Bush league (cont.)
Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 5:34PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 5:40PM
That's where I can help -- and, oddly enough, I'd like to look to the NFL for inspiration. As those of you who've been following the sagas of suspended players Pacman Jones and Chris Henry are well aware, commissioner Roger Goodell was recently empowered to hand out discipline without having to worry about that pesky concept known as due process. Essentially, Goodell can assess a player's pattern of behavior -- one not necessarily including criminal convictions -- and fine and suspend the player at his discretion.
With that said, my question is this: If the NFL is no longer restricted by due process, why shouldn't the NCAA follow suit?
If Bush remains uncooperative -- and last month, while visiting a Trojans football practice, Bush brazenly told the Los Angeles Times that if he were called by NCAA investigators, "I wouldn't answer the phone" -- here's what should happen: His charmed existence as USC football star emeritus should be instantly and mercilessly revoked.
No more visits to practice or the Coliseum sidelines, or anywhere else on campus. No more inclusion in the record books or media guides or promotional materials like football-highlights DVDs. Unless and until Bush agrees to an interview with NCAA investigators, he ceases to exist in the annals of school or NCAA lore.
How, in the absence of a solid finding of culpability, would the NCAA be allowed to do all of this? Glad you asked. I'm modeling my plan on the "implied consent" laws that are on the books in most states -- rules designed to discourage drunk-driving suspects from refusing to take roadside breathalyzer tests. In California, for example, anyone who is pulled over under the suspicion of driving while intoxicated and won't submit to a test automatically loses his or her drivers license for a year.
This is not a legal matter -- that's for the courts to handle on a concurrent basis. Rather, it's an administrative action, based on the DMV's premise that driving is a privilege, not a right. And though it brings up defendant's-rights issues such as lack of due process and double-jeopardy prosecution, state and federal courts have consistently upheld these decrees.
Would my plan clean up college athletics? That may be somewhat of a stretch. While such drastic post-career sanctions would likely bother Bush, he still might prefer them to the civil vulnerability to which on-the-record interviews with NCAA investigators might subject him and/or the shame that would come from admitting his offenses and the possible forfeits that might follow.
But what I'm proposing certainly seems preferable to the toothless system we have now. Consider that, according to Yahoo!'s most recent report, even the existence of audio tapes which may implicate Bush and his family members isn't enough to keep him away from the Trojans' practice field.
When I ran my plan by Barker he was skeptical. "It would have to be approved by the entire (NCAA) membership," he said, "and I think it would be a long shot. Most of the people want to give the benefit of the doubt to the student athlete, and without overwhelming proof they probably wouldn't want to (take such drastic measures)."
Barker has been especially frustrated by the Bush case which, from my vantage point, looks like a textbook example of cheating and beating the system. Last month Bush reached a settlement with Michael Michaels, one of the financiers of the failed marketing agency which allegedly funneled money and benefits to Bush and his family. According to Yahoo!'s sources, the agreement includes a confidentiality clause that will keep Michaels from talking to the NCAA.
If this is true, then here's essentially what went down: Bush got paid, skipped to the NFL and then seemingly bought the silence of one of the men who could indict him. And while Michaels' ex-partner, Lloyd Lake, is reportedly preparing a possible civil suit against Bush, there's no reason the well-off running back couldn't negotiate a similar settlement with him, too.
To Barker, a settlement with Lake would theoretically remove the reservations cited by Bush's attorney when explaining why his client wouldn't agree to be interviewed by investigators. "I understand his reasons for not talking," Barker said. "There is a threat of civil lawsuits. But if a (second) settlement comes, I'd like to see the reasoning for continuing not to talk."
Advice for Barker: Don't hold your breath.
Barker also wonders whether, even if the NCAA and Pac-10 ultimately conclude that Bush and/or his family members violated the rules, USC will be punished. "If it can't be proven that the school was involved or knew about the activity," he said, "what would (an NCAA) panel choose to do?"
Yet Barker remains optimistic that the truth will ultimately be uncovered.
In the meantime, Bush remains a big man on USC's campus, soaking up the residual glory without having to be accountable for his alleged actions. Something tells me Roger Goodell, were he running the NCAA, wouldn't stand for it.
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