King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Reggie Bush house scandal: We're supposed to be outraged if he broke an unfair rule, hurting no one and helping his family?


Salon Staff
April 26, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Do you care where Reggie Bush's family lived for the last year? The only Bush family I care about where they live is George W. and Laura. Twice I've been asked, twice I've said, "Not on Pennsylvania Avenue" and twice they've ignored me.

But the USC tailback's mother, stepfather and brother? I'm supposed to care where they live because they may have broken the NCAA's unfair, outdated rules that dictate that anybody can profit from collegiate athletes' success except the athletes and their families?

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No thanks.

Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson broke the story Monday that Bush's parents and brother had lived for the last year in a 3,000-square-foot house in the San Diego area that was owned by Michael Michaels, who was allegedly trying to recruit Bush to sign with his newly formed marketing firm.

Bush eventually signed with another agency. He also didn't sign with the agent Michaels and his partner, Lloyd Lake, were allegedly trying to steer him toward.

NCAA rules prohibit an athlete or his family from gaining "extra benefits" beyond a scholarship arising from their athletic success.

Bush has said his family did nothing wrong, that they simply rented a house, though he declined to discuss their rental arrangement. His attorney said Bush, like any 20-year-old college kid, was unaware of his parents' finances. But the family bolted the house just as this story was breaking over the weekend.

And by the way, Robinson, Yahoo's fine football writer, has done outstanding investigative work on this story. Cheers also to Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, for my money the best sportswriter in America, for writing a column making essentially the same point as this one, that Bush's "crime" is bogus -- a column that argues against the importance of a co-worker's work. And good on Yahoo for running that column.

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USC turned the matter over to the Pac-10 to investigate. Coach Pete Carroll and athletic director Mike Garrett have declined to comment until that investigation is complete.

Let's assume for a moment that every allegation in this matter is true. Frankly, I have a hard time believing they're false, and by saying that, I don't think I'm saying anything about the character of Reggie Bush.

I'm not the only one who feels that way. Adidas announced a big new contract with Bush Wednesday, with other major deals already signed or in the works for the running back, and his status as one of the top picks, if not the first one, in Saturday's NFL draft is reportedly unchanged.

As it should be. This matter brings up none of the "character issues" NFL teams care about for potential draftees -- unless those draftees are so talented the character issues can be ignored. If guilty, all Bush and his family have done is break a rule that was begging to be broken, one so clearly wrong that any rational actor, faced with it, would shrug his shoulders and break it.

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And before you write me that e-mail saying that Bush signed up to play college football knowing its rules and he should be expected to follow them, remember that he had no reasonable choice but to play college football. There are no real alternatives for football players with pro potential coming out of high school.

If you force a person to exist within a system that he believes doesn't work or isn't fair, don't be surprised if that person tries to beat the system.

Don't agree? OK, but before you write, please also make sure you've never driven over the speed limit or parked illegally, and that you've never complained if you've been ticketed for doing so. You knew the rules, right? Take your medicine with a smile, and be thankful the government lets you live in this country and drive a car.

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So anyway, let's assume every allegation here is true, that Bush let himself be courted by agents and marketers, that he let them pay for a house for his family to live in. What's going to happen?

Bush will probably have to give back his Heisman Trophy, for one thing. That'll be kind of sad for him, but, again, will anyone beyond the NCAA offices and the Downtown Athletic Club really care? Do people get in arguments over whether Vanessa Williams or Suzette Charles was the real Miss America?

I think not, and I think it would be the same thing. A relatively trivial prize, won by someone and then taken away by its bestowers over rules that have nothing to do with the actual competition.

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Bush won the Heisman because the people who vote on it thought he was the best player on the field, which is all most people care about, and if it's retroactively rescinded because of a house his mom and dad lived in, I don't think Bush will be shunned in polite society. And I'm sure he has a few other tchotchkes for the trophy room in his new mansion.

Otherwise, Bush will pay no penalty if he's found to be guilty. He's already a millionaire from endorsements, and he's about to embark on a career in the NFL, where what happened in college is irrelevant once you've signed your first contract. He has said he believes college athletes should be paid, so there's none of that messy guilt for him to deal with.

So who'll pay?

USC will pay if wrongdoing is found. It'll likely have to forfeit the games it won last year, probably give back the bowl money. It'll take a P.R. hit, maybe suffer some sanctions that will cost the school football scholarships or bowl or TV appearances, all of which means money.

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Any sanctions also might hurt recruiting for a few years, which would make it harder to keep up the winning, though USC will still be USC in a few years.

Pete Carroll will probably get a letter in his file, saying he should have kept a closer watch on his charges -- offensive lineman Winston Justice has also been named as being mixed up with the Michaels-Lake marketing firm -- though Carroll is famously adamant to his players that they should play by the rules, for what that's worth.

So who'll really pay? The players who follow Bush at USC, who of course have nothing to do with where Bush's parents lived for the last year. They might all be cutting their own side deals, as well they should, but if the NCAA is punishing people on the old "well, you're probably guilty of something" prosecution, it has reached levels of corruption beyond what even I thought possible.

No, the NCAA punishes innocent people unlucky enough to follow in the wake of rulebreakers because, well, it has to punish someone, and it only has power over certain people. Mostly athletes, whom it aims to keep poor for just that reason, so it can maintain control over them.

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It could sanction coaches too if it wanted, but, you know, those guys can afford to hire really good lawyers. They bite back.

You don't see pro athletes going along with tortured, insane rules like the one that makes it illegal for a college coach to buy his player a bagel, which is how the NCAA nailed that miscreant basketball coach Rick Majerus at Utah.

Pro players wouldn't put up with that nonsense because they have economic power. Reggie Bush has that kind of power now. The NCAA hates that, but there's nothing it can do.

Eventually, these guys do escape.

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Previous column: The un-Clipper-like Clippers

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