The NFL draft is just days away, so Reggie Bush's big payday as the probable No. 1 pick is imminent. But Bush, who left Southern Cal to turn pro after his junior season, doesn't think he should have had to wait this long to be able to fatten his wallet.
"I think [collegiate] athletes should get paid," Bush told ESPN.com recently. "Maybe not as much as NFL players, but they have to get something more than they get now."
Bush is well aware that he was worth a lot of money to USC, though it's not clear exactly how much the school profited from the star last year. Thousands of his No. 5 jerseys were sold, including in two days 1,200 replicas that carried a Rose Bowl patch. And more than 5,000 fans paid $79.95 to get behind-the-scenes footage of Bush and teammate Matt Leinart on www.mattreggietv.com.
"It's a lot of hard work preparing for the college season, and at the end of the day, it's a lot of strain on your body and you're dealing with a lot of pressure," said Bush, who won the 2005 Heisman Trophy. "Most athletes, their families don't have a lot of money; and that means that once you pay your rent, there's little left over for the daily bills."
When asked how players should be paid, Bush suggested that athletes ought to be compensated based on performance. "Or maybe they could just pay the team equally," he said, "so that other players on the team don't get jealous."
The pay-for-play idea has been a subject of debate for many years as revenues from college football and men's basketball have skyrocketed. In February, three former collegiate athletes sued the NCAA in federal district court in Los Angeles, seeking a $2,500 increase in the value of a scholarship to cover various expenses beyond tuition, room, board and books. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of all football and men's basketball players at major Division I schools.
Southern Cal no longer sells Bush and Leinart jerseys on its Web site. USC associate athletic director Jose Eskenazi told ESPN.com that the school bookstore still has a small number left, but there are no plans to order more No. 5 or No. 11 jerseys. The school likely will focus on marketing Nos. 8 and 10 jerseys in the near future -- the numbers of wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and quarterback John David Booty, respectively, who are expected to be among the team's top players this fall.
Bush was worth at least $500,000 in direct economic impact to the athletic department, according to a formula devised by Robert Brown, an economics professor at Cal State-San Marcos, who has been studying college athletes and their worth to their schools for more than two decades. That figure includes Bush's impact on television contracts as well as championship and gate revenues. But according to Brown, Bush's real economic impact is likely greater, because those numbers do not account for indirect revenue effects, such as merchandise sales.
If Bush is drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans, as expected, he will likely make more than $20 million guaranteed. The last two No. 1 overall picks, Eli Manning and Alex Smith, signed deals worth $20 million and $24 million in guarantees, respectively.
Bush already has begun his life as a commercial endorser; his first ad for Subway started running earlier this month. He is expected to be wearing an Icelink watch at the draft, is close to signing a deal with adidas and is in talks with several other brands, including Hummer, the official car of the NFL draft.
Yahoo.com recently reported that Bush's family lived for a year (before moving out this past weekend) in a home in Spring Valley, Calif., that was purchased for $757,500 by a man with a connection to a sports agency in San Diego. The Web site reported that the Pac-10 will investigate that connection.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.