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Reggie Bush is reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, with organizers citing NIL rule changes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Reggie Bush has his Heisman back.

The Heisman Trust reinstated the former Southern California tailback as the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner on Wednesday, citing fundamental changes in the structure of college athletics during the 14 years since Bush forfeited the trophy and the honor.

Bush gave up his Heisman following an NCAA investigation that found he received what were impermissible benefits during his time with the Trojans. College football players are now allowed to profit from their work in many ways, and the Heisman Trust decided it was time to move past the conflict with one of the most exciting players in the sport's history.

“We are thrilled to welcome Reggie Bush back to the Heisman family in recognition of his collegiate accomplishments,” said Michael Comerford, president of The Heisman Trophy Trust. “We considered the enormous changes in college athletics over the last several years in deciding that now is the right time to reinstate the Trophy for Reggie. We are so happy to welcome him back.”

The Heisman Trust has returned the trophy to Bush and the replica to USC. Bush also will be invited to all future Heisman Trophy ceremonies.

Bush won the trophy awarded to the top player in college football after amassing 2,218 yards from scrimmage and scoring 18 touchdowns in 2005. His 784 first-place votes were the fifth most in Heisman history, and the trophy was a crowning achievement for Bush after three seasons at USC as one of the most dynamic college football players in decades.

“I am grateful to once again be recognized as the recipient of the Heisman Trophy,” Bush said in a statement. “This reinstatement is not only a personal victory, but also a validation of the tireless efforts of my supporters and advocates who have stood by me throughout this arduous journey.”

The reinstatement of Bush gives USC a total of eight Heisman winners, most of any school.

USC typically displays its replicas of the Trojans' Heisman Trophies in the lobby of Heritage Hall, its historic football headquarters, while the retired uniform numbers of its Heisman winners are displayed on huge banners draping the Peristyle at the Coliseum during USC home games. Bush's No. 5 jersey is expected to be back among the honored numbers this fall.

“What a historic day!” said USC coach Lincoln Riley, who coached Caleb Williams to the school's most recent Heisman in 2022. “Reggie’s reintroduction to the Heisman Family is a special moment for every person that has been associated with USC football. We are thrilled that Reggie’s athletic accomplishments as one of the greatest to ever play the game can officially be recognized.”

The USC football program wrote “back where it belongs " in a social media post.

“This is a momentous day for Reggie Bush and the entire USC community as we celebrate the rightful return of his Heisman Trophy,” USC athletic director Jen Cohen said. “Reggie’s impact at USC and on college football as a whole is truly unmatched. He has displayed the utmost resiliency and heart throughout this process and is so deserving of every accolade and trophy he’s ever received. We are grateful to the Heisman Trophy Trust for making this happen.”

Bush had his award vacated in 2010 after USC was hit with massive NCAA sanctions when it was found that Bush and his family received money and gifts from fledgling marketing agents who were hoping to represent him. The sanctions were the final result of a prolonged, antagonistic dispute between the NCAA and USC under former athletic director Mike Garrett.

USC received a two-year postseason ban and lost a whopping 30 scholarships under the sanctions. The NCAA also vacated 14 wins by the Trojans during the heart of Bush's career, including the 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Orange Bowl following the 2004 season.

USC was even required to “disassociate" from Bush for 10 years following the NCAA's decision. The school immediately ended its disassociation when that period ended in June 2020, welcoming Bush back to the school.

The Trust said in its statement that its decision followed a “deliberative process” in which it closely monitored changes in the college athletics landscape. That included the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision that questioned the legality of the NCAA’s amateurism model and opened the door to athlete compensation; the ability of players to be paid for their name, image and likeness; and the NCAA’s recent proposal to remove the cap on education-related payments.

“Recognizing that the compensation of student athletes is an accepted practice and appears here to stay, these fundamental changes in college athletics led the Trust to decide that now is the right time to return the Trophy to Bush, who unquestionably was the most outstanding college football player of 2005,” the Trust said.

Public opinion has long favored the return of Bush's trophy. Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner from Texas A&M, said on social media last month that he would not participate in Heisman festivities unless Bush got his trophy back.

Manziel thanked the Trust on Wednesday “for doing what’s right and welcoming a storied member of our history back into the fold. There were many voices throughout this process that stood on the table for Reggie simply because of the kind of human being he is. I look forward to being on that stage with you this December (Reggie Bush) you deserve it.”

Among others praising the decision were Williams, the 2022 winner and the projected No. 1 pick in Thursday's NFL draft; 2001 winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska; and 2011 winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor.

Bush was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft by New Orleans, and he played for five teams over 11 seasons. He is now a commentator and studio analyst for Fox Sports.

Last August, Bush filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA for issuing a statement to media in 2021 that said Bush had a “pay-for-play” arrangement. That statement was in response to media inquiries about whether Bush would have his statistics from his USC career reinstated when NIL payments became permissible. Bush contended the statement cast him in a false light.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that I have always acted with integrity and in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth by the NCAA,” Bush said Wednesday. “The allegations brought against me were unfounded and unsupported by evidence, and I am grateful that the truth is finally prevailing.”

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AP College Football Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football