After 10 years of NCAA-mandated exile, Reggie Bush is finally free to return to USC.
On the final day of Bush's decade-long disassociation ban, the university on Wednesday formally welcomed one of the most electrifying playmakers in college football history back to its campus with a letter from USC President Carol Folt.
"I am pleased to inform you that all restrictions and prohibitions on your involvement in our athletics program are officially removed and you will be afforded the privileges and courtesies extended to all Trojan football alumni," the letter read.
For Bush, the announcement was a long time coming.
"I've dreamed of this day for 10-plus years," Bush said in a statement, "and I'm excited to come home."
Bush isn't the only USC athlete set to return after a decade away. The university announced that former Trojan basketball player O.J. Mayo, who was also barred from campus by the NCAA, would be welcome to return.
A path back to USC didn't always seem clear.
Since June 10, 2010, when the NCAA's Committee on Infractions cited USC for a lack of institutional control and slapped the school with stiff sanctions after Bush was found to have accepted improper benefits, the Trojan legend and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner has remained persona non grata at USC.
As Bush went on to a successful NFL career, earning more over the course of his career than all but two running backs in league history – Adrian Peterson and Edgerrin James are one and two, respectively – his legacy at USC was all but erased. His name and image were scrubbed from campus. His jersey in the Coliseum was removed. An asterisk was attached to his school records. His Heisman was returned.
The disassociation ban levied by the NCAA was meant to make that arrangement permanent, but a 2017 change to the internal operating procedures of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions reduced that sentence to 10 years.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn, who was hired in November, said Wednesday that it had become clear since he came on campus how much Bush's presence meant to former players and fans.
"I'm pleased his disassociation has ended so that we can welcome him back to our family," Bohn said in a statement. "I'm confident that Reggie will use his incredible platform and influential voice to support and empower all of our student athletes."
The notion of Bush empowering student athletes might have been a radical one a decade ago, when the NCAA first issued its penalties. In 2006, soon after Bush was selected No. 2 overall in the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, reports surfaced that the running back and his family had received cash and gifts from two would-be sports marketers while at USC, one of whom later sued the Bush family for allegedly not repaying nearly $300,000.
The investigation lasted four years before the NCAA dropped the proverbial hammer in June 2010, issuing some of the harshest sanctions college football had seen. USC was stripped of its 2004 national title, and had to vacate its final two wins from the 2004 season and all victories from 2005. The NCAA banned the Trojans from the postseason in 2010 and 2011, docked 30 scholarships over three years, and placed the program on four years probation.
USC also was ordered to permanently cut ties with Bush, who, at the time, was cast by many as a villain in the case, central to the Trojans' steep fall from grace following the sanctions.
His return won't undo the damage to the school's legacy from those sanctions, and the NCAA will not return the wins vacated. The Heisman Trust is not expected to return the trophy, which Bush voluntarily relinquished, either.