More than 13 years after the NCAA issued debilitating sanctions against USC, Reggie Bush is ready for a fight with college sports’ governing body.
Bush’s attorneys say he is holding a news conference Wednesday at the Coliseum to announce he plans to file a defamation suit against the NCAA, the organization that alleged he received improper benefits from a sports marketing agent while dazzling fans as a star running back at USC.
“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,” Bush’s attorneys Levi G. McCathern and Ty M. Sheaks said in a statement.
“Specifically, on July 28, 2021, the NCAA … falsely issued a statement 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 [the first player in history to do so]. 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.”
The allegations Bush and his family accepted compensation in violation of NCAA rules surfaced in 2006 after he had left the Trojans for the NFL. To this point, he has not answered media questions about what he or his family did or didn’t accept from the person the NCAA accused of giving Bush impermissible benefits.
The phrase “pay-for-play” typically refers to athletes who would not play for a school unless they were compensated, suggesting the benefits were a factor in the recruiting process. It differs from an agent providing gifts or payment in exchange for a potential share of future professional earnings.
“The NCAA knew Mr. Bush was never even accused of, involved in, much less sanctioned for any ‘pay-for-play arrangement’ which never occurred,” Bush’s attorneys wrote.
Bush’s 10-year disassociation penalty from the NCAA ended in June 2020. Ever since, he has been pushing to have his name cleared, his records restored and, most important, his Heisman Trophy returned.
When new name, image and likeness legislation was enacted in 2021, The Times asked the NCAA whether its stance on Bush’s records might have changed. The organization issued a statement that is now at the center of Bush’s litigation plans.
“Although college athletes can now receive benefits from their names, images and likenesses through activities like endorsements and appearances, NCAA rules still do not permit pay-for-play type arrangements,” an NCAA spokesperson told The Times in 2021.
The NCAA’s stance prompted the Heisman Trust to deny requests to reinstate Bush’s Heisman Trophy.
“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,” the Trust said in a 2021 statement provided to The Times.
Bush supporters have pushed for him to get his Heisman back, with one USC booster erecting billboards around Los Angeles calling on the NCAA to reverse its position.