Last month, USC took a big step in elevating the program’s legacy amid years of disappointment when they welcomed back ex-Heisman trophy winner and running back Reggie Bush. This comes after NCAA rule changes allowed the program to shorten Bush’s lifetime disassociation to ten years.
In June 2010, the NCAA concluded their four year investigation into claims that Bush and his family received benefits that were not in line with the allowances for an amateur athlete. The initial claims were centered around Bush’s mother and father living for free in a house owned by agent Michael Michaels. However this story would soon develop into a bidding war between Michaels and Mike Ornstein, who were both vying to represent Bush. The fallout of this scandal included the loss of a National Championship for USC, a two-year bowl ban and the aforementioned disassociation from Bush. Additionally, Bush forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy.
While I’m glad to see Bush return to the school he cares dearly for, his reinstatement serves more as a reminder of how wrong the NCAA’s focus is.
Reggie Bush was used as an example, a lesson in just how far the NCAA was willing to go to protect the guise of amateurism they like to hide behind. As the world grew and it became easier for student athletes to create their own brand they knew that the only way to maintain control was to make a high-profile case feel the pain on both the athlete and the institutional level. That way the next time either tried to do the like they would at least do everything in their power to keep it in the dark.
The truth of the matter is that the NCAA just doesn’t care about the student-athlete unless it is in a way that helps put money in the pockets of their member institutions and situations like Bush’s only remind us of that. If they cared they would demand a higher standard of caution from it’s member institutions amid this COVID-19 pandemic rather than saying it would be too hard to enforce base regulations on such a wide range of schools. Keep in mind that this is the same organization that managed to restrict the ways an institution could feed their scholarship athletes that bring in millions for their respective schools. They’re out to put money into their own pocket but if they’re looking to help college athletics grow in the long run, they are doing it all wrong.
The NCAA and their schools need to take the focus away from the idea of this being ameatur sports, especially when their own rules are allowing players to make more for themselves while still in school. Instead, they need to paint the picture that college athletics is about being one big family, a time-honored legacy decades in the making at every school. If they focused on this vision of what college sports is, or more so what it was, then not only will the fans gradually become more engaged. In addition, top athletes might stay longer because they chose a school they wanted to be a part of, not a school to move on from. They will need to make this their focus to survive and what transpired with Reggie Bush does not help that narrative.
What the NCAA did was take one of the proudest eras of USC’s history and tear it to pieces. Stripping the program of their national title means nothing as everyone will remember it with the same fondness as they did when there was a banner in the stadium. The issue comes when you separate a legacy program from one of its greats to make a statement.
Bush, the school’s all-time receiving yards leader out of the backfield has shown a clear affinity for not only college football but also the school he chose to spend his years. He received thunderous applause when he came back as a television analyst but the fan base should not have been denied that opportunity for so long. They went after one of the premier program’s heroes, destroyed his legacy and all over a case where you could question how much he was really involved or understood. While he chose to give back his Heisman because he was no longer worthy of the honor it was much more a product of the NCAA and the media than it was of him.
The NCAA needs a change of tone. Rehashing the Reggie Bush saga reminds the world how frustratingly far they will go to protect their image as an amateur athletic organization. While that’s necessary, it’s far from the most important thing to be brought to fans and student-athlete’s attention. It’s imperative that they focus on making these institutions matter if they have any hope of remaining relevant in this world where high schoolers are already focused on their first contract. The Reggie Bush treatment does them nothing.