Bush mess ends in unsatisfying fashion

As focus turns to how rules will be applied going forward, USC and BCS would be best served by recognizing those players on 2004 team that abided by NCAA guidelines.

As far as USC is concerned, the whole sordid Reggie Bush mess finally came to an end Monday when it was officially stripped of the 2004 BCS title.

For the BCS, Heisman Trust, NCAA and the rest of college football, the issues raised by the electric, disgraced collegiate career of the running back are just beginning, its ramifications potentially rattling from Columbus, Ohio to Auburn, Ala. and everywhere in between.

The Trojans knew that the crystal football they won by obliterating Oklahoma 55-19 in the 2005 Orange Bowl would be forfeited, only a matter of time before it was returned to sender.

Frankly, everyone with and around USC has been waiting for this whole affair to be over and done with. They were sick of the waiting, the speculation, the unknown. It is the reason why athletic director Pat Haden rejected legal remedies available.

Now, all the traces of Bush‘s time at USC are gone, aside from the bowl ban this season, scholarship reductions over the next three years, and probation. It's everyone else's turn to deal with it.

There is former USC assistant coach Todd McNair's lawsuit against the NCAA, filed just days before the BCS came calling for its trophy. McNair charges that the findings linking knowledge of Bush's infractions to the program through him were reached in error, effectively ending his career.

The threat of gaining access to email, memoranda, and other work product from the Committee on Infractions should be enough to force the NCAA into a quick – and large – settlement.

The COI still must address Ohio State and North Carolina, while the investigation into Cam Newton's time at Auburn continues. And there is the rub.

Zero tolerance means zero tolerance for everyone, at least in theory. If Reggie Bush loses his Heisman, so too must former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith if new instances of his receiving improper benefits are uncovered. If USC loses its BCS title, so too must Ohio State if running back Maurice Clarett's allegations of extra benefits and academic fraud are proven true. Same for Auburn on both counts in the Cam Newton affair.

(And for a good time, save all the righteous indignation from the Tigers demanding they be named 2004 champions retroactively in the even they lose the 2010 title.)

Is it really worthwhile to investigate whether every Heisman Trophy winner was eligible at the time he raised the award in New York City? Is it necessary to examine if every starter, backup or walk-on got a $100 handshake before playing in the bowl game?

That's the precedent that has been set down. Of course, the NCAA has told everyone that precedent doesn't matter.

The better, more damning approach would be to stick an asterisk, a glaring red mark next to 2004 USC in the record books. Remind everyone that USC was negligent in making sure Bush abided by the rules, that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits. Tell the world that the actions of one stain all, not erase them.

Everyone knows USC had the best team in 2004. You can't erase 55-19, the championship rings, the memories.

The best punishment possible is to put a plaque or statue in Heritage Hall listing the name of every player in 2004 that abided by the rules, threw for touchdowns or forced fumbles while in compliance of NCAA regulations, no matter how ridiculous they may be.

Honor them all.

Except one, Reggie Bush.

That is real justice, no matter what the NCAA chooses to dish out.

That is how this whole mess should end.

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