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Thursday, September 14th 2006

Take It All Away

Yahoo! Sports has released a “report” detailing that not only his family, but Bush himself recieved illegal gifts from multiple marketing companies during his time at USC, all the way back to 2004. As well, USC gave unprecedented access to some of those marketing companies (trips into the locker room, to the sideline during games) and might have reasonably been expected to know about the gifts Bush would recieve, which could make USC face serious sanctions.

Before I dig in, let me sum up the report. The two Yahoo! writers try to be level, but it is clear from the editorializing in places and their vague references to evidence and sources on the most grandious charges of wrongdoing that they set out to get their huge story. Not that the report doesn’t raise serious concerns about the past and future of USC football, but take what the authors put down for what it is.

Onward to the accusations.

The benefits, which could lead to NCAA sanctions for USC and retroactively cost Bush his college eligibility and Heisman, were supplied by two groups attempting to woo Bush as a client. Current Bush marketing agent Mike Ornstein and one of Ornstein’s employees were involved. So were Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, who attempted to launch an agency called New Era Sports & Entertainment, pursuing Bush as their first client.

These are serious allegations, which could cost Reggie Bush his entire college career (not that it matters now to him) and USC everything it has achieved over the past three years in football. A lot of the junk has no paper trial, and is merely allegations from what you might percieve as bitter former business partners, although some of the allegations have cooborating sources.

Of course, the stuff that does have a paper trial, Bush’s marketing rep Ornstein has an explanation for.

Asked why his employee, Fritz, had paid for airfare and a limousine for the Bush family’s trip to the Cal game, Ornstein said he believed the funds were paid back.

“Jamie may have paid or put it on his credit card,” Ornstein said. “I don’t think (Reggie’s) parents have a credit card, but his parents paid for everything.”

Fritz declined comment, but documents obtained by Yahoo! Sports indicate both the airfare and limousine rental for the trip to the Bay Area were paid in full on Fritz’s American Express card prior to the trip being taken. Ornstein also used the card in August to book his own trip to Bush’s NFL preseason debut against the Tennessee Titans.

The card establishes a direct link between Bush’s family and Ornstein’s office while Bush was still at USC, but Ornstein insisted it was merely a matter of helping the family.

“If the dad asked, then maybe (Jamie helped),” he said. “The (family) went on other trips. I’m sure the father – if it was anything that needed a credit card to guarantee the hotel and everything – then I’m sure Jamie will have documentation and cash receipts from the father. I guarantee it.”

Michael Michaels is the most bitter one in the group. He was left out of the loop when Bush turned pro, and predictably his allegations are the most flamboyant. He goes so far as to accuse the USC staff of knowing or being suspicious and that Reggie Bush conspired with him to hide the benefits his parents were recieving from the USC staff.

Sources told Yahoo! Sports that representatives of New Era were allowed into the USC locker room during the 2005 season. Ornstein and other agents frequented the USC sidelines during several games and numerous practices that season, according to published reports.

Also, [Running Backs Coach Todd] McNair allegedly knew of Bush’s involvement with the New Era venture before last season’s national championship game against Texas, according to two sources. And at one point during the 2005 season, sources say Bush thought that Carroll knew about his parents’ living arrangement and feared he was going to conduct his own investigation. Bush called Michaels, instructing that if Carroll called regarding the house to “tell him that you’re a longtime family friend.”

Like I said however, a lot of this is your word versus my word. Take memorbiala dealer DeMartino who has been engaged in a lengthy financial dispute with Bush’s marketing agent (motive?)

DeMartino said Ornstein explained to him that Bush’s stepfather received a weekly payment of $1,000. Bush’s mother received $500 and Bush’s younger brother also received money.

[...]

“That is a 100-percent lie,” Ornstein said in a phone interview last week. “That never happened. I swear on my son, I swear on my mother, I swear on my brother. … I swear on my whole family. Let them all die tomorrow if I’m telling a lie.”

[...]

Asked why DeMartino would say Ornstein was giving Bush and his family benefits, Ornstein said it was an act of vengeance after Ornstein didn’t sign DeMartino as Bush’s memorabilia agent. DeMartino claims he was the one who backed out of the deal, because Ornstein was asking for too much money. Asked how Bush’s family was able to afford travel to USC road games last season and live in a 3,000-square-foot house belonging to a New Era Sports representative, Ornstein said he had “no idea.”

There is a paper trial that Ornstein was negotiating for Bush before he graduated, but this is a grey area.

As a followup to their meeting in New York, DeMartino said that Ornstein solicited via email a $500,000 down payment for a prospective memorabilia deal. The email is dated Dec. 29, five days before Bush played in his last college football game and within two weeks of signing a contract to be represented by Ornstein.

Ornstein acknowledges that he negotiated in principle numerous marketing deals on behalf of Bush during the 2005 season. NCAA rule 12.3.1.2 reads in part “an individual shall be ineligible … if any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletic ability.”

Ornstein contends that he operated within the NCAA rules, since no deal was finalized until after the season.

Like I said it is clear that the most prominent allegations are all word versus word. The things evidenced by a paper trial certianly could be major, major violations, but it is odd that despite the rhetoric of the Yahoo report they can’t find physical evidence beyond relatively “small” credit card charges (a potential violation to be sure) or emails involving negotiations of marketing deals which don’t even violate NCAA rules.

Yahoo Sports doesn’t do themselves any favors either by publishing an op/ed on the report which treats everything as fact. Just go ahead and swallow it.

Dan Wetzel sounds like a moron when he publishes this as fact,

Ornstein doling out payments of over $1,500 per week to Bush’s family as well as numerous other gifts, as business associate Bob DeMartino said Ornstein told him. Or that Ornstein wound up making cash payments directly to Bush, as New Era’s Lloyd Lake says Bush told him.

And he uses accusations like that to come to this conclusion,

Bush’s amateur status was compromised beginning in October of 2004. Per NCAA rules, any game he played in after that could result in forfeiture. The Trojans’ lack of institutional control played a part in this mess.

Moreover, it wasn’t just Bush who benefited from the agent’s largesse. So too did USC. Carroll has signed Rivals.com’s No. 1 recruiting class in each of the past three seasons, and if you don’t think having Bush walking campus flushed with cash while driving a decked-out car doesn’t make an impression on would-be Trojans, then you don’t know anything about recruiting.

[...]

The NCAA has stripped seven sports teams of its national titles, most recently the 2002 Hawaii men’s volleyball team for using ineligible players who took far less than Reggie Bush did. But that’s volleyball and that’s Hawaii. Small potatoes compared to this.

The fear has always been that by vacating a national championship, the NCAA would be telling the American public that the season it just witnessed was a fraud. But the same thing applies when clear standards aren’t held, when the kids who didn’t take are played the fool.

Besides, what’s right is right, what’s fair is fair.

If the NCAA wants us to believe it stands for anything other than making money off these kids, if it wants us to think that that the rule book isn’t just an empty public relations ploy, then it needs to drop the hammer here.

Forfeit the victories. Return the trophies. Vacate that title.

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