Bush met with NCAA over probe

In what is believed to represent one of the NCAA’s last major hurdles in its investigation of the University of Southern California, Yahoo! Sports has learned former Trojans running back Reggie Bush has been interviewed by investigators.

The NCAA declined to comment, but a source close to Bush confirmed the meeting took place prior to the 2009 NFL season. While the scope of the interview wasn’t revealed, the source indicated that Bush once again denied that he and his family took nearly $300,000 in extra benefits during his sophomore and junior seasons at USC. At the very least, the meeting satisfied a three-year-plus quest by the NCAA to interview the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Shawn Chapman Holley, an attorney for Bush, declined comment via email.

The NCAA’s investigation has been ongoing since April 2006, when a series of Yahoo! Sports reports detailed allegations of extra benefits given to Bush and his family by a failed sports marketing company. Since then, the probe has come to encompass former Trojans basketball star O.J. Mayo and the men’s basketball program, after a report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” detailed benefits that allegedly had been funneled to Mayo. Former Trojans basketball coach Tim Floyd abruptly resigned after a Yahoo! Sports report detailing an alleged $1,000 cash payment from Floyd to a man who had helped steer Mayo to USC. The investigation is believed to now include Trojans running back Joe McKnight, whose use of a 2006 Land Rover and ties to a marketing entrepreneur in Santa Monica also have come under scrutiny after a recent report in the Los Angeles Times.

Multiple sources interviewed by the NCAA eventually revealed to Yahoo! Sports that investigators had widened their probe significantly in the last year, moving beyond Bush and Mayo and deepening the focus on USC’s control of its athletic department. Such a shift was significant, as it brought into play the issue of lack of institutional control – one of the most serious penalties that can be brought against a university. Such a penalty could result in a significant loss of scholarships, postseason bans, the stripping of wins, voiding of statistics and other far-reaching sanctions.

Multiple sources interviewed by the NCAA previously had indicated their belief the investigation would wrap in spring or summer, but recent developments at USC hint that a final determination – which would be issued to the school in a notice of infractions – may be coming soon. Among them:

• USC announced self-imposed sanctions against its men’s basketball program for NCAA violations during the 2007-08 season related to Mayo allegedly having accepted benefits from known sports agency runner Rodney Guillory. Guillory helped steer Mayo to USC, and according to former Mayo confidant Louis Johnson, also allegedly received at least one cash payment of $1,000 from Floyd. The penalties levied by USC included a ban on postseason play, a reduction of scholarships, recruiting restrictions and the vacation of victories from the 2007-08 season. Both Mayo and Floyd repeatedly have declined to comment specifically on the allegations. Mayo’s agent, LaPoe Smith, this week denied the allegations that his client accepted extra benefits.

• The possible departure of USC football coach Pete Carroll, who according to multiple reports has agreed in principle to a contract that would make him the next coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

• The departure of McKnight, who chose to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. McKnight’s involvement with a 2006 Land Rover owned by Santa Monica businessman Scott Schenter still is under investigation by USC and the NCAA. Schenter, who employs McKnight’s girlfriend and was the registered owner of the vehicle, also owns a company which once registered the domain 4joemcknight.com. Both McKnight and Schenter have denied any wrongdoing.

Bush and his family still are embroiled in a legal battle in relation to the allegations brought against him. They are being sued by Lloyd Lake, a co-founder of the failed marketing company which allegedly funneled nearly $300,000 in benefits to Bush and his family. Bush already reached a $300,000 settlement with Michael Michaels, who was Lake’s partner in the company.

The suit long has been tied up in legal wrangling between opposing attorneys for each side, but a recent ruling in Lake’s favor has opened the way for depositions of Carroll, Bush, Bush’s family and other potential witnesses in the suit. Those depositions could begin as early as March.