- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- We can't change the past as much as we'd like to try sometimes.
It's part of life. We make mistakes and we move on.
There is no replay button to go back six years and fix an error we might have made. We simply chalk it up to life's imperfections and hope to do better the next time.
When it comes to sports, however, we love to hopelessly hop into our time machines whenever we discover there has been some wrongdoing in the past.
We will strip, vacate, delete, re-vote and re-award titles and victories weeks, months and even years after the fact.
We would be hard pressed to find a school as experienced in this revisionist history as USC.
When the NCAA ruled last June that USC running back Reggie Bush received improper benefits while in school, the Trojans were forced to vacate 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC voluntarily returned the Heisman Trophy won by Bush in 2005 one month after the ruling but one question still remains more than five years after this case began.
What will the BCS do with the 2004 national championship trophy that currently sits in the middle of USC's Heritage Hall?
In a world as imperfect as ours, the BCS should allow the trophy to remain where it's been since January 2005 and reason that USC did in fact play Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl and did in fact beat the Sooners 55-19. USC proved over the course of an undefeated regular season in which Bush was eligible until December that it was the best team in the country and was voted as such by the coaches.
The BCS wouldn't be alone in this somewhat unpopular stance. The Associated Press decided it would not strip USC of its 2004 national championship because its poll is intended to measure on-field performance and if teams are allowed to play, they're allowed to be ranked.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock said there is still no timetable for a decision even after the NCAA denied USC's appeal to reduce sanctions imposed on the football program.
USC was never appealing to regain games vacated after the NCAA initially announced its ruling in June. USC was simply appealing to reduce its two-year bowl ban to one year and limit football scholarship reductions to five in each of the next three years instead of the scheduled 10.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that whenever the BCS' presidential oversight committee convenes to discuss the matter, Hancock will officially vacate the title and USC will be forced to return the crystal football trophy which has served as the centerpiece of the athletic department the past six years.
After packing up Bush's Heisman and returning it well before the Heisman Trophy Trust even voted whether to strip Bush of his award, USC athletic director Pat Haden said he would have no problem doing the same with the BCS national championship trophy. In fact, as he looked at the trophy before the school's appeal in January, he openly wondered why it was still being displayed considering it was commemorating a win USC vacated last June.
"I'm confused about that, too," Haden said. "I'm not exactly sure. They can take all that stuff. I'm not worried about that. I'm looking to the future."
The BCS showed everyone how it feels about having potentially ineligible players play in its games five months ago.
Ohio State announced six players (linebacker Jordan Whiting, offensive tackle Mike Adams, running back Daniel Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and defensive end Solomon Thomas) would be suspended in December for selling memorabilia and accepting discounts on tattoos.
Then came the lobbying from Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
The NCAA ultimately reinstated the players for the Sugar Bowl and postponed their suspensions until the start of the 2011 season.
If we carry that logic out, if Bush, who the NCAA concluded began accepting improper benefits in December 2004, was caught before the 2005 Orange Bowl, he probably would have been allowed to play in that big-money game and simply had his suspension pushed toward the next season.
While USC vacated its win over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl and will likely soon forfeit its title, Bush's impact on the game was surprisingly minimal considering the lopsided result. He had 75 rushing yards, 31 receiving yards and 43 yards on kick and punt returns, and no touchdowns. It was perhaps his least effective game of an otherwise highlight-filled season. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart threw for an Orange Bowl record five touchdowns, three to Steve Smith, one to Dwayne Jarrett and another to Dominique Byrd, while LenDale White rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns. USC's defense and special teams forced five turnovers and began celebrating the win on the sideline with over nine minutes left in the game, up 55-10.
The total team domination in that game on both sides of the ball is one of the biggest reasons the trophy is still displayed at Heritage Hall, in the middle of the school's now six Heismans. While Haden wasted no time sending back Bush's individual award and distancing the school from him, it will be slightly harder to erase the accomplishments of Leinart, Smith, Jarrett, Byrd, White and others who helped USC go undefeated and win the national championship six years ago.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna