Letting Bush keep Heisman a lesson in morality

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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To its momentary credit, the Heisman Trust has denied intending to take Reggie Bush's 2005 award. But we anticipate it will in the end follow the lead of all the other hyenas who have decided that the best way to solve a problem is to eliminate the evidence that one exists.

And that, boys and girls, is the college athletics experience in a nutshell. Finding the guilty, deciding whether to ignore the guilty, then punishing the guilty by making sure the player carries the weight instead of the institution that knew and fostered the culture, and kept the illusion, and the money that greases its treads, going.

Is Reggie Bush the scapegoat in USC's scandal? You bet, Ray Ratto says. (AP)  
Is Reggie Bush the scapegoat in USC's scandal? You bet, Ray Ratto says. (AP)  
This is not so much about whether Reggie Bush gets to keep his trophy. He should probably beat on it with a hammer about seventy or eighty times, put it in a box with about a hundred-weight of roofing nails and send it back collect, but that's a prank for another rant.

This is about the way college football is making Bush the face of the scandal, while essentially ignoring Pete Carroll, who absolutely knew all about the Bush arrangement but needed the yards, and Mike Garrett, who knew and didn't care, and the monumental arrogance that surrounded those positions.

Because that's what really happened here. Not that USC was guilty of shattering the rules, but that it was guilty of not caring that everyone else knew it was breaking the rules. They knew the conspiracy around Bush, they knew when it unraveled, and they decided it wasn't their problem while forgetting that conspiracies only work when everyone stays happy.

It's Mob Life 101, and everyone involved ignored it.

But that's only half the reason USC is paying the minimal price it is paying -- for not having the dignity to act ashamed. And that's what they're guilty of, period.

What, you think all those empty announcements of other schools that get caught putting out a statement saying they will cooperate with the NCAA in every way possible are sincere? They're playing the game, they're putting their heads down and looking shamed, they all promise to do better and that's how they limit the punishments.

Garrett alone eliminated that tack when he said in essence, "They're all jealous of us." He should have been fired that very moment, but he was only speaking the way USC felt. Invulnerable. Too important to be messed with.

Well, apparently not. They got embarrassed. They lost a bowl game. They lost a few scholarships.

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And nobody's getting the money Bush earned for the school. The school is keeping that. All the tickets they sold during the regular season on the excitement he provided, and all the shirts and souvenirs. Everything they gained by being the dominant team in an NFL-free area.

But Bush is the guy everyone wants to tee off on, because they can't get Carroll, who skived off to Seattle on the wings of laughable denials. And they can't get Garrett, forced to resign for the crime of staying too long instead of seeing the smoke in the distance.

And they want that trophy, because they know the symbology is more important than the fact, and they know that blaming the player insulates the business from its normal standards and practices.

But there's one more problem. The symbology's all wrong, too. The new candidates are queuing up for this year's Heisman Trophy, and not one of them has been vetted for cheating, so the voters really haven't learned anything about protecting the symbol from abuse. They'd rather talk about the horse race, and then pretend to wear the cloak of morality later, when it's too late to actually do anything but act indignant.

Well, here's your solution, offered to the Heisman Trust (since it "hasn't made a decision"). Bush keeps the award. USC spends a few more years up on blocks, until the money it made off Bush evens out with the money it is losing now. And the voters and the moralists are prevented from turning back the clock and pretend a vacated award is somehow proof of their nobility.

College football was, is, and always will be a dirty business, as long as players get paid under the table. USC exposed the pretense yet again, but by pretending this was all Reggie Bush's fault allows the pretense to return as strong as ever.

But keeping his name on the Heisman Trophy brings up the story over and over and over again, and reminds the voters and those who care about the award even now that schools do deals all the time, and some have done even bigger ones than the one Bush did with USC.

Keeping his name on the trophy prevents college football from pretending it is clean.

And finally, keeping his name in the trophy is the advertisement for rule-breaking abstinence that the moralists think taking Bush's name off the trophy will provide. Every day in every way, Bush will keep what he earned, while reminding people that he got paid, that USC knew he got paid and didn't care, and that failing to be ashamed about it put them in the soup as well.

See? Everyone gets what they want, including those who defend the space-time continuum. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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