Saturday, July 14, 2007

None for the record books

Two sayings come to mind regarding the NCAA's sanctions against the Oklahoma football program. First, the punishment should fit the crime. And second, you can't change history.

The NCAA found Oklahoma guilty this week, not of a crime, but of a "failure to monitor" its players' employment at a car dealership, with three of them being paid for work they didn't do. The school self-reported the violations, so it received a relatively lenient penalty: four lost scholarships, two extra years of probation, and the vacation of all eight wins from the 2005 season.

The first two are all well and good, but the erasure of history is troublesome on a few levels. For one thing, retroactively changing game results from two years ago has its limits as a deterrent to bad behavior. Yes, it's a blow to school pride, but it doesn't have any real effect on a team's present ability to compete, which is what ultimately brings in the big revenue and national attention.

Second, it's silly to ask everyone to forget that those games ever happened. The Sooners won eight games on the field two years ago, and newspaper archives forevermore will prove it. Vacation of wins can lead to some comically twisted record books. In this case, the official account is now that Oklahoma went only 0-4 and then received a Holiday Bowl payout despite never officially playing in a bowl. (Equally absurd is the post-forfeit version of Alabama's 1993 season, wherein the Crimson Tide, 9-3-1 on the gridiron, officially went 0-11, made it to the SEC title game, and then won the Gator Bowl.)

Third, stripping the 2005 Sooners team of its wins punishes the vast majority of Oklahoma players who were not found to have done anything wrong. That's not to say that it's never OK to reverse an athletic event's outcome due to rule-breaking, of course. If a player uses performance-enhancing drugs or shaves points, for example, that has a clear causal connection to victory or the margin thereof, and it's only right to overturn the outcome. But when, as in the Oklahoma case, the off-field actions aren't directly tied to on-field performance, it's a tougher call to wipe out a team's achievements when most of the athletes whose play won the games did nothing wrong.

Plenty of more effective deterrents exist. Large scholarship cuts have a huge impact on a program's finances and success, and lengthy probation leaves violating schools in the danger zone for even more serious penalties for years to come. Fines and postseason bans also are effective monetary penalties, and the death penalty is still an option in the most egregious cases.

The NCAA has more than enough power to make schools suffer in the present and future for rules violations. It should be judicious in extending that power to the past, too.


Anonymous eric said...

I am beyond troubled about erasing the history of the 2005 season. Luckily, the town will keep the history of the season alive forever, and it might become more than it should be, aka a boomerang effect of trying to suppress it. This appears to be taking an elephant club to a mouse.

Anyway, I am contacting conservative bloggers around the country since I am one as well. I hope this email is not an intrusion.

I would like it very much if you would go to
and vote for me for best political blog and best overall blog as well, IF AND ONLY IF you feel my blog is of a high quality. I really think I have a legitimate shot at winning. If you are open to spreading the word, that would be cool as well.

Thank you.

eric aka

P.S. If you are open to doing a link exchange, I get some pretty decent traffic.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Josh Centor said...

I also find it troubling that the actions of a few cost so many. But the players were ineligible, so a legitimate penalty is necessary. Is it better to hold this year's players out of the postseason, or to penalize the past? The records are gone, but the memories hold true.

Josh Centor

9:59 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Thanks for the comment, Josh. I don't often get real live NCAA employees around here. If you happen upon this post again, I have a question for you near the end.

I understand the theory behind vacating wins. A certain degree of collective punishment is inevitable when an athletics program is sanctioned, so the NCAA is left to punish the misconduct while limiting the intensity of the impact on innocent parties.

You suggested in a blog post today that it's fairer to penalize the past team than the current squad, and if it came to an either-or choice on that question, I'd probably have to agree. Postseason bans certainly aren't fair to current players who did nothing wrong but nonetheless are deprived of the chance for a year-end reward for hard work and success. But I'm also opposed to telling past players that their accomplishments didn't actually count after all, even if it's impossible to erase people's memories of what actually happened.

Scholarship cuts arguably also punish some innocent people -- recruits who can't receive scholarships that don't exist -- but the impact on innocent parties seems more diluted than punishments that hit a discrete group of current or former players. The cuts also are devastatingly effective deterrents, because they target present and future performance, something that stripping past victories doesn't seem to do.

My question, at long last, is what are the NCAA's powers to impose fines on an athletics department as a penalty? I know Colorado got popped for $100,000 not long back, but I don't recall hearing much through the years about fines as sanctions. I'd be interested to find out the degree to which punitive fines are allowed, and the sort of factors that lead to them being chosen instead of other penalties.

5:30 PM  
Blogger King Cockfight said...

This worse than when Sewanee had its undefeated, four-win 1892 season was forfeited for illiteracy, bigamy and opium use.

I echo what my ancestor and one-time Sewanee assistant coach Langley "Tatter" Cockfight told the school's yearbook:

"Rules? Words? Whether or not they're fighting their crazy dragon wife in their mind? Who cares? They're supposed to get out there and score some decapitations with their hands. THREE POINTS! BULLY!"

3:13 PM  

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