Bring Reggie Bush Back to USC
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Reggie Bush is one of the greatest athletes in the history of college football, and by extension, the University of Southern California (USC). His USC career made him one of the most decorated individuals the sport has ever seen. Even with excellent athletes appearing more and more in college football and other sports, Bush’s athletic feats remain jaw-dropping. His athletic marvels stand the test of time. Please note the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I2oGNHYSic
“Bush ... was a cheat code from the start of his career to the finish. You know the star athlete who’s faster than everybody else and can get away with stuff you’re not supposed to get away with? You know the high school running back who reverses field like four times and makes a bunch of crazy decisions but scores on an 80-yard run because he’s simply on a different plane of existence than everybody else? Yeah, that was Bush in college.” -- Bill Connelly, SB Nation
The 2010 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctions changed USC’s relationship with its former star athlete. College football’s governing body ruled that Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo forewent their amateur status by accepting gifts from agents. The sins of Bush and his family were taking a house rent free among other financial gifts by Lloyd Lake, a man trying to become a sports agent. The return for these gifts was the future right for Lake and Michael Michaels to represent Bush in the NFL. When Bush and his family broke off the deal, that’s when the arrangement went from being on the hush-hush to being the focus of a Yahoo! investigation. USC wasn’t privy to the arrangements of its star player in San Diego, 120 miles away from campus, nor did it broker this deal to secure Bush’s playing services or to keep him there. The NCAA ruled as much. What it did rule was that USC should have had the compliance staff to be able to know.
These are unequivocally violations of NCAA bylaws; whether those rules are dated or appropriate is not what’s being litigated. What is up for debate is the harshness of the NCAA’s punishment.
As a result of the 2010 NCAA sanctions, USC was dubbed to have a “lack of institutional control” and had to permanently disassociate itself from Bush. His jersey number was removed from its display in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Bush returned his Heisman Trophy, and the award is vacated to this day. The Trojans’ two final wins from the 2004 season (including a BCS National Championship) and all the wins from the 2005 season were vacated. The football program received a two-year bowl ban and crippling scholarship reductions the team is only now getting over.
THE ISSUE AT HAND
There were many problems with this ruling. Notably, any evidence tied to USC or former head coach Pete Carroll knowing about the violations were tenuous and circumstantial at best. Former running backs coach Todd McNair had his name muddied by the NCAA for his alleged role, but his defamation lawsuit against the NCAA has only gained steam. For one, the NCAA’s case largely rested on McNair’s “unethical conduct,” which itself was largely influenced based on a phone call with Lake. The NCAA based its McNair ruling on assumptions made by another source, not based on verifiable facts. As this was the crux of a much larger ruling, this is clearly problematic.
As a result of sanctions, players, fans, and students experienced a hamstrung program -- central to the USC experience -- and were forced to “ignore” a historically significant player. Even with this disassociation, no player will likely ever wear No. 5 -- Bush’s jersey number -- ever again.
USC is hardly the only Power Five school to run afoul of the NCAA. In the years since the Bush verdict, the NCAA has adjudicated cases involving programs that have:
A) Used expensive parties and prostitution as recruitment tools, at the University of Miami.
B) Offered sham classes, mostly to athletes, that lowered a prestigious university’s academic standards in one of the biggest cases of systemic fraud the NCAA has ever seen (except not, apparently), at the University of North Carolina.
C) Not reported multiple cases of child molestation over decades while a legendary head coach turned a blind eye, at Pennsylvania State University.
D) Competed with its rival by doling out cash payments to lure recruits, at the University of Mississippi.
E) Had players sell and trade school memorabilia for money and services -- with the head coach being fully aware and not doing anything about it, at The Ohio State University.
F) Had a disgusting, systematic failure to report multiple sexual assaults, the most heinous of which involving the football program, at Baylor University.
All these cases implicated multiple people and various members of the respective universities. All of them involved university personnel or boosters directly tied to the school through financial donations. All of them were orchestrated with the direct intent of providing a competitive advantage to their flagship programs. And all of them received less severe punishment than USC did for a non-university affiliated third party negotiating a deal to affect an athlete’s post-playing career.
WHAT TO DO
What we, and a large swath of USC fans demand, is not much. Most of the damage inflicted by the NCAA’s sanctions has been administered and handled. However, the NCAA-imposed indefinite disassociation with Bush must end.
Here are a few of our reasons:
1) No matter what, Bush and USC are permanently tied together in history. Bush will forever be a recruiting tool for anyone who watched college football in the 2000s. He is still referenced with reverence. Kids grew up idolizing Bush. The sanctioned era and his play will always be an allure for the program, no matter what the record books say. During one of the authors’ attendance at USC (after sanctions were levied), a Bush print was for sale at the university bookstore. Classic games, with Bush playing, were shown. The dissociation was followed only in the most public-facing ways, and in the athletic facilities — but not in totality.
2) Bush ended his USC career more than 10 years ago. What Bush and his family did isn’t all that dissimilar from what basketball player Chris Webber did during his time at the University of Michigan. Webber's disassociation ban was 10 years. Why is Bush’s indefinite?
3) Bush’s playing career is over. He is not suiting up again. This is as natural a time as any to make this change.
4) The sanctions are over. The program and university have new leadership. This is as natural a time as any to make this change.
5) The outcry over this is getting louder and louder. Here is a select number of testimonials, some of which come from student-athletes who were directly affected by the sanctions Bush wrought.
--“The way he’s been blackballed there, I hate it,” said Sam Baker, a former USC tackle. “You didn’t see that happen at Ohio State or other places where there were sanctions. I’d love to see Reggie welcomed back. It’s ridiculous that he hasn’t been.” (L.A. Times, 2016)
--“The school needs to make things right with Reggie, get his photos back up, get him back in the record books,” said Alex Holmes, a former Trojans tight end. “For us, almost unanimously, we’ve seen things that have transpired at other schools, and all those places got a slap on the wrist.” (L.A. Times, 2016)
--“I 100% am for this. @ReggieBush was the greatest and most electrifying college football player ever, let alone one to come through @USC_Athletics” -- former USC player Matt Barkley, December 2017
--“He’s part of the reason I fell in love with USC growing up! Best college player ever IMO, so I’m in full support!” -- former USC player Devon Kennard, December 2017
--“Every player I know loves and supports Reggie. Not only were the consequences absurdly overblown, but the lingering unnecessary ramifications have been disappointing.” -- former USC player Khaled Holmes, December 2017
--"I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It has been over 10 years now. It’s time to lift the disassociation ban and allow @ReggieBush to return to @USC and allow USC to recognize Bush.” -- ESPN’s Arash Markazi, December 2017
--“OK #Trojan fans. It’s time to raise #5 at The Coliseum again. The NCAA sanctions are over. #RestoreReggie #BringBackBush” -- ESPN Radio’s Steve Mason, December 2017
--“#USC should demand today that Reggie Bush no longer needs to get the Voldemort treatment. Put that #5 back in the Coliseum.” -- USCFootball.com’s Ryan Abraham, December 2017
--“Reggie Bush is one of the greatest football players in the history of USC football. The kids even today who come here and play football still remember they were first introduced to USC through Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and those teams that were so successful during that Pete Carroll run.” -- former USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, April 2015
--“He's SC family. Regardless of what happened, he's still part of the Trojan family. It all needs to be put back together.” -- former USC player Willie McGinest, July 2016
--And from the man himself, in December 2017: “Of course I would [come back]. I love USC.”
TO PRESIDENT NIKIAS AND ATHLETIC DIRECTOR SWANN:
Consequently, we are asking the USC administration to do as much in their power as they can to restore Reggie Bush to the university and its football program. If that means going back to fight the NCAA, go back to fight the NCAA to end this disassociation edict. If it’s as simple as putting up his award plaques and his number at the Coliseum, let No. 5 fly again. It’s time.
If you graduated from USC, please sign the petition with your class year to show the strength and desire of the Trojan Family.
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