Reggie Bush and the NCAA: Timeline of events leading to USC star’s defamation lawsuit

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Reggie Bush and the NCAA: Timeline of events leading to USC star’s defamation lawsuit

Former USC star Reggie Bush is back in the national spotlight this week after filing a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA on Wednesday.

The suit centers around a 2021 comment by an NCAA spokesperson stating Bush was involved in a “pay-for-play” arrangement in response to a question of whether Bush would have his records restored alongside a changed name, image and likeness policy for college athletes.

Here’s a timeline of Bush’s history with the NCAA and the events leading up to Wednesday’s filing:

January 2003

Five-star tailback Reggie Bush announces his commitment to USC during the U.S. Army All-American Game. He is ranked as the No. 17 overall prospect and No. 3 running back, per the 247Sports Composite, and one of three high school All-Americans to join Pete Carroll’s highly touted 2003 recruiting class.

January 2004

Bush earns first-team freshman All-American honors after a standout rookie season. He sets USC’s freshman all-purpose yardage record (1,331 yards), including a team-best 18 kickoff returns for 492 yards and a touchdown. The No. 3 Trojans beat No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl to finish the season No. 1 in the AP poll after BCS No. 1 Oklahoma falls to LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.



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December 2004

Bush finishes fifth in the 2004 Heisman Trophy voting after a breakout sophomore year. He amasses 2,330 all-purpose yards with 15 total touchdowns en route to Pac-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors, which he shares with teammate and Heisman winner Matt Leinart. USC goes on to win the BCS National Championship Game, defeating No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl.

December 2005

Bush wins the 2005 Heisman Trophy in a landslide, garnering 784 of 892 first-place votes to beat out Texas QB Vince Young and Leinart. He leads the nation with 2,218 yards from scrimmage (9.4 yards per touch) and 19 total touchdowns during his junior season. He also earns his second first-team All-American nod and the 2005 AP Player of the Year and Walter Camp awards as he helps lead USC to a second straight BCS national title game appearance, a dramatic loss to Texas.

April 2006

After forgoing his senior season at USC, Bush is selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.

Days prior to the draft, a Yahoo Sports report raises questions about possible financial benefits from agents to Bush and his family members. The NCAA and Pac-10 Conference subsequently open investigations into the matter.

September 2006

An eight-month investigation by Yahoo Sports reveals that Bush and his family appear to have accepted financial benefits worth more than $100,000 from marketing agents during his time at USC. The benefits received by Bush, his stepfather, his mother and his brother reportedly include free hotels, clothing, airfare, money for a car and rent-free housing. Bush denies any allegations of wrongdoing.

October 2007

Fledgling sports marketer Lloyd Lake files a lawsuit against Bush and his parents, seeking to recoup nearly $300,000 in cash and gifts they allegedly accepted from him during Bush’s final two seasons in college. Lake also reportedly agrees to meet with NCAA investigators and provide them with financial records and other evidence.

February 2010

USC officials complete a three-day hearing before the NCAA’s committee on infractions. The hearing also focuses on former USC basketball star O.J. Mayo, who allegedly received improper gifts on multiple occasions.

April 2010

Bush reportedly settles with Lake out of court for an undisclosed amount, avoiding a deposition.

June 2010

The NCAA announces its sanctions for USC, which include a two-year bowl ban and a reduction of 30 scholarships for the football program. The team is also forced to vacate all 14 wins in which Bush participated beginning in December 2004 — including its Orange Bowl national championship victory — and dissociate with Bush for 10 years.

September 2010

Bush voluntarily forfeits his 2005 Heisman Trophy. In a statement, Bush says: “The persistent media speculation regarding allegations dating back to my years at USC has been both painful and distracting. In no way should the storm around these allegations reflect in any way on the dignity of this award, nor on any other institutions or individuals.”

May 2011

USC’s appeal to reduce sanctions imposed on its football program is denied by the NCAA.

December 2017

Bush announces his retirement from the NFL after 11 pro seasons. His NFL career includes stints with the Saints, Dolphins, Lions, 49ers and Bills, winning Super Bowl XLIV with New Orleans. After retiring, he goes on to join Fox Sports as a college football studio analyst prior to the 2019 season.

June 2020

USC officially ends its dissociation with Bush, 10 years to the day after the NCAA’s sanctions were handed down.



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July 2021

The NCAA’s new NIL policy goes into effect on July 1, allowing college athletes to receive NIL compensation. The policy’s approval comes a week after the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA can’t limit education-related payments to student athletes.

The same day the new NIL policy takes effect, Bush posts a statement on Twitter saying his vacated trophy and college records should be reinstated, but that the NCAA and the Heisman Trust have not been willing to help.

“It is my strong belief that I won the Heisman Trophy ‘solely’ due to my hard work and dedication on the football field and it is also my firm belief that my records should be reinstated,” Bush says. He adds in a follow-up tweet, “I never cheated this game. That was what they wanted you to believe about me.”

The Heisman Trust releases a statement the next day saying it would reinstate Bush’s Heisman Trophy only if the NCAA restored the former USC star running back’s vacated records.

However, in a statement to The Athletic and other outlets, an NCAA spokesperson says the organization won’t reverse penalties or reinstate vacated records from the past despite the recent NIL changes.

“NCAA rules still do not permit pay-for-play type arrangements,” the statement says. “The NCAA infractions process exists to promote fairness in college sports. The rules that govern fair play are voted on, agreed to and expected to be upheld by all NCAA member schools.”



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Jan. 9, 2023

Bush is selected to the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023. He is set to be inducted on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas at the National Football Foundation awards dinner.

Aug. 23, 2023

Bush and his attorneys hold a news conference at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum announcing his defamation lawsuit against the NCAA.

The 30-page suit filed in Marion County, Ind. — where the NCAA has its principal office — calls the NCAA’s “pay-for-play” statement “completely false and highly offensive” and contends Bush’s reputation has been “substantially and irreparably damaged” because of it. A petition is also created, urging the NCAA to apologize to him and reinstate his collegiate record “so he can reclaim his Heisman Trophy.”

Bush calls the NCAA’s “pay-for-play” statement “100 percent not true.”

“Not only is it not true, but there’s no evidence to even support that claim. … It wasn’t even part of the initial NCAA investigation, so this is a new accusation as far as I’m concerned,” Bush says at the news conference.

“All the media outlets picked it up as if this were the reason why I’m not getting my Heisman Trophy back and why I’m not being reinstated, and that’s not true. And that’s what this lawsuit is about. It’s about truth, getting the facts out and holding the NCAA accountable.”

(Photo: Kevork Djansezian / AP)