If Reggie Bush or his family took anything of value from a prospective agent while he was still playing for USC, the former Trojans star could lose something money can't buy – the Heisman Trophy.
The Downtown Athletic Club is waiting for the results of investigations by the NCAA and Pac-10 Conference into Bush's alleged involvement with a fledgling agency, New Era Sports & Entertainment. This week, a spokesman said the club had no further comment on the matter.
No one has changed the automated phone greeting at the Downtown Athletic Club that congratulates "the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Southern California, Reggie Bush." But Tim Henning, coordinator of the Heisman Trust, has pointed to language on the Heisman Trophy ballot that reads, "the recipient must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student-athlete."
Yahoo! Sports' investigative reports have prompted NCAA and Pac-10 officials to determine whether Bush violated those rules.
The NCAA and Pac-10 are waiting to see if Bush's camp or the prospective agency – in a dispute over money – will file a lawsuit, according to a Pac-10 official. A lawsuit could deter the parties from cooperating with NCAA officials if information is critical to the suit.
"There's nothing new, nothing happening," said Ron Barker, the Pac-10's associate commissioner for enforcement. "Just kind of been waiting on that and after a little bit of time the NCAA's going to decide what it wants to do with this. So really there's no update from the last few months."
Bush, who eluded tacklers on his way to winning the 2005 Heisman Trophy, could prove to be just as elusive for NCAA and Pac-10 investigators. Bush's moves won't require any fancy footwork or a stiff arm, but rather a simple refusal to cooperate. Since Bush has left USC for the NFL, he is under no obligation to help college investigators.
Steve Morgan, who led the NCAA's enforcement division for more than a decade, said the NCAA faces challenges with an investigation if an athlete, such as Bush, has given up his college eligibility. Though declining to speak specifically about the Bush case, Morgan agreed to address the investigation in general terms and said the NCAA has no leverage to compel Bush to cooperate.
"If you were dealing hypothetically with a student-athlete who's already exhausted her eligibility, then you don't have much ability to access anything," said Morgan, who now works with a firm in Kansas that represents schools in NCAA matters. "Perhaps the easiest thing to say to the NCAA is 'I'm not just going to get involved in this. I'm not going to defend myself or damn myself. I'm just going to go on with my life.'
"The NCAA can't make any presumption from that. That doesn't mean there's anything they're hiding. That just means they don't want to deal with the NCAA."
Any forfeiture of Bush's Heisman Trophy hinges on the NCAA's rules governing "extra benefits." The rules, in part, state that a student-athlete "may not receive preferential treatment, benefits or services for his or her athletics reputation or skill or payback potential as a future professional athlete." The NCAA rules also apply to relatives or friends of the student-athlete.
If the improper transactions took place in cash, that presents yet another challenge for NCAA investigators.
"A lot of times that would be a reasonable way to keep it from being discovered," Morgan said. "You do need a paper trail, or you need some kind of corroborative evidence to help break a tie from the person who said it happened and the person who said it didn't."
In search of evidence, the NCAA typically would request bank account records and other documents that might show cash deposits, according to Morgan. But in this case, Morgan said the NCAA would have no leverage to obtain those records because Bush has given up his eligibility.
NCAA investigators also routinely interview people involved in the cases, but allegations without documentation often fall short of what investigators need to prove a violation occurred.
"You go to the credibility of the sources, the credibility of the coach," Morgan said. "Even though maybe the coach might be seen as someone who might have a motive to protect himself and not be totally forthcoming, you have to start with a little bit of assumption that somebody's going to try to do the right thing, especially if a college coach has been around for a while.
"You also know that high-profile coaches and schools with high-profile athletes often have as many detractors as supporters. You have to weigh the motives of everybody.
"Ultimately, it's very hard to go forward with an allegation that is literally just a he-said, she-said situation."
NCAA investigators must obtain evidence that meets the threshold set forth by the enforcement committee bylaws. Those bylaws read, "The committee (on enforcement) shall base its findings on information represented to it that it determines to be credible, persuasive and of a kind on which reasonably prudent persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs."
That language is open to interpretation, said Morgan, while adding, "You're always weighing what you're gathering against that standard."
- Reggie Bush
- Heisman Trophy
- Downtown Athletic Club