USC got it half right. Sending Reggie Bush's Heisman statue back to the folks in New York is a bold, noble gesture by new president Max Nikias. Sure, it's symbolic and will do nothing to stop the horrific NCAA penalties headed the football program's way.
But in one sweeping gesture, Nikias tried to declare a new era by booting Mike Garrett and hiring Pat Haden as the new AD. Not only will Bush's Heisman be packed up, any reference to his accomplishments will be wiped clean from everything USC.
On Tuesday, the Trojans began the long road back to respectability -- except for one thing. Nikias could have taken a bolder, nobler step. Send back Garrett's 1965 Heisman Trophy as well. Ridiculous? So was what went on at Troy.
Bush was young and dumb enough to have his hand out. USC's former AD spent part or all of his 17 years at the school creating the environment that allowed Bush to extend it.
|Reggie Bush may not want to show his face on the USC campus again. (US Presswire)|
The implication was clear, though. You have to at least try to keep tabs on your top player and shoo away the agents. USC's penalties were earned because the school didn't foster an atmosphere of compliance. Garrett preferred to stick his head in the nearby beach sand and play the role of the despotic leader.
Given that atmosphere, "At the end of the day, the institution has to suffer," that AD told me.
Which is unfair, of course, at least to the innocents who will have nothing to play for during a two-year bowl ban.
"Look at a guy like Matt Barkley," Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor said of his counterpart at USC, "all he's playing for ... I don't even know the word to tell you. It's a speechless experience."
If Garrett were competent, then maybe Bush still gets away with it. True. But at least USC would have shown a spine, instead of turning its back as the ill-gotten championships rolled in. It would at least look like it cared.
In his tenure, Garrett was known for raising money, helping the Galen Center basketball arena get built and running football into the ground. And some of us are damn tired writing about it.
On the same day the probation came down, he said, "There was nothing but a lot of envy," about USC. In the days ahead, you wonder how Garrett and Bush can show their faces on campus again.
"I know I couldn't do it, if I was in his [Bush's] position," said Pryor, who was asked about the situation Tuesday by CBSSports.com. "I couldn't go back and talk to my teammates. If I was at USC, I wouldn't want to know Reggie Bush."
FedEx Garrett's trophy back, then demand a public apology from both Bush and the AD. Have them explain to the current athletes why they have to pay for the sins of the past. Explain to Barkley and his fellow sophomores why they won't be able to go to a bowl game until he is a senior. Explain to recruits why they should come to a program that was a heartbeat away from the death penalty.
They won't, of course. Bush is rich and continues to deny. Garrett is 66 and done, his reputation ruined by his own hands. Tuesday's action makes it easier for the Heisman Trust to officially vacate Bush's winning of the 2005 trophy. Good luck getting his copy back.
The only back-to-back Heisman winner had a good point sitting in his office Tuesday afternoon. Archie Griffin is an icon who has brought glory to himself, Ohio State and the trophy.
"At the time he was competing, Bush was eligible," Griffin said shortly before the USC news broke. "Once you win something like that, it's very, very difficult to just take it away. It was fairly awarded at the time."
Which makes this tragedy even larger. Someone, or some people, had to certify Bush as eligible even though he was essentially competing as a professional. The reality was there were some NFL rookies who weren't making as much as Bush.
In announcing Haden's hiring, Nikias beefed up USC's compliance department. Only the Baltimore Orioles have less depth than that crew. What Nikias can't do, for now, is stop the snickering. There will be jokes that while one O.J. -- Mayo -- got a similar disassociation treatment as Bush on Tuesday, the other O.J. got to keep his Heisman.
Bush and Simpson still have a lot in common. They were both able to skate on the most serious charges of their lives.
|During his USC tenure, Garrett ran the Southern Cal football team into the ground. (US Presswire)|
Thirty-eight states have some kind of law against unscrupulous agents. Interestingly, Alabama has one of the toughest statutes. It doesn't seem to matter what state you're in or whether you're the present or past No. 1. Wednesday will dawn with Alabama coach Nick Saban answering questions at the SEC media days about Marcel Dareus. Saban's star defensive lineman may have broken NCAA rules if he accepted a trip to a lavish party in South Beach.
Meanwhile, Haden's first order of business should be checking the players' parking lot for those tricked out cars. Apparently Garrett never did. It wouldn't hurt to check their living arrangements either, and who is paying their rent. These are the lengths most schools go to -- for starters.
Jim Tressel and his Buckeyes now literally practice behind iron gates at the Woody Hayes Football Complex. The coach calls it a "fortress" built to keep out sleazy agents and what calls "EBay people", memorabilia "collectors" who sell players' autographs on the Internet.
Tressel sat in his office across a table from Pryor Tuesday remembering his program's last Heisman winner. Troy Smith was nicked by the NCAA a few years ago for taking $500 from a booster.
"[Agents] are almost to the point that, ‘What's the use of being a reputable guy because there are so many of these negatives?' Tressel said.
What we've learned in the last few days is that the NCAA is serious about disreputable agents. It sliced the carotid artery of USC football and let it bleed. Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and now Alabama are under scrutiny. Watch for more to come.
Maybe USC is ahead of everyone because on Tuesday, it got on that road to recovery. Maybe it's impossible to ever get there again, for anyone.