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No more beating around Bush

Answering questions about the ex-USC star and more

Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2007 11:02AM; Updated: Tuesday June 26, 2007 4:31PM
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Reggie Bush
Will Reggie Bush ever talk to the NCAA about the extra benefitis he and his family allegedly received while he was at USC?
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We're going to break from the traditional Mailbag format a bit this week. Normally, I answer one question about a particular topic, then move on to the next one; however, there's one particular topic quietly hovering over college football right now that, considering its potential implications, merits some extended coverage.

It's been more than a year since Yahoo! Sports published the first of its stunning and scrupulously reported investigative pieces about the numerous extra benefits 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush and his family allegedly received from prospective sports marketers while Bush was still a student at USC. In terms of bombshells, they don't get much bigger than one of the most visible college stars in recent memory allegedly breaking rules that, if true, would subject two-time national champion USC to NCAA sanctions.

Yet, aside from a couple of brief statements confirming it is conducting an ongoing investigation, the NCAA, as is its policy, has remained exasperatingly silent on the matter. (An NCAA spokesman confirmed to me last week there was "nothing to add at this time.") Gauging from my inbox, this is leading to much frustration among fans from around the country who believe the NCAA is letting Bush and the Trojans off the hook.

You've been sending questions about this thing for months; let's try to answer them.

Stewart, I was reading an article on the Reggie Bush investigation and was wondering about your thoughts on the subject. Do you think he is guilty, and if he is, what would you do to him?
--Mike, Jeju City, South Korea

There should not be any doubt at this point that Bush and his family broke NCAA rules. Even if you completely disregard the stuff about the house in San Diego -- which, while the most explosive of the allegations, may be the hardest to prove -- there was still no shortage of damning, documented evidence in those reports. Yahoo! backed up many of its allegations with hotel and credit-card receipts, reported the existence of audio tapes involving the guilty parties and even caught Bush's marketing agent, Mike Ornstein, implicating himself by saying the gifts to Bush and his family constituted "loans" (and claiming he had "no idea" whether or not the loans constituted an NCAA violation -- umm, they sure do).

What would I do to Bush? I suggest we put him alone in a room with Brian Urlacher for five minutes and lock the doors. But the NCAA tends to go about things in a more formal manner -- which includes conducting its own investigation to try to verify the allegations brought up by Yahoo! And that's where things have hit quite the snag.

Still waiting on the USC sanctions from the NCAA, or is it too much to ask? Where does the investigation stand? It seems that the NCAA is stalling in an attempt to have us all forget about the situation.
--Lee Wiltrout, Abilene, Texas

It's not that the NCAA is stalling -- it's that it's flailing. Through this case, we're seeing first-hand just how limited the organization's enforcement powers really are. If Bush were a current student-athlete, the NCAA could hold him out of competition until the matter was resolved. It could also sanction him if he failed to cooperate with investigators (much like it did Maurice Clarett for lying to investigators). With Bush being a professional football player, however, the NCAA holds no more authority over him than it does over you or I. The same goes for other, non-university parties.

Not only are Bush and his family declining to speak with investigators, but, according to reports, they also recently reached a settlement with Michael Michaels -- the man whose house the Bush clan supposedly lived in rent-free -- that specifically prohibits him from talking to investigators. In other words, they bought him off. And Ornstein, obviously, has no motivation to cooperate -- he's going to do whatever it takes to protect his client's name.

If you look back, nearly every major NCAA infractions case over the past decade -- from the Alabama/Albert Means saga in football to the basketball scandals at Michigan (Ed Martin), Ohio State (Jim O'Brien), Minnesota (an academic advisor writing papers) and Georgia (Jim Harrick/Tony Cole) -- has included the presence of at least one voluntary whistle-blower. More often than not, they've also involved local or federal litigation that produced subpoenaed testimony. The NCAA is almost entirely dependent on others to do its dirty work, and so far, no one has stepped forward to help them on this one.

Earlier this month, Pac-10 enforcement chief Ron Barker told SI.com's Michael Silver, "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." Translation: They talked to Yahoo!, but they won't talk to us.

Why does it appear that the NCAA is not doing anything about the Reggie Bush scandal at USC but is going after Oklahoma, which voluntarily came forward with its scandal and even ejected players off the team? Meanwhile, USC coaches have Reggie Bush on conference calls helping land recruits. When is USC going to get slapped with probation?
--Jason, Daphne, Ala.

What kind of sanctions do you think will come down on USC for the Reggie Bush scandal? If that had happened at Alabama, they'd be talking about the death penalty.
--Jason, Pensacola, Fla.

The two Jasons have hit on one of the most confounding aspects of NCAA justice, which is the perception that the organization practices selective enforcement. (It's such a polarizing issue, in fact, it comprises an entire chapter in my book, Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls, in bookstores Aug. 24. That's shameless plug No. 2 if you're keeping track.)

If you're an Alabama fan, and you've watched the NCAA drop the hammer on your program twice in recent years -- including one instance, much like this one, where the primary violation involved an agent's dealings with a player (Antonio Langham) -- you've got to be going bonkers watching the NCAA seemingly drag its heels regarding USC.

If you're an Oklahoma fan, and your program is about to get hit with sanctions over a couple of players (Rhett Bomar and J.D. Quinn) who accepted a few thousand dollars, you must be wondering why the NCAA isn't going ballistic over the Bush violations, which allegedly involve hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But once again, when it comes to the NCAA, it's all about what's easiest to prosecute. The Oklahoma matter involved active players who had no choice but to cooperate if they wanted to continue their playing careers, and the school also benefited from a change of ownership at the crooked car dealership where the players "worked" -- the new owners were willing to turn over documents and agree to interviews. Oklahoma was highly proactive in investigating the allegations; however, the NCAA is still accusing the school of not properly monitoring the players' employment.

USC has also cooperated with the authorities -- Pete Carroll and other coaches have reportedly been interviewed -- but so far there has been little to suggest they were in a position to know what benefits Bush was or wasn't receiving. The most direct accusation involving the school is that the agents in question were allowed access to the Trojans' locker room and sideline. If true, that's obviously shady, but technically not illegal. (Agents can talk to players all they want, they just can't do business with them.)

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