In a move reminiscent of the Neuralyzers from the Men in Black franchise, former NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert and current NCAA Commissioner Charlie Baker seem to believe that punishing teams by vacating wins will magically erase the memories of what fans witnessed on the field. However, the recent case of Tennessee football serves as a stark reminder that this punishment is nothing more than a futile attempt to rewrite history.
Following an extensive investigation into former head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure, the NCAA levied a hefty $8 million fine on the University of Tennessee for over 200 infractions committed. But it is the vacating of 11 wins from the 2019 and 2020 seasons that has raised eyebrows once again. The NCAA continues to cling to this outdated punishment, hoping to expunge games that were witnessed by fans and players alike.
However, the reality is that vacating wins does not alter the fact that the opponents in those games emerged victorious. The ESPN report states, “The vacating of wins does not mean the opponents in those games are granted wins. Tennessee’s all-time record now stands at 856-410-53, which drops the Vols out of the top 10 nationally in wins.” It’s a nonsensical approach that fails to achieve its intended purpose.
This flawed punishment is not limited to Tennessee. LSU football experienced a similar ordeal, with all wins from the 2012-2015 seasons being vacated. This had the consequence of rendering former head coach Les Miles ineligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. While vacating 37 wins may appear to rectify the situation, it overlooks the fact that losses incurred by LSU’s opponents remain on their records. The repercussions extend beyond just the coaches and teams involved; players like Vadal Alexander, a former LSU offensive lineman, find themselves affected by a punishment that alters the course of their college careers.
Basketball coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University faced a comparable predicament when 101 wins were stripped from his record due to violations committed by the academic support staff and the director of basketball operations. Boeheim accepted responsibility but expressed regret that the players’ names were implicated in the individual losses. The punishment felt disproportionate, especially for offenses related to tutoring and a $300 speech.
Reggie Bush’s case at USC was equally disheartening. USC was forced to vacate victories in which Bush participated, including the Orange Bowl victory that secured the Trojans’ Bowl Championship Series title. Despite his immense talent and contributions to the sport, Bush was even compelled to return his Heisman Trophy. The punishment extended to the entire program, tarnishing the accomplishments of an entire team and robbing them of their rightful place in history.
The NCAA’s practice of vacating wins is an ineffective and misguided approach to enforcing rules. While the organization’s responsibility is to police college athletics, imposing fines, suspensions, postseason bans, and scholarship reductions are more appropriate penalties. Stripping away victories that fans witnessed and celebrated serves no purpose other than attempting to manipulate the narrative.
The time has come for the NCAA to reassess its methods and implement more meaningful punishments that address the violations committed. Vacating wins may appear to be a swift and decisive response, but it ultimately fails to accomplish its intended objective. Instead, it perpetuates an outdated system that disregards the memories and experiences of athletes and fans alike. It’s time for the NCAA to step up and do better.