One doesn’t get to say this often, but the USC Trojans are getting absolutely demolished. Due to various infractions, they are set to lose 30 scholarships over three seasons, a two year bowl suspension, and 14 vacated wins.
Nobody will ever accuse me of being a Trojan fan, but that last one bugs me a little. And it actually has little to do with the Trojans in particular. I felt the same way when Memphis was forced to vacate 38 of its basketball wins and Florida State 12 of their football wins. It’s not that I think these punishments are harsh. It’s mostly that they’re stupid.
These wins are vacated on the idea that kids were playing that shouldn’t. And when that happens, teams forfeit. This is retroactively that. The problem is that losses don’t occur two years after the games were played. They are lost on the spot. Minute by aching minute. And the victories are won on the spot. You can’t take away the euphoria of winning. You just can’t.
For some reason I’m more on the fence when it comes to championships. Unlike regular wins, championship cups are something that a university points to two years later that still has some significance. Taking that away does actually mean something. Once upon a time, they were going to win three championships in a row. They even alter-coined “threepeat” into “three-Pete” in honor of their coach, Pete Carroll. The problem with this then was that their first championship was contested and, well, they lost that third one. If they lose 2004, they will have, despite fielding an amazing team, not have any BCS championship trophies sitting on their shelf. That is significant. Reversing the outcome of their 49-0 victory over the Colorado State Rams? Not so much. It’s not worth the asterisk.
When I was a kid, the Muscogea State Wildcats got into some similar trouble and were forced to forfeit two games the following season. The problem? Nobody recognized the losses. When the networks were covering the game, they would put an asterisk by their actual record. Went kinda like MSU Wildcats, 5-1* (* – official record 3-3 due to two forfeits). It didn’t affect their rankings. Didn’t really mattered. Everyone knew who won. And those victories were earned.
So what do I propose as an alternative? Go after future wins. Not in the lame way they got MSU. I mean make it darn hard for them to win. The scholarships are a start. The lack of bowl games are too, because they make recruiting more difficult. I say take more scholarships. And more importantly, let any kid going there transfer out. Any kid at all. As it stands, they’re letting upper-classmen do so but saddling the poor kids that just signed on with USC with a mediocre team. Some of them may deserve it because they accepted things they shouldn’t, but that shouldn’t be the assumption. Let all the kids go. That will hurt USC far more than taking away 14 wins ever would.
It’s also more proportional and appropriate. The Trojans weren’t paying off refs. They won the games they played. But they won them (at least in part – probably little part) on recruiting shenanigans. So go after recruiting. Make it impossible to recruit. The most effective sanctions ever were done to SMU, who was deprived of playing football for two years. Their program never recovered. So effective was this punishment that the league more-or-less decided never to do it again. But hit them where it hurts.
A couple of sidenotes.
First, one of the frustrating aspects about all of these suspensions is that they so often don’t get the people responsible. There isn’t much they can do to Pete Carroll because he’s a coach now in a league where paying players is okay, but Memphis Coach John Calipari became Kentucky Coach John Calipari and left the mess he made behind. All you can do in coaches is strip them of their wins, which unlike with programs actually is effective because winning percentages are their bread and butter.
Second, it’s hard not to notice that these things always come to light after a program has fallen from its peak. I suppose it makes sense to a degree because a season like the Trojans’ in 2004 attracts attention and it takes a while for everything to fall into place. But sometimes I think it’s a little like the NCAA banning bible verses on eye-black only after Tim Tebow graduated. It makes me wonder if they hold on to this stuff while the teams are attracting attention for the league and then, only once their ride is over, they get slammed with it.
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