USC plans to meet with Reggie Bush at end of NCAA ban

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The specter of his legend still hangs over USC. Its electrifying run from 2003 to 2005 remains an essential thread in the fabric of Trojan football and university football in general, impossible to disentangle from the rich history of one or the other. The recruits who hardly attended his supremacy always whisper his name, always imitate his style.But since June 2010, on campus where he once captivated a generation, Reggie Bush has been a ghost. It was then that the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions against USC, withdrawing its 2004 national title and forcing the school to permanently disassociate itself from its fleeing star.

All references to Bush at USC have been deleted, each image has been deleted, all records marked with an asterisk after a lengthy NCAA investigation have revealed that he and his family accepted the improper benefits of two candidates for the sports marketing.

Bush returned his 2005 Heisman Trophy as a spinoff, the only player to have done so. The trophy replica that once stood triumphantly in Heritage Hall is now gathering dust with the Heisman Trust. Jersey # 5, which once adorned the peristyle end of the Colosseum, is also gone; and no Trojan has carried the number since.

But now, after 10 years in exile, the change in public sentiment toward amateurism as well as a subtle change in the internal operating procedures of the NCAA Offenses Committee have paved the way for return. from Bush to USC.

Wednesday marks the last day of the dissociation ban – which has since been reduced from a permanent ban – imposed on Bush exactly a decade ago. In the eyes of the NCAA, he will be free to return to the USC campus and the university plans to welcome him again.

“He’s certainly long overdue,” said LenDale White, the other half of the USC return tandem in 2004. “Reggie should never have been in this situation, given that he was a child when it continued. We are 35 years old now. I really believe it is time. ”

Others are not so sure. There is no doubt that anti-Bush sentiment – it has been, for some time, the living embodiment of all that is wrong with large-scale university athletics – has softened over the years. But 15 years after the USC’s national title was canceled, some people still await an apology.

Bush did not respond to requests for comment on a return to the USC, but several of his former teammates and others affiliated with the program during his charmed run were supportive of his reinstatement.

“Reggie doesn’t owe anyone an apology,” said White. ” He owes nothing to anyone. ”

Alex Holmes, a former late Trojan, said, “At no time have I ever felt negativity towards him – at all. The reality … is that Reggie did nothing wrong. “

Reggie Bush of USC watches from the bench during a game against Fresno State in November 2005.(Kim D. Johnson / Associated Press)

USC would not comment on Bush’s return and his plans are unknown. While some people still demand an explanation, others see Bush as a victim – even a martyr. Some teammates wonder if reinstatement is enough penance for the pain of the past decade.

“It’s up to Reggie to decide, ultimately,” said Holmes. “He hasn’t recovered for the past 10 years. I mean, how do you compensate for that? ”

The USC has long argued that it would welcome Bush, and Bush has said it would like to return.

Now that this day is coming, can healing finally begin?

“Hopefully,” said Pete Carroll, the former Trojans coach who won the title. “I don’t think there is any other choice. ”

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It was on June 10, 2010, after four years of investigation, that the NCAA Offenses Committee cited the USC for lack of institutional control and slapped the university with suffocating sanctions.

The 2004 Trojans’ last two wins, including the Orange Bowl’s national championship win over Oklahoma, have been canceled. It meant losing every victory in 2005, a memorable season that ended with a legendary Rose Bowl defeat to Texas. USC was placed on probation for four years, banned from playing in the playoffs for two years, and amassed 10 awards each year over the following three seasons.

“We basically got the death penalty,” said former linebacker Keith Rivers.

In total, the committee’s report lists 25 sanctions for USC’s football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs. One of the last vestiges of this devastating move was number 15 on the list – “Dissociation of Student Athlete 1”.

Student-athlete 1 was approaching his fifth NFL season when his ban on USC was announced. In his first meeting with journalists following the decision, Bush called it “the thing closest to death without dying.”

However, when USA Today reported that the ball carrier had called sports director Pat Haden to apologize, Haden called the LA Times to clarify, saying that even if Bush was contrite, “he never said” I I’m sorry “or” I’m sorry “. He never said, “I lied at the NCAA” or “I took stuff.” ”

As the USC followed the NCAA edict and cut Bush’s ties, many of his teammates wondered why the university hadn’t fought harder to defend a player whose presence had helped propel the horses from Troy to a record winning streak of 34 games and winning millions at college. .

In a 2018 podcast with former NFL ball carrier Arian Foster, Bush suggested that “the people at the university saved me.”

White people see it the same way.

USC Reggie Bush stiffens UCLA Jarrad Page during a 2005 game.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“If there’s anyone to blame, it was the people who walked into our moms and dads’ houses and said they were going to protect us and keep us safe,” said White. “You cannot be angry with a child. Your jersey was sold 1,000 times in one day, and you have to borrow money from your teammates to get a hamburger at Wendy’s? Look, I don’t blame Reggie at all, as much as I blame the so-called superiors, the people who are supposed to save us at this point. ”

This perception only intensified when subsequent NCAA investigations in Oregon, Ohio State and Miami triggered much less severe sanctions. And when Penn State was offered relief from the sanctions imposed after the Scandal Jerry Sandusky, Haden met with NCAA officials but no adjustments have been made.

“To disassociate yourself from a player like that, and then make the NCAA laugh at Miami and all these other schools, I thought [USC] was going to do something, “said Lawrence Jackson, a 2004-2007 defender. “All the while, we’re talking about fighting, but we’re not fighting in this case? ”

But while this bitterness simmered in the years that followed, an administrator quietly acted behind the scenes to rectify the situation.

Dave Roberts, now Special Assistant to USC Sport Director Mike Bohn, was hired to help develop his compliance department following the 2010 sanctions. Five years later, his work earned him a place on the even from the NCAA committee that had so severely punished the USC.

It is in this role on the NCAA Offenses Committee that Roberts would play a role in modifying the internal operating procedure 5-15-8.

Until the rule was changed in 2017, the committee frequently banned dissociation from university sanctions, according to Rod Uphoff, a lawyer who was a non-voting member of the committee in the USC case. These bans, Uphoff said in an email, “were generally permanent.”

However, this was not the case for Michigan, where former star basketball player Chris Webber was charged with five criminal charges in 2002, including obstructing justice and lying to a federal grand jury, after recognized to have accepted nearly $ 300,000 in cash and gifts from a Michigan booster. The NCAA ordered Michigan to disassociate from Webber for 10 years.

The disparity between the ban on Webber, which ended in 2013, and the permanent ban on Bush has not been lost on USC. Indeed, this would become the turning point in the committee’s decision to limit the bans on unbundling in the future.

Roberts was appointed vice-chair of the Offenses Committee on September 1, 2017. A month later, the committee adopted a new internal operating procedure, limiting past and present severance sanctions “to not exceed 10 years from publication of the IOC infringement decision. ”

The change has not been announced publicly, but USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone said the USC was informed at the time. Asked in April 2019 about a possible return, Tessalone suggested that the NCAA ban was all that stood in the way. “We would be delighted to find him,” he said.

In the case of Webber, it took five years after the expiration of his ban for the bitterness between the player and the school to disappear. In November 2018, a quarter of a century after last playing at university, Webber was invited to become an honorary captain at a football game in Michigan.

“It was a great moment, in front of 100,000 people,” said Webber. “I had goosebumps and chills and certainly watery eyes. ”

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Former USC players Reggie Bush, left, and Matt Leinart rehearse for a Fox Sports pre-game show.

Former USC players Reggie Bush, left, and Matt Leinart rehearse for a Fox Sports pre-game show before a game between the Trojans and Utah at the Coliseum in September.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Last September, Reggie Bush stood in the end area of ​​the Coliseum and inspected the grassy scene where he once played. Now 34, he wore a gray suit and held a microphone with the Fox college football team.

Its mere presence required authorization from the NCAA. But as fans gathered in the southern zone, chanting his name in the pre-game, it was clear that his dissociation from college had not erased his legacy on campus.

“I don’t know what they can do to fix it and make up for all the time lost, but they definitely have to get it back,” said former receiver Steve Smith. “I hope they return his Heisman. Put back his memories and his jersey. Organize an apology ceremony and present it again. Bring all the guys and make him feel special again. ”

Jackson said, “They should take off his jersey,” said Jackson.

Holmes said, “He should be at the University Football Hall of Fame as soon as possible. ”

But there is no ceremony that could erase emotional pain or repair the collateral damage resulting from the 2010 NCAA ruling. There are no illusions that the NCAA is suddenly offering restitution or the return of vacant USC winnings. The Heisman Trust, which has not responded to requests for comment for this article, is unlikely to return the Bush trophy unless decided by the NCAA to reinstate its eligibility starting in the 2005 season.

Even though society is becoming more sensitive to the plight of student athletes and the NCAA envisions a future in which they can benefit from their name, image and likeness, there is no rewriting of this story. But the USC can view Bush’s plight as a rare opportunity to regain at least a bit of the glow of a tarnished era.

“You can never really take Reggie,” said White. “Reggie is part of this story. It is part of the USC. Maybe once we get Reggie back, we can go back to our glory days again. ”

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