On Oct. 1, 2005, a 95-degree day in Tempe, Ariz., No. 1 USC found itself trailing Arizona State 21-3 at the half. The Trojans rallied, rolling off five second-half rushing touchdowns to win 38-28. Soon-to-be Heisman winner
This week, however, a group of USC officials will return to Tempe under far less pleasant circumstances. Following a nearly four-year investigation, the school will finally appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions to address allegations that Bush and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra benefits from a group of aspiring sports marketers. The committee will also address allegations involving former basketball star
The hearing began Thursday morning, and a
Should the committee decide to impose major sanctions on the football program, the Trojans' most celebrated era in recent history -- the 2003-05 teams that captured two national championships, won 34 straight games and produced a pair of Heisman winners -- may be forever tarnished.
The initial allegations of impropriety involving Bush date back to a
To be clear, neither Carroll nor any other school official has ever been publicly accused of wrongdoing in the Bush matter, and no other football player has ever been implicated in the scandal. (The school held tailback
But an institution can still be punished for violations committed by one of its athletes, particularly if those transgressions result in the athlete being declared retroactively ineligible, which seems highly probable in Bush's case.
Among the NCAA rules Bush may have broken is bylaw 22.214.171.124, which deems an athlete "ineligible if he or she accepts benefits from agents or marketing representatives"; bylaw 126.96.36.199, which says a player is deemed ineligible if he "enters into a verbal or written agreement with an agent for representation in future professional sports negotiations"; and bylaw 188.8.131.52.6, which prohibits "preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletic reputation."
The standard recourse for a team that's found to have used an ineligible athlete is to vacate wins from the season in question. For USC, that would likely strike the 12 victories from Bush's 2005 Heisman season from the record books. Should investigators find that Bush began receiving benefits a year earlier, the school would stand to lose an additional 13 victories from its 2004 BCS championship season.
The NCAA does not hold jurisdiction over the BCS, which means the conference commissioners and university presidents who oversee the championship game would have to decide whether to strip the Trojans of their title. That seems highly unlikely. In a statement e-mailed earlier this week, BCS executive director
Another obvious question is whether Bush is in danger of losing his Heisman. The award's official Web site specifically notes that, "recipients must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete." However, never in the award's 75-year history have its organizers had cause to address the issue, and again, it's hard to envision them taking such a drastic step.
"Our board [the Heisman Trophy Trust] is not commenting at this point," said director
Ultimately, the most damaging effects of the Bush scandal may not be as tangible as they are stigmatizing.
There have been numerous cases over the past few years involving schools that had to vacate records over various NCAA infractions. Most notably, now-retired Florida State coach
But rarely has such a historic team -- possibly even a national championship team -- had its triumphs stricken from the record books.
The most similar recent examples come from men's basketball. Last year, the NCAA invalidated Memphis' 38 wins and Final Four appearance from the 2007-08 season after determining then-freshman star
Should the Bush scandal merit similar sanctions, it would taint more than just a single great season. One might argue it would leave a blemish on the entire Carroll era.
That may sound harsh, but think about the stigma left behind by Michigan's "Fab Five." The famous freshman class featuring
Mention the "Fab Five" today, however, and most people first associate the group with scandal. A federal grand jury found that Webber and three later Wolverines took hundreds of thousands of dollars from booster
Webber was the only one of the Fab Five players implicated in the scandal, yet a cloud forever hangs over his teammates' achievements. The same might be prove true if the NCAA invalidates USC's accomplishments with Bush.
As for potential implications that may face new coach
Taken alone, those allegations hardly paint USC as a rogue operation. But remember, the committee will be reviewing findings regarding all aspects of the football and basketball programs.
It seems pretty clear-cut that school officials were negligent in regards to Mayo and his known relationship with
Taken together, the committee will determine whether school officials exhibited a "lack of institutional control," or the less serious "failure to monitor," in its oversight of the programs. It seems somewhat inevitable at this point that the Trojans will be put on probation, and possible Kiffin's program will be docked a few scholarships. But a postseason ban like the one imposed on the basketball team would require more concrete evidence of direct wrongdoing by USC employees than has been alleged thus far.
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In the end, however, probation and a few docked scholarships will have little real effect on Kiffin's program. The committee's deliberations in Tempe may have far greater ramifications for USC's past than its future.
How will we ultimately look back at the