Commentary

Reggie Bush's trophy void is right move

His Heisman, along with Southern Cal's 2005 national championship, mean nothing now

Originally Published: July 21, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

It's just a trophy, right? A bronze, stiff-arming figurine set on marble and black onyx. A 25-pound doorstop.

But the Heisman Trophy deserves better than Reggie Bush. USC admitted as much when it announced it was returning its replica of the 2005 award to the Heisman Trust. Bush should do the same with his copy, but he won't. He wouldn't know the truth if it grabbed him by the face mask.

[+] EnlargeBush
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonThis isn't the trophy Southern Cal is giving back. Reggie Bush still has this one.

Not only is USC returning the trophy, but it's also hitting the delete key on all things Bush. Any images and mementos of the disgraced running back will be removed from the school's athletic facilities. He's getting stiff-armed by his own program.

Of course, Bush helped make the Trojans lots of money. Millions, probably, if you consider his effect on ticket sales, merchandise sales, TV-related revenue, advertising, enrollment demand and bowl payouts. More than a few people, including then-head coach Pete Carroll, became rich during Bush's stay.

As it turns out, so did Bush and his family.

There's no getting around the hypocrisy of major college football. It's often as dirty as a mud-caked jersey. You have to hose off after dealing with some of the agents, runners and "friends" who attach themselves to the game and its players like remoras.

Bush was a natural target for the parasites. And according to the NCAA's investigation, he willingly, enthusiastically and arrogantly had his hand out. He can lend his name to all the charitable foundations he wants, but nothing changes his USC legacy as a cheater.

He isn't the first player to take money, and he won't be the last. But at least we know about Bush, and at least there's something that can be done about it -- even if that something is symbolic.

During Bush's spectacular 2005 season, USC produced a video-highlights package that was distributed to Heisman voters. The video begins with a statement and then a question:

It's been said that every great player has a defining moment. … ONE signature play. For USC's Reggie Bush, which one would you pick?

Five years later, the answer is obvious. Bush's defining moment was when he traded his good name for tainted money. His signature play was compromising himself and his program for a staggering array of rules-busting extra benefits.

USC won a national championship with him in 2004. Bush won a Heisman in 2005. Both mean nothing now. The wins have been ordered vacated, and the school is shipping back its Heisman replica.

The rightful owner of that season's national title should be Auburn. At the very least, the title game should have been Auburn versus Oklahoma. But who knew?

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/Kevork DjansezianThere is little doubt that Bush was the best back in college football in 2005. But he wasn't playing fair.

My 2005 Heisman ballot had Bush No. 1, Texas' Vince Young No. 2 and USC's Matt Leinart No. 3. I wasn't alone. Bush received 88 percent of the first-place votes. He had more ballot points than Young and Leinart combined.

Bush was the best college football player in the country that year. Other than Barry Sanders and Bo Jackson, I've never seen a running back do what Bush did, which was outrun geometry. A would-be tackler would have an angle … and then he wouldn't. He was the most electrifying runner in the game but also the cheatingest.

There isn't any wiggle room on a Heisman ballot. It says it right there, in bright red letters: "The recipient must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete."

Bush was a football field away from compliance. He ran right past NCAA rule 12.3.1.2, the one that prohibits the acceptance of extra benefits. He wasn't a student-athlete. He was an athlete on the take.

When Yahoo! Sports first reported the alleged infractions, Bush said the situation had been "blown out of proportion." He'd explain his side of the story soon enough.

That was an NCAA investigation ago. A USC athletic director ago. A USC head coach ago. A USC president ago. A handful of debilitating sanctions ago.

Vince Young
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesVince Young lost the Heisman to Bush in December 2005, but he had the pose down pat three weeks later when Texas beat USC for the national title.

The effects of Bush's greed will be felt for years, especially if an appeals committee upholds the initial penalties, which include scholarship reductions, a two-year bowl ban and forfeited wins. It already has cost USC a star recruit. No matter how Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, who inherited this mess from Carroll but has his own long history of integrity issues, wants to spin the situation, the program will take a hit under the chin strap.

The defiant, delusional reign of USC athletic director Mike Garrett ends in less than two weeks. He'll be replaced by Pat Haden, who, like Garrett, has a USC football pedigree, but he also has the good sense to admit mistakes were made.

Haden might be inexperienced, but his moral compass will always point true north. In other words, Kiffin will be on a tighter leash than he was at Tennessee.

As for Bush, he's untouchable. He and his family got their tens of thousands of dollars when he was at USC, and Bush got his millions when he joined the NFL. In a way, he outran the NCAA.

But he can't outrun what it says on that Heisman ballot. He violated the rules, and his name should be expunged from Heisman history. The trophy belongs to the man seated to the right of Bush that December evening in 2005.

Vince Young got cheated out of an acceptance speech that night. Don't cheat him out of his doorstop, too.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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