Bush should lose Heisman if he got anything extra
The phone rings once before the automatic answering system kicks in.
"Hello, and thank you for calling the offices of the Heisman Trophy Trust," says the prerecorded voice of a young woman. "We congratulate the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Southern California, Reggie Bush."
That's what it says today. A month or two from now, you might hear, "Contrary to earlier recordings, we now congratulate the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Texas, Vince Young."
There's a chance -- and it's the worst-case scenario for the nine members of the Heisman board of trustees -- that Bush could be asked to return America's most famous sports trophy to the New York offices. This is the same stiff-arming statuette that sat inside the San Diego-area house for which Bush's mother, Denise Griffin, and stepfather, LaMar Griffin, allegedly didn't pay $54,000 in annual rent. Accusations of freebie housing, as well as wink-wink loans to pay off Griffin family debts, have sparked an NCAA investigation and the very real possibility of a new nameplate on the 2005 Heisman.
"Obviously, there's no precedent for this," said Tim Henning of the Heisman Trust. "A lot of people have asked what would happen. Really, we don't know."
Nobody does because no Heisman winner's parents ever have been this naive, or dumb, or both. LaMar and Denise Griffin might be wonderful people (although Denise nearly ran a 4.38 40 any time a reporter approached her at the recent NFL draft), but their alleged involvement in Housegate or, at the very least, their lack of judgment, could cost Bush. It's a long shot, but it also could cost USC its Pac-10 Conference title and its 12 victories last season.
I have my original 2005 official Heisman ballot right here.
I hereby designate Reggie Bush -- USC as My First Choice to receive the Heisman Memorial Trophy awarded to the Outstanding College Football Player of the United States for 2005. To the best of my knowledge, he conforms to the rules governing this vote.
And those rules, which are printed in bright red ink on the Heisman ballot, specifically state, "The recipient must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete."
If Bush's folks did indeed accept free housing and/or loans from an investor in a sports marketing agency, then Reggie, the Griffins, USC and the Heisman trustees have a problem. According to the NCAA Division I Manual, which is thick enough to crush Paris Hilton's Chihuahua, Bush could be ruled ineligible if his relatives had their hands out. It doesn't matter whether Bush knew. As far as the NCAA and Article 188.8.131.52 are concerned, an extra benefit -- and that's what we're talking about here -- is an extra benefit.
Bush says the story has been "blown out of proportion," which is interesting because the NFL informed some of its teams shortly before the draft that Bush was the target of a possible blackmail plot by a prospective agent. I'm no Mel Kiper Jr., but this was my first draft where extortion was one of the "measurables."
Bush also says the truth will emerge. The sooner the better works for me. I always get a little suspicious when people suddenly become allergic to reporters. The only person talking less than the Griffins these days is Teller. That doesn't make the Griffins guilty, but it does create more questions.
For starters, I'm asking myself whether I'd still cast my Heisman vote for Bush if I knew his family broke NCAA rules. And if the family did break those NCAA rules, would it matter whether Bush knew about the housing or loan arrangements?
Remember, Bush didn't simply win the Heisman balloting, he overwhelmed it. He had more total points than the second- and third-place finishers (Young and USC teammate Matt Leinart) combined. He earned 88 percent of the first-place votes. Those 784 first-place votes were the highest total since USC tailback O.J. Simpson had 855 in 1968. The Houston Texans were too busy to notice, but Bush was clearly the best college football player in the country.
But does he deserve to keep the Heisman if the allegations are proved true? The answer is no.
Bush is the No. 1 cause of goose bumps in press boxes, living rooms and stadium bleachers. His moves have moves. I put Young and Leinart (who, by the way, is now hanging out with Paris and Tinkerbell) on my Heisman ballot, but only to be polite.
But the ballot is as direct as a Raja Bell horse collar of Kobe Bryant. You vote not only for the "Outstanding College Football Player of the United States" but for the player in compliance with those NCAA rules. If Bush's family lived rent-free in a $757,000 house, then NCAA rules were broken. It's as simple and as sad as that.
Had the Housegate story broken during the middle of the season, chances are USC's compliance staff, which usually errs on the side of caution, would have held Bush out until an in-house inquiry were undertaken. His numbers would have suffered, as would his Heisman candidacy. And even if he weren't removed from the lineup during the USC investigation, there would have been a cloud, however small, over his season.
Of course, the Heisman trustees are hoping this all goes away. In a perfect trophy world, they want the Griffins and Bush exonerated of all alleged wrongdoing. They probably even could live with the Griffins/Bush/USC receiving an NCAA wrist slap.
But think of the possibilities if the charges are true. Would second-place finisher Young become the new winner? Would the trustees simply not award a Heisman for 2005? Would Bush sue to keep his Heisman?
"I think they all feel that right now it's really too premature to say anything other than that they're aware of the situation," said Henning of the trustees.
Aware, and nervous -- just like the Griffins looked in New York.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.