Vacating Wins: An Empty Punishment


Jul 6, 2009

to the NCAA, Michigan’s Fab Five never happened and Massachusetts never
went to the 1996 Final Four. The NCAA has “vacated” these teams’
achievements as a sort of punishment for improprieties. Why does the
NCAA do this? What is the point of taking away victories that have
already been won?

Several schools have been forced to vacate wins over the past few
years. Oklahoma football was forced to vacate all of its wins from 2005
for a “failure to monitor” their players’ employment. In the previous
summer, two players worked at a car dealership owned by a university
booster and received money for not even showing up to work. In addition
to the vacated wins, the Sooners also lost two scholarships.

Michigan’s Chris Webber received hundreds of
thousands of dollars in “loans” from a former Michigan booster. Because
of this, the NCAA forced the Wolverines to vacate their 1992 Final Four
appearance and its entire 1992-1993 season. Upon request, Michigan also
removed the 1992 and 1993 Final Four banners from their rafters.

A few schools are currently fighting an NCAA ruling that forces them
to vacate wins. Alabama football is currently appealing a decision that
would force the team to vacate 21 wins from 2005-2007 because of
improper benefits (free textbooks) some players received. The school
faces up to three years of probation.

Memphis basketball may need to vacate its 2008 Final Four appearance
because of “knowing fraudulence or misconduct” with respect to an SAT
test. Both Derrick Rose and Robert Dozier’s
names have come up in this investigation. Dozier “took” the SAT twice,
“earning” scores of 1260 the first time and 720 the second time. As a
result, the University of Georgia refused to enroll Dozier, but Memphis
and coach John Calipari had no problem taking him in with open arms, so Calipari may have his second career Final Four appearance voided.

So why does the NCAA vacate wins? It’s not like thousands of years
ago when empires could destroy a city and then rewrite the history
books. This is the twenty-first century. Everyone knows the truth. Does
the NCAA think people will forget the Fab Five existed?  Does it
believe no one remembers that Marcus Camby and Lou Roe took the ’96 Minutemen to the Final Four?

The answer to these questions is actually pretty simple. The NCAA
does not want to punish these schools. They simple want to make you
think they are punishing them. After all, perception is reality.

You have to hand it to the NCAA. It has found a very effective way
to deal with academic and recruiting violations. Whether the infraction
is large or small, the NCAA pretty much handles it the same way. First,
it opens an “investigation”. Then, it institutes some type of
meaningless penalty.

For trivial improprieties, the NCAA will put a school on
“probation”, which means next to nothing. A step up from that is taking
away one or two scholarships, which is also a joke because schools can
easily give a football player an academic scholarship. Finally, the
NCAA’s highest level of punishment is vacating wins. Another laughable
slap on the wrist.

Again, not only does the NCAA not care about instituting real
penalties; they are actively against it. The NCAA is not about to have
the product on the field hampered by unnecessary punishments.

The problem the NCAA will soon face is that you can only pull the
wool over people’s eyes for so long.  Sooner or later, fans are going
to wonder why none of the “punishments” result in any actual changes.
At some point the NCAA will need to decide whether to do nothing or to
really penalize these schools.

Do you know how many statistical categories are affected by
“vacating” wins? One, coaching victories.  Vacating wins doesn’t change
teams’ records or statistics, nor does it change the records or stats
of the opponents it faced. It just means the NCAA will put an asterisk
next to your team. For instance, Michigan was forced to vacate a few
wins over Bob Knight’s Indiana squad from 1992 and
1993.  However, Knight did not get to add these games to his win total
because Michigan’s vacated wins would not count as actual losses unless
the NCAA ruled that Michigan needed to “forfeit” the games.

Understand? If not, you’re not alone.

The NCAA can force teams to “forfeit” or “vacate” games. Games are
forfeited very rarely, and almost always in-season. If, in the middle
of a season, the NCAA rules that a school used an ineligible player, it
might force the team to forfeit the games in which that player
participated. It’s unlikely, but it might.

Instead, the NCAA chooses to focus on vacating wins from previous
seasons. Why? Because it makes the NCAA look tough while not really
providing any punishment at all.

If the NCAA really wanted to punish schools, it could do so very
easily. For instance, individual teams can only have a certain amount
of players on each team. A good punishment would be for the NCAA to
reduce the number of players that a football team is allowed to have on
its practice or game-day rosters.  Or, the NCAA could fine the school a
significant amount of money, as in millions of dollars.

Obviously, not all violations are the same. A school that gives free
textbooks to students should not be penalized with the same intensity
as a school that pays money to recruits. Each case should be handled
differently. But if the worst punishment the NCAA dishes out is an
order to vacate some wins from 16 years ago, then what incentive do
these schools have to enforce or follow the rules?

Because of Camby’s “dealings” with an agent during his time in
Amherst, Mass., the NCAA vacated UMass’ men’s basketball 1996 Final
Four appearance. They also asked the school to remove the banner that
commemorated the event, but UMass declined. If you go to the Mullins
Center today, you will see a banner in honor of the 1996 Final Four
run. This banner serves as a constant reminder of the ineffectual
nature of the NCAA’s enforcement of its own rules.

Wake up, NCAA. It’s time you set official rules and penalties and actually apply punishments accordingly.

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