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Recurring Offseason Themes, Part One

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Reggie Bush, last seen around these parts running a successful stop snitchin' policy to obfuscate the NCAA's investigation into Yahoo! Sports' ongoing reporting that he used illegal contact with an agent to secure illegal (according to the amateurism cops, that is, not the real ones) benefits for his family, is the subject of a forthcoming book by ex-Sports Illustrated reporter Don Yeager. The oh-so-objectively-titled Tarnished Heisman (wide release: Jan. 15) is certain to reveal "explosive information," according to the jacket, possibly rendering Bush ineligible, forcing USC to forfeit every game it played while Bush was ineligible and stripping Bush of the Trophy Which Must Not Be Named. Or so it claims, according to L.A. Times Trojan blogger and ex-Bush classmate (figuratively speaking) Adam Rose, who got his hands on a review copy:

We know the NCAA investigation has been underway for awhile. Now we get to see some of the evidence that they're weighing.

I get the impression that there's limited original research in Tarnished Heisman. I've just started reading, so I could be wrong on that part. My quick-glance found that the author never got a response from Bush, his family, USC, and the NCAA. A lot is based on an accumulation of third-party research (all from reliable sources like newspapers). Then there are the people like Lloyd Lake, who is currently suing Bush. He was cooperative but had to be compensated for tape recordings that he provided.

Back on the negative side for USC fans, the book's accounting says $47,000 went directly to Bush out of the overall $291,000 that went to his family. That makes it hard to deny he knew what was going on. While the photo section lacks any photocopied receipts, bank statements, or otherwise, the Author's Note says that a website will publish much of it. As of this blog post the site ( has not gone live. [still waiting to be registered as of this one as well, as well as every variation I could think of - ed.] According to a "WhoIs" search, it's reserved under the name of a company run by the book's author, Don Yaeger. It's going to be tough to doubt the validity of something from Yaeger (a former associate editor and an investigative reporter for Sports Illustrated) and publisher Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster). Expect the hard-evidence's release to coincide with the book's on January 15.

Adding to the situation's shady factor are a pair of references to characters guaranteed to make the Trojan nation uneasy ... memorabilia dealers and Suge Knight.
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This story broke two years ago, is entering its third offseason, and unless someone - preferably the NCAA - gets Bush or his family on the record, I predict it will enter its fourt offseason, eventually petering out everywhere except Notre Dame message boards and Bruins Nation, unless L.A.'s own shady coaching hire flips the SoCal power structure back in the Bruins' favor.

The broader underlying issue to this case from the start has been "Pay for Play," and the exploitation of top-end players (as opposed to rank-and-file players, whose financial contributions to the enterprise are probably equivalent to the scholarship and other perks they receive as members of the team; see the previous link) by athletic departments that on the highest levels often finish hundreds of thousands or millions in the black. Previously, I've been staunchly opposed to paying players beyond scholarships for the good of college football in general, to protect it from becoming just another semipro league - in free market terms, the value the NCAA is trying to protect is not 'amateurism,' but competition, fostered by some semblance of equitable recruiting circumstances that woulde be fatally undermined by enthusiastic agents and boosters - but this position is always evolving in the same way as my opposition to illegal downloading (copyright infringement!) and all forms of taxation. All working systems float on an ocean of compromise that requires the tacit agreement of all relevant parties to not knock over the raft, and if that accurately describes the current compromise between ever more scrutinized players, ever more invested fans and ever richer athletic departments, the same could almost certainly said about an arrangement to filter down some kind of equitable penance that didn't threaten the partition between college athletes (who are, let's face it, already professional athletes except in name and compensation) and the real professionals. There is certainly no excuse now for players to be cut out of the aforementioned memorabilia sales that profit directly from their specific, individual identity rather than that of the team.

Under the circumstances, if the allegations against Bush are true, he acted unethically because of the consequences for his school and teammates. As long as his case is on the burner, though, which it will be over the next month thanks to Yaeger's book, it will always tend to digress into just how "dirty" USC or any other program is outside of the rules tmeselves. And if the only standard for judgment is the rules, the rules should be changed.

Update [2008-1-9 20:54:41 by SMQ]: Rose goes into further review of Yaeger's tome with a little deeper reading, concluding that "[i]f half of what the new Reggie Bush book claims is true, he will loose his Heisman Trophy." Among Yaeger's specific "findings" – scare-quoted here only because they come overwhelmingly from very convicted felon and generally shady character Loyd Lake, who allegedly provided or arranged the hundreds of thousands in housing and other NCAA-verboten benefits for Bush and his family – is the claim that Bush pushed a hesitant Lake forward in the scheme, asked for an received $13,000 to buy a 1996 black Impala SS and another $4,000 to pimp the car with stereo, tinted windows, etc. and took gifts from agent Mike Ornstein, also a convicted felon, in whose office Bush was stationed as an intern and who now handles the running back's many marketing deals. Are there recepits and bank records? Yes, according to Rose, there are receipts and bank records.

But he also notes the NCAA has tended to be light in the past on institutions if there's little evidence linking the program to the rule-breaking – Rose cites NCAA Executive Director David Price from the book, who said the Association declined to pursue any action against Michigan when it later learned of improper benefits received by Charles Woodson while in school, because there was no evidence of "insitutional knowledge." Obviously, Woodson didn't lose his trophy (you know, that one trophy for the outstanding player, whatever it's called). From that angle, Rose says the case against USC ranges from iffy to circumstantial, though incriminating if true:

Among the worst the book has on USC:

• A USC coach, Todd McNair, was apparently present in San Diego when Bush was staying in a hotel room that he couldn't have afforded on his own. The book admits, "There is no evidence that McNair knew about the payment."

• The book cites a rumor, emphasis on rumor, that circulated about head coach Pete Carroll receiving an anonymous email that would have tipped him off to an inappropriate dealings by Bush's parents.

• A memorabilia dealer reported to the NCAA that he left a message for both Carroll and Athletic Director Mike Garrett about the possible impropriety in the Bush-Ornstein relationship.

• Lake claims that he was in the same room as Bush's stepdad during a call with Carroll discussing the family's questionable housing arrangement.

• Bush's parent got an all-expense paid trip for a game in Hawaii, which might have stood out had people realized Bush wasn't from a wealthy family. While there are also receipts for a flight taken by the family to a game in Berkeley, it's doubtful anybody would have noticed since the town is just a few hours drive from USC.
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If anonymous tips were ignored, that's incriminating, and depending on what was said to and by Carroll during the alleged phone call with Bush's stepdad, that is a potentially fatal charge. How the NCAA or anyone else plans to prove this beyond Lake's testimony, though, is the mystery.

McNair has a checkered past, but that doesn't imply malfeasance in this case; when it comes to situations like hotel rooms and tickets and what people can and cannot afford, you tend not to ask those kinds of questions. Some things you don't want to know.