The USC Trojans athletic department was punished by the NCAA because the NCAA (finally) concluded that the athletics department lacked institutional control. Since that ruling, the Trojans have aggressively tried to regain control. They returned their 2005 Heisman Trophy awarded to Reggie Bush, and they changed the cover of their media guide to reflect the refusal to keep the Heisman for Reggie Bush's junior year. In short, USC is doing all they can to erase Bush from their history and show their disdain for his actions. It even came to the point that Bush returned his Heisman as well.
A few months after the NCAA sanctions came down, USC still lacks institutional control While they think all these radical measures are sending the message of control, it is doing the exact opposite. It is clearer than ever that USC lacks institutional control. No one expects USC to look the other way and condone Bush, but there is no reason to throw him under the bus, either. It is understandable that USC is hurt and embarrassed by all of this, however, USC needs to do what they didn’t do five years ago: look at the big picture—think long term. If USC had been looking at the big picture and thinking long term, then they would have avoided the mess they are in now.
Reggie Bush made it clear that he was not admitting guilt by forfeiting the Heisman Trophy. He was doing what he thought was the best way to end the controversy. Translation: USC has kept this issue going and they should have just moved on after the NCAA ruling. Bush brought in $7 million last year, and he is scheduled to get $8 million more this year. How inclined is Reggie Bush to donate even one penny of this money to the school that just disowned him? Several of Reggie’s former teammates are playing in the NFL. Add to that all the previous USC players with generous salaries in the professional ranks. How do they feel about USC dissociating itself with Bush in this way? What side will they take on this? Do they curtail their donations thinking that USC would do the same to them if something comes up in the future?
College football is very competitive. The competition extends beyond the field. Coaches are battling it out in living rooms all across the country trying to land prized recruits. The USC administration is crippling Lane Kiffin while giving Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, and every coach in the Pac-10 additional ammunition. Sixteen to 18 year old boys are very impressionable. As they see USC react this way, are they more compelled to attend USC? Surely these recruits don’t plan to violate the rules, but they aren’t going to want to be treated like this, if they do slip up. The lack of scholarships and no bowl appearances makes recruiting hard enough, USC didn’t need to shoot themselves in the foot.
USC football took a blow from the NCAA, but the bigger blow was delivered internally by the USC athletics department. The NCAA ruling would only impact the program for two years. The public betrayal of Bush can impact the school for much longer. Reggie Bush could have helped line the coffers of the school—financially and physically—through generous donations and recruiting assistance. By erasing Bush from your past, you erase him from your future.
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