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Bush league

NCAA must get tough and make former USC star talk

Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 5:34PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 5:40PM
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Reggie Bush outran most defenders in his playing days at USC and now he seems to be outrunning the NCAA.
Reggie Bush outran most defenders in his playing days at USC and now he seems to be outrunning the NCAA.
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He helped fortify the psyche of a reeling region, did a dramatic somersault into the end zone in the NFC Championship game and threw one of the greatest mid-week parties in Super Bowl history. It was a magical rookie season for Reggie Bush, but the New Orleans Saints' electrifying halfback has a major stain on his reputation, one that even the deftest ducks and cuts shouldn't allow him to elude.

According to one report, Bush and his family have cheated on a grandiose scale during his college career at USC, and he is taunting the NCAA more blatantly than he did Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in that NFC title game as its investigators try to piece together the facts.

Unlike the NFL, which has dispensed with due process in its effort to crack down on abhorrent behavior, the NCAA sits back and whines, "We don't have subpoena power."

Bear with me, because I have a plan.

First, the promising news: Pac-10 associate commissioner Ron Barker, a former NCAA investigator who now has a similar role with the conference, said Thursday he believes the truth about the improper and benefits allegedly received by Bush and members of his family will be uncovered.

"This case is a long, long way from being over," Barker said. "There is a lot of information being gathered that I can't speak about. We've had some interesting things happen in the last two weeks that have put some new life into this."

Barker has been involved with plenty of investigations, but even he is stunned at what has transpired in this case.

"This is the first time I've encountered anything like this, where all parties -- even those who've turned against each other -- have not cooperated with an investigation," Barker said. "I've never had a problem getting the information in the past."

Before I get into the specifics of the Bush situation, most of them uncovered via the excellent efforts of Yahoo! Sports reporters Charles Robinson and Jason Cole, let me assure you that this is not one of those delusional riffs proclaiming the virtues of unfettered amateurism. I'm bothered more than most that Bush didn't see a penny of the profits generated by sales of his No. 5 jersey during his time at USC, and I believe that athletes in revenue-producing sports should be paid at least something for their efforts.

That, however, is a discussion for another day. Right now we have a system that is supposed to be equitable, and the evidence suggests that Bush and his family benefited on a scale far outside the realm of the NCAA's often nitpicky enforcement zone.

Putting aside morality, here's what's at stake: If a student-athlete and his parents can get away with, according to the Yahoo! report, receiving well over $300,000 worth of financial inducements, those of us getting wrapped up in the games on Saturday will have a very hard time buying into the notion of competitive balance.

The NCAA is supposed to be able to regulate such seemingly egregious flouting of its bylaws, yet lacking subpoena power (as its officials unfailingly remind us) and unable to impact a former collegian like Bush's eligibility, the organization seems soft.

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