered the USC program to remove all references to Bush from its sporting venues and promotional materials and vacate his statistics from all games in which he was ineligible.
In July, incoming USC president C.L. Max Nikias announced that the university would be returning its copy of Bush’s Heisman to the trust, stating the Trojans would honor and respect athletes who “did not compromise their athletic program or the opportunities of future USC student-athletes.” New USC athletic director Pat Haden followed up in August, stating during an interview with the Dan Patrick radio show that Bush should also voluntarily return his Heisman.
It is a tragic moment in college football history. In the 75 years since the Downtown Athletic Club has been selecting the most outstanding college football player of the year, no one has ever had the award taken away. Instead of being remembered as the electrifying athlete who led USC past Oklahoma to the national title in the 2005 Rose Bowl, he’ll be remembered as the player who took “impermissible benefits” during his tenure with one of college football’s most storied programs. Shame on you Reggie, for creating such a dark spot on USC’s history.
But who could blame him? And, who really thinks that the atmosphere at Southern Cal was a rare anomaly? College football is big business, and the top prospects in NCAA are hotter commodities than credit default swaps were in 2007. At large institutions like USC, it is virtually impossible for athletic departments to keep up with who players come into contact with. When you have agents and their runners throwing wads of cash at 20-something kids with little life experience, stuff like this is bound to happen. When agents and their runners throw lavish parties and offer all of the pleasures a young man could want, what do you think is gonna happen? Think it only happened at USC? Think Reggie Bush is the only one this happened with?
I don’t blame Reggie Bush. I don’t blame USC. I blame a culture of corruption that lets skanky agents compromise the integrity of the game. And as long as there’s money to be made by compromising the game—and the amateur status of the athletes who play it—it will continue until the consequences of the crimes are brought to bear on the perpetrators. Right now, there are no consequences. A few states have passed legislation that ostensibly makes a crime out compromising college athletes, but the laws are toothless and virtually unenforceable.
What needs to happen is that the NFL (and NBA as well) need to step in and stiffen their own rules. If one agent is caught compromising the amateur status of a student athlete, that agent should be banned for life. Make an example or two out of these scumbags, and stuff like this will stop.
I feel sorry for Southern Cal because a fine institution has had its legacy tarnished. I also feel sorry for Reggie Bush, who really was an outstanding college football player and probably deserved that Heisman. But I really hate that a handful of people with no integrity at all have created such a dark time in the history of a great sport. This shouldn’t be about Bush or USC. It should be about cleaning up a very big mess created by a few unscrupulous agents and their shameless minions.
Update: The Heisman Trust is now telling ESPN news that no decision has been reached and that Yahoo! Sports reports are inaccurate. However, the latter is sticking by their story that Bush will be stripped of the award.