The NCAA has leveled stinging penalties against the University of Southern California, issuing a two-year bowl ban and taking away several football scholarships.
The sanctions stem from a four-year investigation into violations including improper gifts to Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush and men's basketball player O.J. Mayo.
The NCAA found that Bush, identified as a "former football student-athlete," was ineligible beginning at least by December 2004, a ruling that could open discussion on the revocation of the New Orleans Saints star's Heisman. Members of the Heisman Trophy Trust have said they might review Bush's award if he were ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
The NCAA also ordered USC to vacate every victory in which Bush participated while ineligible. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS championship game on Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush's Heisman-winning 2005 season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl.
"I have a great love for the University of Southern California, and I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players," Bush said in a statement, according to an ESPN report.
"I am disappointed by [Thursday's] decision and disagree with the NCAA's findings," the statement continued. "If the University decides to appeal, I will continue to cooperate with the NCAA and USC, as I did during the investigation. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on making a positive impact for the University and for the community where I live."
The ruling is a sharp repudiation of the Trojans' decade of success under former coach Pete Carroll, when USC won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships. Carroll left the school for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks in January.
The sanctions include excluding the Trojan football team from bowl games for the next two seasons, revoking 30 scholarships over the next three years, and penalties that could cost the university millions of dollars.
In a posted video statement, Todd Dickey, a senior vice president, said USC would appeal some of the sanctions.
"While we acknowledge that some violations did occur, we sharply disagree with a number of the findings in the committee's report," Dickey said. "Further, we feel that the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified in the report."
The Trojans have been under a growing cloud of suspicion since Bush's apparently shady dealings with aspiring sports marketers and sketchy businessmen were first revealed. The NCAA, the Pac-10 and even the FBI conducted investigations into the Bush family's business relationships and USC's responsibility for the culture around its marquee football team.
USC is the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to be banned from postseason play since Alabama served a two-year ban ending in 2003. The NCAA issued no bowl bans during the tenure of late president Myles Brand, but the NCAA reportedly regained interest in the punishment over the past year.
USC has long been known for its lenient admission policy at football practice, which during Carroll's tenure was open to almost anybody who wanted to watch. No longer: The NCAA also prohibited all nonuniversity personnel, except media and a few others, from attending practices and camps, or even standing on the sidelines during games.
While coming down hard on the football team, the NCAA largely accepted the terms of USC's self-imposed punishment on its men's basketball team.
USC banned itself from postseason play last season, stripped one scholarship for last season and the upcoming season, and reduced its recruiting abilities over the next year. The Trojans also vacated their 21 victories during the 2007-08 season under former coach Tim Floyd, who was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.
"Elite athletes in high-profile sports with obvious great future earnings potential may see themselves as something apart from other student-athletes and the general student population," the NCAA report said. "Institutions need to assure that their treatment on campus does not feed into such a perception."
NPR's Carrie Kahn contributed to this report