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The Heisman Trophy is the biggest beauty pageant in sports.
Its expressed goal is to determine the "outstanding college football player in the United States." The process of convincing the award’s 1,000-plus voters, many of whom pay minimal attention to college football, has delved into a fight over television exposure, marketing gimmicks and over-the-top advertising campaigns.
Universities spend big bucks promoting their guys – and only quarterbacks and running backs stand a chance. You can be the greatest defensive lineman anyone’s ever seen but that’s like not being able to fully fill out a swimsuit. You’re relegated to dreaming of Miss Congeniality.
As such, the rules of retroactively stripping a Heisman winner of his award – as Yahoo! Sports reports will occur with Reggie Bush later this month – should mirror the Miss America pageant.
If Miss America is unable to fulfill her duties as champion – usually because she showed up sans swimsuit in a magazine – then the first runner-up is crowned the winner.
So Vince Young is – Mr. Heisman.
A Heisman trust source said they won’t follow that plan. They prefer to go the NCAA way of "vacating" the award and just pretending the season never happened and no one was given the trophy. The plan is for Bush to return his trophy and it will not be sent back out.
[Photos: Reggie Bush under fire]
It’s a mistake. The Heisman should admit what it is, a vapid, politicized process worthy of a cheesy Atlantic City ballroom. Don’t let the Manhattan address fool you, the process of creating a winner long ago stripped the Heisman of its class. Unless you think cheap trinkets, unabashed campaigning and even changing the pronunciation of last names (Theismann didn't always rhyme with Heisman) is anything more than an attempt for perception to overrun reality.
There's no sense in pretending otherwise.
The fact Bush will be stripped of his award is already controversial. The Heisman trust has never done it before. No less than O.J. Simpson is still a recognized winner.
The NCAA, however, has determined that Reggie Bush and his family accepted money, gifts and other extra benefits starting at the end of his sophomore season at USC. In doing so, they have retroactively ruled him ineligible from that day forward, including his Heisman-winning junior season. The Trojans were forced to vacate all of their victories from that period – putting in doubt their 2004 BCS championship – and ordered the removal of Bush from the school’s official history. The school has even returned its copy of Bush’s Heisman – the player’s personal trophy is still in his possession.
It’s like No. 5 never existed.
The penalty is mostly ceremonial. Memories, if not highlights, of Bush eluding tacklers remain.
The entire process seems silly and while there may be merit for team results, on an individual basis Bush’s "crimes" would’ve had little effect on his on-field success. He was busted for taking stuff from marketing agents, not performance enhancing drugs. Unless you want to argue that being plied with a tricked-out car saved his legs from long campus walks, there is little this has to do with his athletic ability. Anyone who knows how major college athletics work knows Bush's biggest mistake was getting caught. He certainly wasn't the only star player on the take.
However, philosophically, if a player didn’t officially play, can he officially be called the nation’s best player?
Two sources with the Heisman trust told Yahoo! Sports that they have been conducting their own investigation, complete with a sit down meeting with Bush, to make that determination. Perhaps as soon as the end of September, they will strip Bush of his Heisman, the sources say.
Which means Young should wind up with the trophy. The Longhorn quarterback finished a distant second in the voting only to best Bush’s Trojans in the BCS title game weeks later with a legendary performance.
At issue is the difference between "vacating" things and "forfeiting" things.
[Related: Timeline of Reggie Bush investigation]
The NCAA, ever obsessed with nomenclature, prefers vacating. A school never forfeits anything. That would allow for the loser to claim a victory – or a title. And that might allow coaches to then claim monetary bonuses for achieving a certain number of victories (remember, with the NCAA, it always comes back to money). The Bowl Championship Series, which operates outside the NCAA, said it will follow this lead. If it rules USC didn’t win the 2004 BCS title (no determination has yet been made), it said it won’t then award the championship to Oklahoma, which lost to the Trojans in the title game, or Auburn, which also finished the season unbeaten.
The Heisman is different though. It’s a farcical award to begin with – too many voters who don’t pay attention leads to mind-numbing group think. If anything, the Miss America pageant, with its small panel of supposedly trained judges, is a more legitimate process than the Heisman. Yes, even someone like Perez Hilton is more qualified than some Heisman voters.
When billboards, catchy phrases and the mass mailing of gifts influences the final outcome you don’t have a real contest. You have a third-world election. Or the Electoral College.
So the Heisman should admit what it is – college football’s beauty pageant. Then it should follow the rules of the nation’s most famous such contest.
Reggie Bush can become the gridiron Vanessa Williams, post Penthouse. Young can be Suzette Charles, the Miss New Jersey who stepped into her role.
And we can get on with being honest about what the Heisman really is.
- Reggie Bush
- Heisman Trophy