Sources: Trust to take Bush’s Heisman

Follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @WindyCityScribe

The Heisman Trophy Trust is expected to strip former University of Southern California star running back Reggie Bush of college football’s top honor by the end of September, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

It appears as if the Heisman Trophy Trust is about to strip Reggie Bush of his 2005 trophy.
(Julie Jacobson / AP)

Bush would become the first player in the 75-year history of the award to have the trophy taken away. The NCAA found major violations in the Trojans’ football program in June and levied serious sanctions against the school.

Two sources close to the Heisman trust said the body’s investigation is coming to a close, and will ultimately concur with the NCAA’s determination that Bush was ineligible during his Heisman-winning season in 2005. Because of that independent conclusion, sources said the trust will relieve Bush of the award and leave the honor for that season vacant. The sources said Bush met with Heisman representatives last month at the New York law offices of Emmet, Marvin & Martin. The sources would not reveal details of that meeting.

[Photos: More images of former USC running back Reggie Bush]

Bush, now a standout with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Late Tuesday afternoon the Heisman trust issued a statement saying a decision had not yet been reached.

“The status of the USC/Bush matter remains unchanged,” the statement read. “Any reports to the contrary are inaccurate.”

The Heisman trust has been conducting its own independent inquiry into Bush’s eligibility since the NCAA ruled in June that the USC star had committed multiple violations by accepting cash, gifts and other impermissible benefits while playing for the Trojans. Yahoo! Sports first detailed the extra benefits in September 2006. In its findings, the NCAA retroactively ruled Bush ineligible for part of the 2004 season and all of 2005. The NCAA also ordered the USC program to remove all references to Bush from its sporting venues and promotional materials and vacate his statistics from all games in which he was ineligible.

In July, incoming USC president C.L. Max Nikias announced that the university would be returning its copy of Bush’s Heisman to the trust, stating the Trojans would honor and respect athletes who “did not compromise their athletic program or the opportunities of future USC student-athletes.” New USC athletic director Pat Haden followed up in August, stating during an interview with the Dan Patrick radio show that Bush should also voluntarily return his Heisman.

While others pressed for a swift decision, the trust opted for a patient, meticulous effort. Sources said the trust did its own detailed investigation over the past three months, using a litany of resources and reviewing its information against the NCAA’s findings. The trust also offered Bush a chance to impact the decision.

The process apparently came with considerable debate – in part because of the trust’s quest for due process, but also because of the unique nature of the decision. Never in the history of the award has the trust been forced to retroactively rule on the eligibility of a past winner. That reality, along with the NCAA’s findings, created a tangled knot of deliberation regarding the trust’s place in the role of enforcement. Sources said the prominent issues discussed included accountability, on-field vs. off-field conduct, implications of retroactively stripping an award and possible impact on future athletes and the NCAA.

Two factors outweighed all others, sources said: The Heisman ballot necessitates candidates be in compliance with NCAA bylaws and concern over the Heisman’s reputation in the wake of the NCAA findings against Bush.

The status of USC’s 2004 Bowl Championship Series national title remains to be determined. BCS officials are awaiting the NCAA’s ruling on the Trojans’ appeal of the June finding.

Contact Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson at windycityscribe@yahoo.com