Welcome back, Reggie Bush. You never should have left

ByIvan Maisel ESPN logo
Thursday, June 11, 2020

In a world where you can get pretty much anything delivered to your front porch, here's hoping that Reggie Bush answers the door one day soon to find the postal truck has shown up with a Heisman Trophy.

His Heisman Trophy.

Bush sent it back to the Heisman Trophy Trust 10 years ago -- "forfeited" it, in the curious term used at the time -- after the NCAA put USC on probation for four years largely because Bush and his family took lavish gifts from two sports marketers.

It has been 10 years since USC declared Bush untouchable, something the rest of college football learned when he played tailback. The university "disassociated" (another curious word) itself from one of its greatest players ever and removed its copy of Bush's Heisman from the lobby of Heritage Hall and sent it back to the trust. This from a school that still displays the Heisman won by O.J. Simpson.

Wednesday, 10 years to the day since the NCAA announcement, USC disassociated itself from its disassociation of Bush. It is a common-sense, compassionate ending for Bush's role in the scandal.

Heisman Trophy Trust executive director Rob Whalen, asked for a reaction to the end of Bush's disassociation and about the possibility of rescinding his forfeiture of the Heisman, said Wednesday morning that the trust "has no comment at this time."

Much of the NCAA punishment exacted a toll on USC. The reduction of 30 scholarships over three years reduced the Trojans' depth chart pretty much to whomever walked past Howard Jones Field on a weekday afternoon. The two-year bowl ban withheld two months of practices and two games from a program of young players who needed the work.

We remember Pete Carroll's successor, a young coach named Lane Kiffin, flamed out at USC. We don't remember he coached under conditions that set up the Trojans to struggle. When USC won the Pac-12 in 2017, it ended a nine-year conference championship drought, the program's longest since the 1920s.

Sending Bush away from the program resonated. He caused the program considerable harm. But USC's decision to send back Bush's Heisman to the trust serves as one of many examples in which the university, in an attempt to scrub its reputation clean, accepted the penalties and doubled down on them.

You call us out for who gets access to football practice and who gets sideline passes for games? Fine, we'll restrict access so tightly, the TSA will be impressed.

My memory of going to a Trojans football practice in the fall of 2010 involves filling out more paperwork than I did for my mortgage.

The university fired athletic director Mike Garrett, another former Heisman winner, in July 2010 and replaced him with former Trojans quarterback Pat Haden. He walked in the door and, before the ink on his new business cards had dried, removed Bush's 2005 Heisman from the lobby of Heritage Hall and returned it to the trust. Bush waited until September before deciding to send his back. The announcement that he had done so before the trust made any decision always had the whiff of a plea bargain.

The NCAA has a long history of forcing programs to vacate victories. Lawyers call it "fruit of the poisonous tree." But Bush is the only major award winner who ever relinquished a trophy. Everyone knows what he achieved on the field deserves recognition, even if everyone knows he broke the rules.

Give him an asterisk. Say he cheated. But let's not pretend that Bush didn't have one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football. He did, and we all saw it.

Those last four sentences are from a column I wrote 10 years ago today, decrying the possibility that the NCAA and/or USC would remove Bush from the record, the way the Soviets used to purge photographs of officials who got on Stalin's bad side.

A lot has changed in a decade. The NCAA had to be shamed by hungry student-athletes into allowing universities to provide more food. The public is demanding student-athletes share in the wealth that intercollegiate athletics generates, a freight train that the NCAA willfully refused to see coming. In fact, if Equifax did credibility ratings, the NCAA wouldn't qualify to announce that tomorrow is Thursday.

But give the NCAA credit for this: Three years ago, when the NCAA overhauled the infractions process, it announced that no disassociation it ordered could last longer than 10 years. That means, as far as the NCAA is concerned, Bush's time in the wilderness is over. Some wilderness -- he enjoyed a long NFL career, then glided into a seat as an on-air college football analyst for Fox.

Now the decisions belong to USC and the Heisman Trophy Trust. Now the university is ready to welcome Bush back into its family. All of college football, including the committee that oversees American sports' most famous trophy, should do the same. Bush sat in timeout for 10 years, and now it's over.

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