Heisman Voter Reax on Bush: Keep the Can of Worms Closed

A couple months ago I polled my Heisman panel to get their opinion on the status of Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman.  I asked if he should be stripped of the award if he was indeed found to be retroactively ineligible.

The overwhelming majority of my panel did not want to strip Bush of the Heisman in that scenario.

Yesterday, I posed the following question again to the panel:

1. Since Reggie Bush has been found guilty by the NCAA of having taken money from an agent, and has thus been deemed to have been ineligible for the 2005 season, should his Heisman Trophy be vacated or handed to someone else, yes or no?

But I also added this:

2. If Bush’s trophy is taken away, should this change how we look at Heisman winners past and future?  Should old allegations (like Charles Woodson taking money in 1997) be looked at again and should future candidates be completely scoped for cleanliness before being allowed to proceed?  In other words, how does the act of taking a past Heisman away change the Heisman as we know it?

I thought I’d share some of the responses with you.

The consensus so far is that, whatever Bush did off the field, he won the Heisman on the field and therefore the trophy should not be vacated:

“The return of Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy replica was a good PR move by incoming USC president, Max Nikias, but it would be overkill if the Heisman Trust remands the real thing. While accepting benefits is clearly wrong, it had little, if anything, to do with Bush’s on-field performance. I vote on what players do between the sidelines, not how they may or may not profit from it elsewhere.

* * *

“The Heisman Trophy explicitly honors a player who pursues “excellence with integrity.” The Heisman Trophy Trust explicitly “ensures the … integrity of this award.  So after 75 years, the Downtown Athletic Club morality police should put out the APB on Reggie Bush’s mantel decor? Please.  The idea that every Heisman winner but Bush has demonstrated unimpeachable integrity is hopelessly naïve.  College athletics was dirty before Reggie Bush and will be after Reggie Bush.  Asking him to ship a statue back is a grandiose, reactionary, pointless exercise. It won’t change anything, least of all how we view the Heisman Trophy.  It goes to college football’s best player, always has, and usually without much concern about how he got there.”

* * *

“No. It’s not as if the cash he took was performance-enhancing.”

* * *

“Vacating the Heisman doesn’t change the fact that Bush did win it that year. I don’t think vacating it changes history any more than when teams on probation “vacate” wins. And I don’t think the trophy should then be given to runner-up Vince Young. He probably wouldn’t even want it now. I don’t condone what Bush did, but I doubt he’s the only Heisman recipient that received illegal benefits. That said, if the Heisman Trust did vacate the ’05 trophy and ask that it be returned I can understand their position.”

* * *

“Much like vacated wins and championships, rescinding Bush’s Heisman would be pointlessly symbolic. It doesn’t cause anyone to forget that run against Fresno State, hurdling the UCLA defender or anything else that happened on the field that season.”

Not everyone agreed with this sentiment, however:

It should be vacated.. Something feels bizarre about the the thought of then handing it over to Vince Young, though. It’s not like he was named the runner-up in a beauty pageant… or maybe he was I guess.   Still, he got what matters most, the national title ring.”

As to the second question:

“I think going forward, you handle it the best you can as the NCAA has outlined it.”

* * *

“I can see it now, Peyton Manning hiring investigators to dig into Charles Woodson’s college receipts. Darren McFadden snooping around Columbus, Ohio, looking for that booster who paid Troy Smith to sign autographs at a nursing home.”

* * *

“If the Heisman Trophy is vacated then I do agree that you then have to look into at every winner to find if they also received anything that would have rendered them ineligible. Should O.J. Simpson’s name removed from the list of winners?  I don’t know if candidates can be completely scoped to ensure they’re eliglble during the season. No one knew about Bush until after his USC career ended.”

* * *

“Not in favor of taking away Heismans.”

* * *

“It’s not going to happen. The NCAA never investigated Woodson, so I can’t imagine the Heisman Trust will launch its own 13 years later.”

* * *

“This is really the first time the idea of vacating the Heisman has come up.   The incoming USC president kind of put the Trust in a corner when he returned the replica of Bush’s award to New York.  From now on, if the NCAA finds any player has taken cash or extra benefits, all of their post season awards should be vacated.”

A lot of this talk has me thinking about the concept of awards and cheating in college football.  Certainly, it’s clear that Bush was not in compliance with NCAA bylaws at the time of this Heisman win.  However, it’s not clear to me how judging someone retroactively ineligible and then stripping them of an award can completely satisfy everything.  Does it feel like he cheated in the traditional sense that we all think of cheating?   Despite his retroactive status, the memory we had of watching that player excel still exists.  Furthermore, as the voters above attest, taking money doesn’t explicitly give someone an advantage on the field in the way, for instance, that a performance enhancing drug does.  Voters and the NCAA at the time deemed Bush to be eligible.  Is that enough?  Is it too messy to revisit it all?

Which brings up another subject.  In the 1980s and 1990s, we all remember the various players who were dinged for steroids.  Many of them won all kinds of awards and several got Heisman votes.  In these cases, these players were truly cheating to gain an advantage on the field.  Should we go back and vacate all those Outland, Lombardi and Butkus Awards that went to such cheaters?  What about the votes these guys got in the Heisman?  Should we vacate them and then re-tally the past Heisman votes?  Maybe the results would be vastly different!  Should Heisman winners be specifically screened for performance-enhancing drugs before being given the award?  Why not?

I think the various agent scandals we are seeing percolating testify to the widespread shenanigans that go on in major college football.  Odds are that past Heisman winners also took money.  Should one player be singled out and punished just because he was the one who got caught?

Food for thought.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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22 Responses to Heisman Voter Reax on Bush: Keep the Can of Worms Closed

  1. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    Almost every poll I’ve see favors stripping the Heisman based on the fact that Bush lied and should have been ineligible for part of 2004 and all of 2005. But our “unbiased” former USC employee who seems to have trouble getting voters to speak on the record claims the opposite is true.

    The Heisman is also about honor and integrity… being on the take since at least the Fall of 2004 and lying to stay eligible shows no honor or integrity.

    Among Heisman voters and the public roughly two-thirds think Bush should be stripped of his Heisman. Here are some voters who have enough integrity to put their names with their comments:

    “The Heisman can’t be tarnished with a stain like that. If he cheated, strip him of the award, and give it to the second-place finisher, and remove any mention of Bush in the Heisman records.”
    – Matt Markey, Toledo Blade

    “As a Heisman voter, I feel duped. I thought I was voting for the most outstanding college football player, not the most outstanding professional football player masquerading as a college player.”
    – Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel

    “Players who break the rules need to pay some kind of penalty and forfeit their gains.”
    – Bill Cole, Winston-Salem Journal

    “If his amateur status was compromised, he can’t retain the premier individual award in amateur sports.”
    – Joe Rexrode, Lansing State Journal

    “Give Bush a choice: Personally vacate the Heisman or be barred from having any association – publicity, banquets, etc. – with the Heisman.”
    – Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal

    There are many more like these.

    • Heismanpundit July 23, 2010 at 1:29 am #

      These guys were all willing to go on record, but that wasn’t the purpose. It was a sampling of voter sentiment, not meant to highlight who was saying it, but the message itself.

      Funny you bring up Bianchi as that very quote you produced came from…yup, me!

      If you are going keep being a hater here, keep moving along.

  2. Robert July 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    What part of “eligible” is so hard to understand. If the HT, much like the NC double A doesn’t start somewhere, then how do we rectify or even discourage future improprieties?

    Would taking back Bush’s Heisman be the right thing to do? Absolutely. Is it largely symbolic? Absolutely. But what SC and Bush did violated rules, and the cheating– or extra benefits– that lead to ineligibility should be made to be accounted for, just like the NCAA.

    The housecleaning has to start somewhere.

  3. Anonymous July 23, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    You have a biased sample. You only asked voters you work with and they know you promoted Heisman candidates at USC for a living. You’ve also made it shamefully clear that you will defend Bush regardless of what the evidence shows. That’s why your results differ.

    The polls and other samplings I’ve seen all suggest that Bush should be stripped of his Heisman. We need to send a clear message that this kind of cheating and lying won’t be tolerated. What’s sad is that a deserving amateur athlete got robbed of college football’s most prestigious trophy because of Reggie Bush and USC.

    • Heismanpundit July 23, 2010 at 10:28 am #

      These are the exact same voters who have most accurately predicted the Heisman results each of the last two seasons. I don’t ‘work’ with any of them and they are hardly shrinking violets who have to be influenced by anyone. You are just mad that they are saying things that you don’t like, so you have to say they are ‘biased’. Sorry about that. Deal with it.

  4. Anonymous July 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    The consensus among voters and the public is that Reggie Bush shouldn’t keep a trophy that he lied and cheated to get. No amount of lobbying by you or other Trojans will change this.

  5. AUman76 July 24, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

    anon…that’s just ol hp bein hp. Logic isn’t his strong suit. He relies mainly on old friends and Sagarin’s puter formula’s to do his thinkin or him. All of which are flawed. That I needed no help to figure out. Not bad for an old man (uneducated redneck to HP) down south in Alabama huh? lmao

  6. In Defense of Reggie's Heisman July 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Reggie got a Chevy (Impala, I think it was).

    And now he is branded as a national criminal.

    Ah yes, It’s an all or nothing world.

    Let’s just ignore that Reggie was highly esteemed by his team mates as the hardest working guy on his team. He was esteemed by his peers as a fierce competitor and leader on the field. In short, Reggie raised the bar for prepartion and performance for his teammates.

    Reggie was good for football. He gave a lot of kids, esp in L.A., some glimmer of hope and mentorship.

    My impression of Reggie was that he was a low key guy that was totally dedicated to being the best he could be. Not a lot of mouth, just a lot of yards.

    He was the only guy that coach Carroll gave his full blessing to “come out” early [from school]. This Carroll said was not because Reggie’s talent, but his preparation and development- the fruits of his focus and dedication and hard work, and yes, sacrifice.

    I would argue that the intangibles listed above are ideals that embody what the Heisman Trophy should represent.

    It seems to me Bush’s parents got the benefits, while Reggie was working his ass of as an athlete and student.

    Which brings us to the next questions: Do we want our athletes’s taking benefits? I think the answer is “No”. So if not, can we make exceptions for those who break the rules, if they are generally “good people”? Again, I think the answer is “No”.

    Our next question is then, if want to uniformily apply the concept of amateurism, what should Bush’s punishment be? Does the punishment of taking away the Heisman fit the crime of driving a Chevy?

    Our answers to this, will depend on what it means to be the “most outstanding” player in football, on what the Heisman SHOULD represent in an ideal world.

    There is much to consider and I leave my readers to answer it, after logical treatment of the facts, non-factual allegations, and their context. However, focusing on Reggie as a “liar” and a “cheater” is chosing to ignor the entirity of the story.

    Most people chose to believe whatever is beneficial for themselves and whatever placates their fears.

    And I am no exception. I believe Reggie won that trophy on the field. He was not taking performance enhancmening drugs. I would argue that none of his illegal “benefits” contributed to his performance or to what he attempted to give off the field. Therefore, USC’s returning of the trophy is more punishment enough.


    Reno, NV

  7. Anonymous July 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    The more I hear Trojans make excuses the more convinced I am that Bush was the norm rather than the exception. After all, Pete Carroll hired more coaches than the NCAA allowed while maintaining a compliance staff of one. And USC’s athletic director pretended the NCAA was just jealous.

    See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, keep no Heisman.

  8. Ed Newman July 26, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    Hey Chris from Reno,

    I don’t care if he got a broken down Yugo. It was obviously against the rules and he knew it. There was no gray area for him, he wasn’t ignorant and he did it anyway.

    Kids make mistakes and should not have to pay their whole lives for them, but no one should take the position, even implied, that it was “only a Chevy”. Just to put it in perspective: MSRP on an new 2010 Impala is $24,290 and MSRP on a Ducati Superbike 1198 is $16,495. If he was riding around on one of those cool crotch rockets would anyone imply it was “just a Ducati” so what’s the big deal?

    About his cheating not effecting his on field performance you’re right–to a point. Consider this: Tomorrow Peyton Manning decides to go all Racer X–fakes his death, changes his face via surgery, his name to P. Middy and re-enrolls at Tennessee, predictably wins a Heisman, and later his shenanigans are discovered. His cheating didn’t effect his on field performance any more than Bush’s. Should he be allowed to keep his Heisman?

    The fact that Bush’s transgressions might be considered by many to be relatively minor or off the field isn’t the point. It isn’t fair to the athletes who play by the rules and are every bit the hard workers and preparers that Bush may be.

    Maybe the rules aren’t logical or fair, but they are what they are and those that play by them should be rewarded over those that don’t.

    I do think taking Bush’s Heisman would fit the crime, but I don’t think it will happen. And I won’t lose any sleep over it either way.

    • Heismanpundit July 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

      I think there are two issues here. One is, yes, it’s against the rules. The other issue was over whether USC should have known. Those who say they should have known constantly talked about a ‘tricked out’ Chevy that should’ve given USC a sign that something was amiss. In fact, the Chevy wasn’t tricked out until after Bush went pro and that is when you see that magazine cover with him and the car on it. So, to say that USC should’ve been particularly suspicious over a ’95 Chevy Impala two years before it got tricked out is a bit disingenuous. So, yes, it doesn’t matter what kind of car it was as far as determining Bush’s eligibility, but it apparently is an issue in determining whether USC had a culture of compliance or not.

  9. Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Reggie Bush got his pimped black-on-black Chevy Impala in the Spring of 2005. But I’ll agree with HP on one thing – that was well after he turned pro.

  10. The Dirtiest Program of the Decade July 27, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    HP, tell us what part of this 1996 Chevy Impala SS wasn’t “tricked out” when Bush was showing it off on campus in the Spring of 2005? Same pristine black-on-black paint job, same fancy chrome rims… what was different in 2006?

    Pete Carroll certainly took note and so did the compliance office. But all USC’s concerns were satisfied when their Heisman front-runner turned in blank explanations.

    • Heismanpundit July 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

      That’s just it. It wasn’t ‘tricked out’ in the spring of 2005. The pictures you see where it is ‘tricked out’ took place in late 2006, after he got his NFL contract and could ‘trick’ it out. Before that, while he was at USC, it was a regular looking car. This is the point I am trying to make and unless you can show me a picture of his car in spring of 2005, my point stands.

  11. Anonymous July 27, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Bush got the $13,000 Impala plus $8,000 to “spruce it up” in the Spring of 2005. The chrome rims and stereo were part of the package.

    When a student athlete, especially a superstar, shows up with a new car, the university is obligated to follow up and make sure that there’s no violation. USC didn’t do that. USC needed Bush too much to comply with NCAA rules.

    Of course the Impala and “spruce money” is just a tiny part of the massive payola that started during the 2004 season.

    • Heismanpundit July 27, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

      And here you validate my point. He allegedly (I say allegedly because the accuser is an ex-con who has produced no receipts of these transactions, so there is no proof other than his word against USC’s) got money to spruce it up in the spring of 2005. Of course, there are no pictures to prove this and no eyewitnesses other than Lake. But supposedly the car was bought before that, in 2004, when Bush was not a superstar–not even a starter–and the car was just a regular old Chevy. On a team filled with stars, a 95 Chevy is hardly going to sound off alarm bells to coaches.

  12. AUman76 July 27, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    humm……seems somebody might have a lil inside info ’bout a player or two on the best team money could buy? Too bad ol Sneaky Pete left LA before the shit hit the fan. Would’ve loved to have seen his nose rubbed in it too. Oh well….That makes my AU Tigers the best undefeated team in 2004 that didn’t use a cheater.

    • Heismanpundit July 27, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

      Not inside at all. There’s a reason why Bush’s car didn’t raise any eyebrows when he first got it–it wasn’t a tricked out hoopty.

      As for Auburn not playing any cheaters in 2004, that’s a huge assumption given Auburn’s history of NCAA violations.

  13. Anonymous July 28, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    If Bush got the Impala before the 2004 season then the cheating goes back further than we were led to believe. But Carroll says he noticed and commented on the Impala when Bush started driving it. The compliance staff even had Bush fill out paperwork, but apparently they just nodded and winked when Bush left the critical sections blank. So pretending Bush was below the radar is just another failed excuse by Trojans.

    You say we shouldn’t trust Lake because he’s a convict. If there was no corroborating evidence this might be true. But the evidence supports what Lake has said and it doesn’t support Bush.

    What’s more, Bush has been caught in lies and has produced no evidence where he disputes Lake’s account. For example, Bush said he got a car loan but then couldn’t produce any loan paperwork. Then Bush said he used savings, but couldn’t produce any bank statements. Who am I going to believe? The guy who’s been telling the truth.

    And we haven’t even touched on the cash, the trips, the hotel stays, or the $757,000 house.

    • Heismanpundit July 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

      You clearly haven’t read the NCAA report. The NCAA claims Bush got the car in December of 2004. Lake’s account in the book Tarnished Heisman claimed it was March of 2005. At some point, Lake changed his story and that allowed the NCAA to declare Bush ineligible for the last two games of the 2004 season.

      You say Bush has no proof of where he bought the car, but he is under no obligation as a private citizen to provide that proof now. Maybe he did get it in an ill-gotten way, but the burden of proof at this point lies with Lake in the investigation and he is the one with no receipts or transactional records for all the cash payments–including the car–that he claims. You can’t just claim Lake has been telling the truth when there is no way to verify it. The only truly verifiable claim in all of this is the house, which was a deal between the parents and Mike Michaels and was not bought until 2005. For that reason, Bush is clearly ineligible in 2005 retroactively. But that does not mean he was ineligible for those 2004 games. And it does not mean that USC had knowledge of it or should have had knowledge, which is, again, a standard that is nearly impossible to prove or disprove.

      I have no doubt that Bush and his parents took some money. But the NCAA still has to provide credible proof in order to justify harsh sanctions. Four years of investigation and it’s basically a he said/he said situation. That’s just shoddy.

  14. Anonymous July 29, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    You say the Impala wasn’t noticeable but Pete Carroll noticed.

    You say Bush used his own money in 2006 for Impala upgrades, but the rims and other upgrades were on the car well before this.

    You claim the NCAA relied on a Lake lie when it concluded the car was purchased in December 2004. But Bush has a registration form indicating he bought it that very month.

    Now you tell us that Bush doesn’t have to prove anything and that the burden of proof is on Lake. Innocent until proven guilty, right? But it was Bush who accused Lake of a crime! To cover his cheating Trojan tracks, Bush filed a report with the FBI accusing Lake of extortion. After a waste of taxpayer money, the FBI concluded that Bush’s accusation was baseless. What’s more, Bush paid about $300k to settle the matter and avoid testifying. Nobody gives an extortionist $300k after they go public!

    USC is the dirtiest program of the last decade and the fact that Lane Kiffin is their coach proves they are remain committed to cheating.

  15. Anonymous July 30, 2010 at 5:07 am #

    Being a professional in an amateur sport is a huge advantage. The 12 Heisman voters asked by the author of Tarnished Heisman all say Bush should be stripped of his Heisman.