What Is Bush vs. NCAA? A Timeline of Events Stemming From Reggie Bush’s Fight To Return His Heisman Trophy

    Reggie Bush's lawsuit against the NCAA has reached new heights, with fellow Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel putting pressure on the organization.

    NCAA record-holder. College football star. No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Heisman Trophy winner. Those first three are unquestioned facts. And while the last one should be as well, Bush doesn’t have the trophy to show for it. However, that may change soon.

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    Bush vs. NCAA Timeline: Winning and Losing the Heisman Trophy

    Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 after generating a jaw-dropping 2,890 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns for the USC Trojans. Yet, just a year later, allegations surfaced that Bush and his family received improper benefits that violated NCAA rules. USC swiftly requested the Pac-10 to investigate the matter while Bush and his family claimed innocence.

    While the conference and the NCAA began their investigations, a probe was already underway with USC basketball star O.J. Mayo facing similar allegations. Thus, the NCAA merged the two investigations into a larger one that scoped the entire USC athletic program.

    In 2007, Bush’s former sports agent, Lloyd Lake, vowed to cooperate with the NCAA and sued the Bush family for nearly $300,000, which he said he provided in cash and gifts.

    The USC athletics probe concluded in June 2010, with the NCAA announcing major sanctions against the program. At that point, Bush was entering his sixth season in the NFL — his first with the Miami Dolphins, spending the previous five with the New Orleans Saints.

    Investigators found that Lake and business partner Michael Michaels gave Bush lavish gifts, including hotel stays, a rent-free home for his family, and a limousine ride and suit for the 2005 Heisman Trophy ceremony.

    As a result, the Trojans were banned from bowl play in 2010 and 2011, lost 30 scholarships over the next three years, vacated their final two wins in 2004 (including the Orange Bowl), and all of their victories in 2005 (12).

    MORE: List of Heisman Trophy Winners by Year

    In July 2010, USC declared they would remove all items in Bush’s name from the campus, and the NCAA set a mandatory 10-year period where the school had to disassociate itself from the star athlete.

    Bush voluntarily forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy title in 2010 and returned the trophy two years later. And during an interview with The Athletic in May 2020, the USC star explained how he was still dealing with the NCAA’s decision:

    “One of the worst feelings in the world … felt like I died when I had to hear that there weren’t gonna be scholarships for kids because of me or because of something connected to me … I’m still not over that. It’s just something you learn to live with.”

    The Heisman Trophy Trust opted to leave the 2005 season without a winner — the only season in which a winner is not recognized. It’s been speculated that the Trust offered the award to both runner-up Texas QB Vince Young and third-place USC QB Matt Leinart, but neither accepted. Bush later said that Young confirmed this himself.

    However, the NCAA’s implementation of the Name, Image, and Likeness policy in 2021 sparked heavy support for Bush and put pressure on the Heisman Trophy Trust to return his trophy.

    The Trust issued a statement in response: “Bush’s 2005 season records remain vacated by the NCAA and, as a result, under the rule set forth by the Heisman Trust and stated on the Heisman Ballot, he is not eligible to be awarded the 2005 Heisman Memorial Trophy.” Although, they said they would return the trophy with the NCAA’s blessing.

    Speaking of NIL, just how much would Bush have made? According to HuddleUp’s Joe Pompliano estimations, Bush could have made anywhere from $4-6 million annually. To put that into perspective, the former Trojan was earning no more than $1,000 in scholarship funds.

    Bush stated that after rent and bills, he was left with under $300 for food and gas for the rest of the month. In the same interview with The Atheltic, Bush explained how the NIL rule would have impacted him.

    “It would’ve made things a lot less stressful because it’s stressful when you’re trying to figure out how am I gonna eat? What am I gonna eat when the cafeteria has closed?”

    Reggie Bush Sues the NCAA

    The matter had appeared closed for 13 years, but last August, Bush held a press conference at the Coliseum to announce he planned to file a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA.

    Bush’s attorneys, Levi G. McCathern and Ty M. Sheaks, stated, “The lawsuit is based on the NCAA maliciously attacking his character through a completely false and highly offensive statement that was widely reported in the media and substantially and irreparably damaged his reputation.

    “Specifically, on July 28, 2021, the NCAA falsely stated to reporters that because of Mr. Bush’s prior involvement in a ‘pay-for-play arrangement.’ The NCAA would not consider restoring his collegiate records that it vacated in 2010, which subsequently resulted in Mr. Bush having to return his Heisman Trophy. Within less than a day, this false statement was republished by no less than 20 different media organizations and circulated to readers around the world.”

    Bush spoke as well, saying he has dreams of running out of the tunnel with the football team and seeing his jersey and banner next to the rest of USC’s Heisman winners, but he “can’t rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy.”

    The NCAA filed a motion to dismiss last month, saying the spokesperson’s statement was an accurate summation of rules, did not mention Bush, and even if it could be seen as being about the USC star, “it is still true and thus not defamatory.” The motion also argued Bush engaged in “misdirection” by quoting the spokesperson as saying “pay-for-play” when the full quote was “pay-for-play type arrangements.”

    Nevertheless, while the legal battle ensues, the NCAA also has a social front to monitor. On Saturday, March 2, fellow Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Manziel showed his support for the college football legend, saying he would not attend the annual trophy ceremony until Bush’s trophy was returned.

    “Doesn’t sit right with my morals and values that he can’t be on that stage with us every year,” Manziel posted on X (formerly Twitter). “Reggie IS the Heisman trophy.”

    KEEP READING: 2024 Heisman Trophy Odds and Favorites

    The likelihood of Bush winning the lawsuit outright is rather slim. Still, with public demand growing, the NCAA may consider a settlement with the organization not admitting fault but reinstating Bush’s status for the 2005 season, thus allowing the Trust to finally return the trophy to its rightful owner.

    Yes, Bush broke the rules and was punished for it. But sometimes, unjust rules need to be broken for change to occur.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!


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