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Column: Reggie Bush hopes NCAA will let him return to USC some day

Reggie Bush performs during a program before an NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and
Reggie Bush, who appeared on NFL Network last season, is a part of new college football pregame show on Fox that will look to compete with ESPN College GameDay this fall.
(Bryan Woolston / Associated Press)

Reggie Bush is remembered as one of the greatest college football players, but his name and image have been erased from USC since 2010 when the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on the football program, stemming from improper benefits Bush received while at school.

For the first time since that ruling, Bush is back in college football.

Well, sort of.

Bush will join his old USC teammate Matt Leinart, former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, coaching great Urban Meyer and host Rob Stone on a new college football pregame show on Fox that will compete with ESPN’s “College GameDay” this fall.

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“I’m excited about the opportunity to get back into college football,” Bush said. “I’m also excited to be back with Matt. We have a long relationship and chemistry together and I’m excited for people to see that on TV every Saturday, just like they did when we were playing together.”

Bush and Leinart were reunited on the Fox Studios lot Friday with their new teammates as they prepared for their first show, which will air Aug. 31. It didn’t take long for them to reminisce about their days at USC and poke fun at Quinn for the infamous “Bush Push” game against Notre Dame.

“We experienced some of the greatest moments in college football history together,” Leinart said. “We won championships and awards together and did things a lot of guys have never been able to do. Now 13 years later, we’re both married and have kids and it comes full circle where we’re back together every Saturday for college football. We’ve always remained friends and stayed in touch, but it’s great that we’re back together again as teammates.”

While Bush is back in the college football world, he is still persona non grata at USC.

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When the NCAA ruled Bush and his family received improper benefits from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him while he was a student-athlete at USC, it hit the football program with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. The NCAA also forced USC to vacate 14 wins Bush played in, which led to USC losing its 2004 BCS national championship and Bush losing his 2005 Heisman Trophy.

The one penalty that could be highlighted this fall is USC was ordered to permanently disassociate itself from Bush. The school not only had to erase his name and likeness from campus and official records, but also had to refuse him sideline access to practices and games. A school official said USC would work with the NCAA should Bush’s job call for him to be at a USC game or practice. The NCAA did not respond to numerous requests for a comment.

“There’s been no communication at all” with USC, Bush said. “I still hold a special place in my heart for USC and I always will. I’ll always love that school and many of the people there are still some of my good friends. Nothing can ever break that bond.”

The NCAA’s sanctions against USC and Bush, punishing him for what he did as a 19- and 20-year-old student-athlete, were viewed by many as just short of the “death penalty,” but the NCAA previously ordered schools to disassociate from former student-athletes for a period of anywhere between one to 10 years.

Chris Webber was indicted on five charges, including obstruction of justice and lying to a federal grand jury for misrepresenting his relationship with Ed Martin, a Michigan basketball booster, who testified he paid Webber $280,000 in cash and gifts. Shortly after Martin’s death in 2003, Webber pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of criminal contempt to avoid a possible jail sentence. The NCAA forced Michigan to disassociate itself from Webber for 10 years, which was the largest such penalty at that time. Webber has been welcome back at Michigan since the ban ended and last year served as an honorary football team captain before the Penn State game in Ann Arbor.

usc
USC tailback Reggie Bush, left, is congratulated by teammate Matt Leinart after scoring a touchdown against Fresno State on Sept. 25, 2006.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

I was a student at USC when Leinart and Bush were teammates. I’ve had the chance to go back to the school recently when my schedule allows and teach a Tuesday night journalism class. The amount of No. 5 jerseys I still see on campus over a decade later amazes me. Bush would like to see that for himself one day. He said he would love to go back to campus with his wife and show his three kids where their dad went to school.

“I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to go back and be a part of the school,” Bush said. “I love USC. That’s just not where my mind is because I can’t control that and my mind is focused on things I can control. Hopefully in this role I can shed some light and give some advice to these young kids about how to handle this journey through college. If I can help some of these young kids and make their lives and college experience better, that’s what I’m here for.”

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USC would like to have Bush back on campus as well. The school has tried on at least three occasions to have the ban removed or lessened. The NCAA has rebuffed each attempt.

“USC has long said that we would love to have Reggie back around campus but the NCAA has mandated the school permanently disassociate from Reggie,” USC sports information director Tim Tessalone said. “If we did so it would lead to further NCAA penalties. We have tried several times to appeal the permanent disassociation with no luck. We would love to have him back. We’re going to keep trying but this isn’t a USC decision.”

Leinart is hopeful Bush’s return to college football will pave the way for him to return to USC as well.

“What’s happening with Reggie is a travesty,” Leinart said. “I understand the situation and what happened but we’re 13 years removed from it now and there’s still this black cloud hovering over him. I just wish the NCAA would allow him to move on. It just needs to stop. It’s ridiculous. I hope it happens at some point. To have Reggie back in college football in this role might be the first step towards that happening.”


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