No Heisman for Vince Young
Vince Young as your Heisman Trophy winner, circa the 2005 college football season? Well, there's one problem with that: Young didn't win.
Check that: He didn't come close. If there is such a thing as getting slaughtered while finishing second in the voting for the most coveted of all college football honors, then Young accomplished that. It was a blowout. This doesn't even seem possible, considering the remarkable level of Young's play for Texas that season, but the truth is that he was an also-ran in the Heisman race.
That is the extent to which USC's Reggie Bush dominated the season-ending conversation about the Heisman. That's the extent to which Bush dominated the voting, as well. And that is one reason -- but only one, actually -- that the Heisman Trophy cannot, under any circumstances, be handed now to Young.
Young himself isn't asking, mind you. Let's be clear on that. His coach at Texas, Mack Brown, made an absolutely perfect argument on Young's behalf to Dan Patrick this week, telling the syndicated radio host that the whole thing is irrelevant unless the Heisman Trust decides to strip Bush of the award in the wake of the NCAA's findings that Bush and USC committed infractions that rendered the running back ineligible -- but that, "if they take it away, I think Vince should be awarded the trophy."
It was a totally respectful, totally reasonable conversation. Nobody is going to go after Brown for having the back of one of his former players -- a player, in fact, who led Texas to the national championship by winning the Rose Bowl over Bush's Trojans in early 2006. On every level, it's the right thing for Brown to do, even though he trod carefully around the subject.
But look, there's just no flexibility here. If the Heisman Trust is first and foremost concerned with the integrity of the award itself, as it certainly should be, then the only decision to be made is whether to strip Bush of the honor.
After that? If Bush is to be shunned, then the 2005 Heisman sits vacant.
The problem, for the Trust, is that the Heisman voters got it right that season. They watched the games closely. They were (as revealed by straw polls and other anecdotal collections of opinion) fairly divided in the early going among Bush, Young and USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who had won the award the season before. And then they watched Bush just obliterate opponent after opponent, especially in otherworldly performances against Fresno State (513 all-purpose yards) and UCLA (260 rushing yards), and they made their call.
The vote reflected the clear-cut nature of the decision. Bush received 2,541 points and beat Young by a staggering 933. Bush's 784 first-place votes were, at the time, the second-most ever cast for a Heisman candidate, trailing only O.J. Simpson in 1968.
In other words, Bush was the best player in the nation that season. As we now know, or believe that we know, Bush played that season while acting off the field in ways that wrecked his eligibility. Those factors did not come into full view until years later, but they were significant enough to cause the NCAA to enforce sanctions and USC not only to return its copy of the Heisman Trophy, but also to essentially cut itself off from all contact with Bush.
If Bush had a soul, he'd have returned the Heisman already and been done with it. But that annoyance doesn't change the fact that, back when the vote mattered, the Heisman voters used their eyes and brains. They dispatched their responsibility flawlessly. They had the right guy. And the realization that Bush is now declared ineligible doesn't alter the truth, which is that he was the best player in the college game that season.
The charge for the Heisman Trust is to somehow reconcile what has happened since then with what everybody knew at the time. With all due respect to Young, giving him an award that he didn't come close to winning is not the same as restoring the integrity of that year's vote.
The Heisman process isn't perfect, but of course no subjective voting system ever is. Occasionally there will be bumps in the road; occasionally, the vote will simply be too close to produce a real consensus winner. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford won the 2008 Heisman Trophy without getting the most first-place votes. Stuff happens.
That wasn't the case in 2005. Today, Vince Young says he doesn't want the Heisman that Reggie Bush has essentially punted. Good for Young. The thing goes vacant, as it should. It's the most integrity-laden thing the Heisman Trust can do.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.