Yesterday, the Bowl Championship Series stripped away the football national championship that USC won in 2004. The reason for this decision resulted from Reggie Bush receiving extra benefits while at USC. The decision to do this can be argued fiercely from both sides. In this post I want to give my opinion on why I do feel the punishment is necessary. I will then transition into talking about how much the punishment in itself totally sucks for anyone involved on the 2004 team.
A Necessary Result
I will be the first to admit it. Where is the justice when ninety players, fifteen coaches, and a whole athletic department have their crowning achievement of their careers taken away because of the actions of one player? The actions, I should remind you, had absolutely nothing to do with his on field performance (Bush and his parents received financial backing from a sports agency that was going to use him as their star client. Click here for a great background on what exactly transpired) . It really is hard to accept why this punishment is necessary, especially when USC has already been severely punished with the loss of multiple scholarships and a two year postseason ban. But while it might be hard to accept, it is necessary to accept.
To spell everything out as clear as possible, here is the heart of the issue: In the NCAA, athletes can’t receive any extra benefit that is not available to the general public or the general student body. This extends to the family and friends of the athlete as well. If the athlete accepts extra benefits, they are no longer eligible to compete. If an institution plays an ineligible athlete, they are in direct violation of NCAA compliance.
Like it or not, this is the rule. I will not get into my opinion of it. It is not necessary. As a person who has a full time career in intercollegiate athletics, I see each day the temptations and mirages that college athletes encounter. This is not to say whether I believe the opportunities to receive extra benefits are too great for an athlete to resist. I just want to put it out there that college athletes are internally tested frequently and that it is a very real issue for many….not just Reggie Bush.
Back to the issue at hand. If you read Bush’s timeline of his received benefits, you would see that he committed enough violations to insure that he won’t be able to play college athletics for about 8 more lifetimes. The guy turned the compliance system into a joke and made a handsome profit for himself. Yes, Bush had to relinquish all of his personal accomplishments at USC. All of his records were wiped out and he even had to return his Heisman trophy. So Bush paid the price personally. Why does the school have to get hit so hard? Simply, they played an ineligible player for 3 years. Obviously, this goes in direct contrast to NCAA rules. Again, do you feel the rule is legitimate? Whether or not you do, at this point in time with the rule in place, the BCS had little choice. What could USC have done to prevent this? As asinine as it sounds, they could have not recruited Reggie Bush. Character and trustworthiness have to be top priority right along with talent when recruiting athletes. Of course I am not that much of a dummy to realize that USC might be just fine with their decision to recruit Reggie Bush and the trade off that resulted. Despite the sanctions the football team is under right now, Bush brought prestige, exposure, and money to the university before the violations were exposed. Who knows how many students decided to attend USC after watching the football team tear it up on Saturdays and in national championship games while watching the surreal athletic exploits of Bush. Interesting to say the least.
Taking Away a Title After the Fact Still Hurts
A lot of people when they hear that a team has been stripped of a title that they won several years ago kind of just laugh and question what the point of doing it is. What’s been done has been done. They won the championship and experienced all of the glory that came with it. Besides, in their heads they will always know that they are champions. Yes, I concede these points but I still feel that having a championship taken away, especially something as big as a national championship in football, is a huge slap in the face. Forever now, there will simply be the word “vacant” next to the year of 2004 on the list of national football champions. No mention of USC at all. It is a total erasing of the history books.
On the ninety man roster that won the BCS National Championship in 2004, one player tarnished the accomplishment of eighty-nine players who did nothing wrong. Sure, the players from that 2004 team got the thrill of euphoria immediately after the game and the last 7 years of their lives to enjoy the accomplishment of winning a national championship but now many of them will have 60+ years of not being able to take ownership of the title. If you were on that team, could you imagine the disappointment of not having the opportunity to take your kids to the USC campus and show them the national championship trophy? (USC vacated the trophy). Whenever the team is mentioned on television/sports talk radio/newspapers, it will always be mentioned that their title was stripped. The delight rivals such as UCLA and Notre Dame have right now must be incredible. Other schools can call USC cheaters and fans of USC can’t use the 2004 season for bragging rights because it will just get thrown back into their face that they won it illegitimately. Reunions, hall of fame inductions, and recognition at football games that schools hold for teams of the past that did spectacular things will never occur now for the USC football team of 2004. Even the strongest minded of the 2004 team, no matter how much they tell themselves that they won the title on the field and have nothing to be ashamed about, will always have it stuck in the back of their heads that their accomplishment is badly tainted.
Please don’t tell me that stripping a team of a title they won years after the fact means nothing. When you take a piece of someone’s identity, someone’s pride, it hurts.
Reggie Bush, you owe about eighty-nine former teammates an apology.