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Time to move on

Bushgate minor compared with other sports scandals

Posted: Wednesday April 26, 2006 10:17AM; Updated: Wednesday April 26, 2006 1:05PM
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Reggie Bush says there was no wrongdoing involved in his family's former living arrangement.
Reggie Bush says there was no wrongdoing involved in his family's former living arrangement.
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Apparently Reggie Bush isn't the only member of his family with breakaway speed. Bush's mother, stepfather and younger brother pretty much set a new world record for packing up and moving out of a house last weekend, after a reporter from Yahoo! Sports approached them with questions about the San Diego-area home in which they had been living for nearly a year. Less than 24 hours after the inquiry, they had suddenly found a new place of residence.

Seems the abruptly empty house is owned by someone with the easy-to-remember name of Michael Michaels, who reportedly was trying to steer Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from USC and the probable No. 1 pick in this weekend's NFL draft, toward signing with a particular agent. That, as you might imagine, is an arrangement the NCAA frowns upon.

Bush and the family's attorney, David Cornwell, have issued some not terribly convincing denials of any wrongdoing. The story from the Bush camp is essentially this: His parents were leasing the house and there was nothing shady about the deal, and just in case someone finds something shady about the deal, don't blame Reggie, because he didn't know a thing about it.

It would be much easier to believe that everything was above board if someone from the Bush family would simply produce a canceled check or two showing that they had been making payments on the lease all this time. We won't hold our breath waiting for that. But we also won't get worked up if it turns out that Bush's family did accept the house in a little under-the-table arrangement.

There are certain ethical violations that spur outrage and ones that cause a shrug of the shoulders, and the housing misdeed, if there was one, falls into the latter category. Maybe it's because the scandals we've seen in recent years -- Duke lacrosse, Colorado football, Baylor basketball -- have been so serious that Bushgate seems like jaywalking in comparison. As long as there are no indictments, we're thinking, how bad can it be? It's also hard to find too much fault with Bush's mother and stepfather if, after what appears to be 18 years of unselfishly taking care of their son's needs, they decided to enjoy the fruits of his labor a bit early. Technically wrong, yes, but hardly worth much more than a slap on the wrist.

If any wrongdoing is proved, there's an outside chance that USC could receive a harsher penalty than that. The school has turned the matter over to the Pac-10 for investigation, and the possibility of forfeiting some of the victories in which Bush took part exists. There would be little point in that; the games are history. Bush's Heisman also appears to be at some risk, since the rules state that the award can only be given to a player who is "in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student." If they take the award away, O.J. Simpson would be a Heisman winner in good standing while Bush would not. Does that seem right?

There's always the possibility that the Bush family's housing arrangement was just the tip of the iceberg, that there were more illegal inducements that were directly or indirectly funneled his way. If that's true, then Bush and the Trojans might find themselves embroiled in a huge mess. But if the extent of the "crime" is that Bush's family got to live in some nice digs for a few months, we all might as well go on about our business, because there's nothing more to see here.

Regardless of what any investigation might turn up, Bush is still quite likely to be the top pick of the draft, and he's certain to become a multimillionaire who can afford to buy his family a mansion that would make the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house they abandoned look like a pool house. The Houston Texans, who hold the first pick, probably don't give a flying football about the whole thing, and the rest of us shouldn't care much more than that either. The Bush family might have cut an ethical corner by living in the house. If so, shame on them. Now the rest of us should do what they did last weekend -- move on.