Nothing in Wednesday night's new episode of HBO's "Real Sports" will make quite as big a splash as the revelation of Lane Kiffin's salary on the last edition of the show in May. In fact, for viewers already familiar with the case against Reggie Bush and subsequent NCAA sanctions handed down last month, not much in the show's interviews with would-be-agent-turned-whistleblower Lloyd Lake (a rehash from 2008) or former USC coach Pete Carroll will come as a revelation at all. (Though they still may find it interesting, for example, that Bush's mother and stepfather apparently wrote their name, Griffin, along with Bush's college number in the driveway cement of the suburban house they leased from Lake's alleged partner in NCAA crime, Michael Michaels.)
For Carroll's part, he maintains his position that USC didn't know about Bush's largesse and had no reason to know. He explained to interviewer Andrea Kremer that the car Bush allegedly bought with cash from Lake was cleared by USC's compliance office. (Kremer counters in a voiceover that Bush left lines about paying for the car blank on the compliance-related paperwork.) Carroll also said that the rest of the arrangement took place too far from campus for coaches to uncover or exert any control.
At one point, Kremer echoes the NCAA's argument that (to paraphrase) "high-profile players demand high-profile compliance." To which Carroll, incredibly, responds that Reggie Bush wasn't really that "high profile" at the time (emphasis added):
Kremer: "Did you have any idea about how Reggie Bush’s parents were living?"
Carroll: "Of course not. When you are growing up, Andrea, did you have any idea of your parents' mortgage situation? Think about it. None of us knew. We don't know. I couldn't tell you now how my mom and dad paid for their house."
Kremer: "But this is your best player with the most to lose."
Carroll: "It's easy for you to ask these questions in this manner right now. Matt Leinart was our best player. He was the Heisman Trophy winner. This was Reggie just emerging. He started for the first time regularly his junior year. He was sharing time. He was another one of the guys."
This isn't the first time Carroll has argued that "Reggie Bush wasn't Reggie Bush" until well into his final college season in 2005, but repetition doesn't make the suggestion any less deserving of mockery. The NCAA retroactively declared Bush ineligible beginning in December 2004, at the end of his sophomore year. At that point, he was a former five-star recruit and freshman All-American who had just led the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards. And he had just been named to at least nine separate All-America teams for a top-ranked powerhouse taking a 21-game winning streak into the national championship game. He was on his way to New York as a Heisman finalist, where he finished fifth. As Kremer notes in a voiceover, USC's own media guide described Bush as "college football's most exciting player" during the 2004 season.
It's one thing to argue (as Carroll does, along with USC's official appeal) that Bush and/or his partners successfully duped the undermanned compliance staff through careful conniving. But for anyone paying attention, he was never just "another one of the guys."
The segment's moment of truth comes near the end, when Kremer asks Carroll point-blank, "Do you think [Bush] took money?" Carroll's response:
Carroll: "I don't know. Something happened. Something happened in there. There's too much stuff ... there's a house and there's a lot of things going on. I do know that a lot happened away from him and he didn't know what was going on, I think for obvious reasons."
That dramatically underestimates Bush's role, if you believe Lloyd Lake. But that just brings us back to square one.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.