What Kind of Punishment Is a Vacated Win?

NCAA punishment of Alabama hardly qualifies

If you're old enough to remember the television show "Dallas," you'll probably remember the episode where the presumed-dead Bobby Ewing reappeared in a shower alive and well. The show explained that all the episodes where he was dead were just a dream and never actually happened. 

That's weak and a bit insulting to the viewers who invested time watching and caring about those episodes. The NCAA's decision to vacate 21 wins by the Alabama football team is equally insulting to anyone who cares about college football.

The punishment, and the word is used loosely, was a result of athletes on scholarship improperly obtaining textbooks from campus bookstores. Books come with the scholarship but players were getting more books than they needed and the NCAA ordered that the victories involving those players be vacated. No loss of scholarships or bans on postseason play or anything that would actually be considered punitive, just a wave of a magic wand to say that those games never happened.

But they did happen, and Alabama profited from those wins by playing on national television, by going to bowl games after each season and by recruiting on the back of their records. Furthermore, losses in those games contributed to coaches losing their jobs and other teams missing out on bowls and other benefits. And, since we're at it, why don't the losses get vacated as well? If none of the wins happened, none of the losses should have happened either.

If you are going to punish a school, actually punish them so that they don't break the rules again. Alabama was on probation for five years earlier this decade, so clearly following the rules is a problem for them. If the NCAA really cared about making them change their ways, they'd actually do something to discourage it. Instead what they did barely qualifies as a slap on the wrist.  

Playing make-believe and putting Alabama on three more years of probation, presumably the double-secret kind this time, gives the NCAA a chance to crow about how seriously they take enforcement. As long as this is what passes for punishment, though, the bark is a whole lot worse than the bite.  

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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