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NEW YORK – Assertions by Michael Michaels – the lead investor in a doomed sports agency and the owner of a Spring Valley, Calif., home occupied by the family of Reggie Bush – could cost the University of Southern California its 2004 Bowl Championship Series national championship.
BCS officials told Yahoo! Sports on Friday that if Bush is ruled ineligible by either the Pacific 10 Conference or the NCAA for even one game during the 2004 season, the BCS will discuss amending its rules to allow it to force the Trojans to vacate the national championship.
"This is the type of thing the BCS might have to look into if other governing bodies, the conference and the NCAA, take action," BCS administrator Bill Hancock said.
Previously, Bush's eligibility for the 2005 season, which saw him win the Heisman Trophy and lead USC back to the BCS title game, had been questioned because of Michaels' statement that Bush's family failed to pay $54,000 in rent from April 2005 to April 2006.
Michaels' claims, which he has promised will be backed up by corroborating evidence, moves the timeline of Bush's potential ineligibility back to the Trojans' 2004 undefeated BCS national championship season.
In a statement released to Yahoo! Sports on Friday, Michaels' attorney, Brian Watkins, said that in October 2004 Michaels was approached at a San Diego Chargers football game by Bush's stepfather LaMar Griffin about investing and partnering in New Era Sports & Entertainment, a new sports agency.
In November 2004, Michaels then met with Griffin, longtime Bush friend Lloyd Lake and Bush himself to discuss the plan where the USC running back would be the firm's central client when he turned pro in the spring of 2006.
"In November 2004, in San Diego, Reggie Bush, recruited by his stepfather to validate Mr. Griffin's company, convinced [Michaels and Lake] of its viability," Watkins said in the statement.
"There was the representation that Reggie would come with his stepfather," Watkins told Yahoo! Sports on Friday. "Reggie ratified that."
Michaels said that soon thereafter Griffin asked him to pay off $28,000 of Griffin's personal debt, which Michaels obliged.
In April 2005, Griffin said "they were having housing problems" and Michaels allowed them to move into a $757,000, 3,000-square-foot home he owned in Spring Valley, a San Diego suburb. According to Michaels, Griffin and Bush's mother, Denise Griffin, failed to pay any of the agreed upon $4,500 monthly rent on the property before Michaels evicted the family last week.
Michaels also told Yahoo! Sports that he paid for Bush's family to travel to some USC road games during the 2005 season.
Bush, who is now projected to be the second overall pick in Saturday's NFL draft, has denied knowledge of any deal his family may have had with Michaels. Meanwhile, Michaels has said he will file a lawsuit against Bush and his family to recoup "approximately $300,000 in out-of-pocket costs alone, over 1½ years." He is also seeking damages to a total of $3.2 million.
Michaels and Bush had tried to reach a settlement on monies owed over the past few months.
A Feb. 13, 2006 letter obtained by Yahoo! Sports from Watkins to Bush's attorney, David Cornwell, that discusses settlement talks contains the following passage:
"Please advise if it is your intention to involve the University in these settlement negotiations. We would not object to their participation as we understand their wanting to be involved due to the fact that this matter was on going during their championship season of 2004 as well as the entire season of 2005, and any lawsuit filed might have an adverse effect on them."
Bush's NCAA eligibility would have been compromised by any gift that either he or his family received from the aspiring agents, either Michaels or Lake. The paying off of the $28,000 loan, the exact date of which is not known, is a clear NCAA violation. Also, a source inside the NCAA's compliance office said simply setting up the New Era partnership could be deemed an "extra benefit."
Officials at New York's Downtown Athletic Club, which award the Heisman Trophy, have said that they could take back Bush's honor if he is deemed ineligible by the NCAA. Now the 2004 season, which USC went 13-0, is under question.
The NCAA itself does not crown a champion in Division I-A football. Officially, USC captured the 2004 BCS national championship, which is administered by a consortium of major football conferences. As a result, while the NCAA could strip the Trojans of all their victories in 2004, it could not force USC to vacate its title because the BCS championship is administered outside of NCAA jurisdiction.
The BCS currently has no policy on possibly forcing a school to give up its championship, according to Hancock.
"The BCS is not a governing body," said BCS coordinator Mike Slive, who is also commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
However, in the wake of the latest details involving Bush, discussion has occurred within the BCS that if the NCAA or the Pac-10 were to rule that USC must forfeit any or all games from the 2004 season – including its Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma – the BCS could rewrite its bylaws and retroactively take away the Trojans' championship.
Only seven times has the NCAA forced a school to vacate a national championship but never in any of its marquee sports. The most recent examples are 2002 with the Hawaii men's volleyball team and 1995 with the UCLA softball team, both for using ineligible players.