Last week, Reggie Bush made the decision to return his Heisman Trophy back to the Heisman Trust after much speculation that he had received "improper benefits" while playing for the University of Southern California from 2003 to 2005.
Really, it's pretty hard not to believe that he wasn't given some amount of money or gifts when you consider the history of high profile professional prospects in college - Marvin Austin, AJ Green, Weslye Saunders and multiple others were suspended just this year for suspected dealings with National Football League agents. It is also widely speculated that NFL agents paid for a house for Bush's parents while he was attending USC.
The question is, what is really said about Bush's character if he did accept favors from NFL agents? Considering all the money that he generated for USC through ticket and jersey sales, any amount that he received from agents would have represented only a fraction of his potential worth. All he was doing was what anyone else would do in the same circumstances.
Ultimately, the blame for this happening cannot be placed solely on Bush. Pete Carroll, USC head coach at the time, had to have known what was going on and should have done something to stop it. Even the USC athletic director at the time, Mike Garrett, could have banned NFL agents from being on the campus prior to the 2005 season as Florida and Alabama did this year.
No matter who is to blame in this case, the entire system needs to be changed without doubt. Most importantly, collegiate athletes should be paid. Division I college football and basketball programs generate so much money that the schools and conferences often don't know what to do with it. No more should the players be considered "amateur," because nothing about their lives as athletes is such. It's a year-round job for them from winter workouts to summer two-a-days. If Bush was given a weekly stipend from the university while he was playing, he would have been much less likely to take money offered to him by agents.
But Bush wasn't given a stipend, and the Heisman voters rightfully made him the 2005 winner of the prestigious award. That's what we will always remember about Bush and that season. He may have given the trophy back to the Heisman trust, but he was still the best player in college football that year, Heisman or not.
This brings up the dilemma of what to do about the trophy now that Bush has given it back. Do you give it to then University of Texas quarterback Vince Young, the second-place finisher that year, have a re-vote, or just leave that season blank in the record books? Many thought that Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart had just as outstanding a season as Bush did, and their votes were split between the two when it came to the Heisman voting.
The trouble with a re-vote is that many people would forget what an unbelievable season Leinart had and would only remember Young's performance in the Rose Bowl that year (the best single-game effort by a player in college football history), and vote for him. The Heisman, however, is strictly a regular season award, so it's good that the trust has decided to just leave the record books blank for that season and give the award to no one.
Although it seems the Bush saga is over, his impact on college football will be felt for years to come.