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Keidel: Bush League

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel

During an episode of “Hard Knocks,” a few Jets joked that RB Joe McKnight took a pay cut to leave USC for the NFL. They may not have been too far from the truth.

Reggie Bush just surrendered his 2005 Heisman Trophy amid allegations that he received around $300,000 in payments and free family housing while playing for Southern Cal.

So what?

USC, no matter its role in the transactions and transgressions, got a bargain. Considering the eight-figure payouts from BCS bowls and nine-figure television contracts, the Pac-10 actually owes Bush an apology for insufficient funds.

You’ll point to teachers toiling in boiling public school classrooms for 30 grand, while an assortment of Reggies (Jackson, White, Bush, etc.) make millions for a game we played on sandlots for free. That is an unbreakable hypocrisy, one that we, not the athlete, created.

Every time you click on your tube you feed the marketing beast that builds the voracious, money-gulping machine. You fit some “key demo,” a de facto vessel for their advertising onslaught.

You want to preserve the purity of amateur athletics. Then where was your indignity in 1992 when Barkley, Bird, and Jordan Space-Jammed their way to 60-point victories over juggernauts like Ethiopia?

In college sports, everyone makes money except those who make it happen: players, who may not risk life but certainly limb, circus acts for fat cat boosters who pay much freight for universities. The athlete is apparently too underdeveloped, too young, too dumb, to make money when he’s a 20. But at 21, wielding a degree (or not), he miraculously morphs into an adult, armed for all the post-collegiate experiences the world provides.

While we’re on hypocrisies, ponder Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino, who use their profession as a personal game of “Frogger” – wearing their contracts like the loose collegiate garments they are, blown by the moody winds of corporate loyalty. Rich Rodriguez, still under contract with West Virginia, left the phalanx of felons he recruited for Michigan with impunity.

Notice these men cannot thrive in the NFL, burdened by the inconvenient fairness of revenue sharing, drafts, and salary caps. Yet if one of their players decided to switch schools they’d have to wait a year before they’re allowed to play.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Oklahoma (the team USC wrecked, 55-19, in the 2005 Orange Bowl) hasn’t uttered a word on the matter. Neither has Vince Young, who, by default, should receive the vacated Heisman as the runner-up in the voting. Ever wonder why? Do you think USC is the only semi-pro team on the block?

Reggie Bush was forced to surrender a trophy he earned on the field because he took money that was deemed tainted by the NCAA – an Orwellian body that winks and nods its way to billions in television quid. Spare us their transparent embarrassment while they preen from the detached comfort of their ivy-coated campuses.

You don’t slouch on your couch to watch SEC commissioner Mike Slive negotiate television pacts. Here’s what he did while you watched football with shards of potato chips on your chest. According to SI.com, ESPN signed a 15-year, $2.25 billion deal to broadcast SEC football This is concurrent with a CBS deal (also 15 years) worth $825 million.

All built on the backs of “amateur” athletes who are guaranteed nothing while they play, not even the room, books, and tuition you thought were rites of autumn. Just ask a few basketball players in Lexington, who were cut while John Calipari cleaned house in Kentucky. A college scholarship does not assure you four years of free tuition. It is commensurate with your ability to perform at your coach’s behest and, by extension, spawn the sacred revenue for his program.

Yes, it’s a frigid world out there, often run by people who play God while we’re gullible enough to think things just arbitrarily resolve themselves. Reggie Bush’s crime was he was not so sanctimonious. He got a piece of a pie that doesn’t normally nourish the ignorant jock. Forgive him for playing the game invented by his bosses. Bush’s former coach, Pete Carroll, the quintessential Trojan, let Troy burn, ditching his dream job for $35 million in the cover of Seattle’s clouds. Guaranteed money, baby.

USC was the best college football team in America in 2004, and Bush was the best player in 2005. We didn’t watch him wondering about his car, crib, or GPA. We watched because for a few fall Saturdays he was our version of Gale Sayers, an athlete who could stop on a dime, pick it up, make change, and still make you miss on his way to a touchdown.

Reggie Bush returned his Heisman, yet the NCAA had no problem with O.J. Simpson keeping his. Amateurs, indeed.

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com