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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16 Responses to Vacating Wins Is Lame

  1. Peter says:

    I would like to know why the AD hasn’t been fired.

  2. Bob V says:

    #1 Eh:
    I am OK with vacating wins. I don’t think that this should be considered part of the punitive damages, but instead a recovery of actual damage. Sure, these losses will be always spoken about with an astricks, but that *is* how they should be spoken about. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “they won the game, but they sort of cheated” but since that isn’t an option, you say “the loss is the result of a vacated win.”

    #2 Eh:
    The punitive punishments to the USC program going forward are sort of a joke. Keep in mind that Alabama was on probation when they won their championship. Slowing down a top program is hard work.

    Let’s look at their losses

    >30 scholarships over three seasons

    I can’t find the actual stats right now, but USC can give out about 30 scholarships per year. So they will lose the 10 least-attractive scholarship slots out of the ~30 USC hands out in each of the next three years. In other words, these scholarships likely won’t even hit any starting positions. (I can’t find verification of the 30-scholarship figure, but my understanding is that this is about right.)

    >a two year bowl suspension

    Way punish the 2006-2007 recruiting classes.

    Sure, losing the opportunity to play in a bowl game costs you cash, but the USC football program won’t exactly be hurting. (And they’ll be saving money on those scholarships!)

    Eh #3:
    > go after recruiting. Make it impossible to recruit.

    Recognize that this is hard to do. To slow down 2011 recruiting, you could:
    – ban USC from playing a bowl game in 2016
    – take away *all* scholarships for their recruiting class (take away just a few, and they’ll just give the remaining ones to the high-school superstars)
    – take away TV (and give up huge amounts of revenue)

    My suggestion:
    Go after the program rather the kids. Say, take away five years of TV revenue. Let them play. Let them be good. Let the kids still get scholarships, and still get to show off to NFL scouts on TV. Just don’t let the administration motivated by greed get to retain the profits generated by their greed. Either fund whatever internal NCAA operations there are with the money or direct it to other schools.

  3. trumwill says:


    #1 – I kinda feel about vacating championships the way you feel about vacating wins. Or rather, I think what you say applies to championships, but vacating wins is one of those things that seems like it’s tough but it’s not. It makes it easier not to punish the program going forward. For instance…

    #2 – Alabama’s most recent sanctions were not scholarships. They were merely vacated wins. Alabama’s lost scholarships occurred several years back when Dennis Francione was taking over (he was not responsible for the sanctions, but one of his accomplishments was convincing kids not to transfer. As far as I know, they are not under scholarship limitations.

    And I disagree with you on the effects of scholarship limitations. Scholarship limitations hurt. The thing about recruiting players is that with the exception of some blue chips, you don’t always even know who is going to be a starter down the line and who isn’t. Losing scholarships takes away flexibility. It also provides a real black cloud over the program, making it harder to recruit players who want to be surrounded by other great players.

    Alabama’s lost scholarships were half of what USC is looking at and it arguably undermined Mike Schula’s career and had Alabama playing second fiddle to Auburn for a while.

    I think at that level, there’s not a whole lot of margin of error. The USC is not going to be turning in losing seasons any time soon, but neither will they be in the national championship picture until this cloud passes, I don’t think. Of course, with Carroll gone, that may have been the case anyway.

    To be fair, I wouldn’t have seen the lost scholarships as such a big deal myself, but people who generally know better than me are saying that these punishments are extremely harsh. I don’t know enough about recruiting to argue against them on that. So I assume that losing 1/3 of your scholarships over a three year period has a bigger effect than meets the eye.

    #3 – I shouldn’t have said “impossible to recruit” cause that would be overkill. But making it harder helps.

    Interesting idea about just poaching the TV revenue. I’m not sure how that would work since it’s not a contract that they’re really a part of.

  4. Maria says:

    Vacating wins is lame. A two-year suspension from play is deterrence enough, IMHO. Two years away from the game and any team’s program would be in serious rebuilding mode.

    Pac-10 football is gonna be kinda weird this season, with all the turmoil going on. What with Oregon losing their star QB, Pete Carroll gone and USC’s program in a mess. It’s too bad because Pac-10 football is already pretty pathetic, compared to the Big 10 and the SEC. They’re playing in giant state-of-the-art stadiums to super-enthusiastic fans, and we’re sitting on ancient wooden bleachers behind mindless granola crunchers who just want a public place to get high in.

  5. trumwill says:

    Actually, on the field, the Pac-10 is one of the two best conferences in the country! I ran the numbers earlier this year.

    A two-year suspension from play is likely excessive. More than twenty year later, the SMU football program never recovered from that penalty in the late 80’s. I think they’ve decided never to do it again.

  6. Bob V says:

    I think not playing football at all for even a single season is awfully harsh. All those players and coaches just have nothing to do. Cobwebs gather on paid assets. I think that should probably be reserved for programs where there is widespread, wanton disregard for rules from the top to the bottom.

    Also, keep in mind that it’s not necessarily true that another team will step into the void a banned team would create. I think banning USC for a season would be a dead loss.

    #1 vacated wins
    I agree vacating wins is not tough in any respect. I guess I’m just taking it as a required minimum payment. That is why it is important to point out that it is *not* punitive. Punitive payments are necessary and should be evaluated aside from any vacated wins or championships.

    #2 scholarships
    Yes, I know the experts think losing scholarships is a big deal. Yes, I know that they think USC’s punishment is severe. However, I think there is considerable expert bias in this area.
    A. These are the same experts who are used to having endless debates as to who is the #1 high-school prospect in the country and who is #2. They are the ones who obsess over how many people have signed on and how many inches that one guy from Odessa can jump. Of course they are going to accordingly obsess over small differences. 30 scholarships over 3 years is not insignificant, but it should not be overstated either. It is removing the ten least-attractive of the top 30 students they take in in any given year. No more and no less.
    B. USC’s punishment is seen as severe only relative to other punishments at other schools. However, (1) it should be; what they did was egregious. (2) NCAAF punishments are historically wrist slaps. So when someone’s wrist smarts a little harder, it seems hard.
    C. Point to a high-powered school who got sanctioned and whose program had anything more than a temporary slowdown. Scholarships and the like really amount to wrist slaps for the top schools.

  7. Maria says:

    5.Actually, on the field, the Pac-10 is one of the two best conferences in the country! I ran the numbers earlier this year.

    Yeah, but who’s watching ’em? It’s the fans and the facilities that are pathetic, not the teams. Stanford has a new, rather small stadium, and their home side usually only fills up halfway. Cal does a bit better, but its stadium is ancient.

    Contrast with those huge 100k-capacity, modern stadiums in the Big 10. Ohio State, anyone? Those are REAL football fans.

    Pac-10 “fans”: too many fair-weather fans and granola crunchers!

  8. trumwill says:

    Bob, taking away scholarships makes it difficult to get those blue chip recruits. If you’re a blue chip QB and you’re being recruited by LSU and USC, the fact that one of those teams is going to have a full roster of scholarship athletes and one of those schools is not is a serious factor. Coaches pitch the ability to win championships to draw players. Top kids want to play for top programs. There is a cascading effect here.

    It’s hard to point to high-powered schools that have been hit hard because the NCAA rarely comes down on them (see last paragraph of my post). Alabama’s sanctions magically occurred when the team had already been taken down a notch. And there’s always other things to blame a downtick on. I think USC is going to be mediocre for a while, but I thought that before the sanctions because USC hired a mediocre coach.

    Ultimately, though, a temporary slowdown is what we’re after, isn’t it? I mean, if we wanted to dismantle the program we could certainly do that with the death penalty.

  9. trumwill says:

    Maria, the Big Ten did very, very poorly in my analysis (the Mountain West did better by some metrics and always worse than the Big East). But they have the fans which makes the money which makes them relevant regardless.

  10. Maria says:

    That’s just it, will, even if their teams suck, the Big 10 or SEC fans will turn out.

    People in Texas, the Midwest and the South LOVE their football. Too many Pac-10 fans just wanna sit in the sun and get stoned and contemplate all the bright colors milling about on the field.

  11. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    Maria, when you chastize Pac-10 fans for lameness, you clearly aren’t thinking about Oregon. Or Fresno State. Or Washington. Or, for that matter, USC.

    And based on the quality of the football being played, I’m convinced that the national championship game should be the winner of the Pac-10 against the winner of the SEC as a default, until further notice suggests otherwise.

    I don’t know if Bob V’s idea could work for USC in this particular case, but there’s no reason that the NCAA couldn’t require that a program agree to forfeit TV revenues in order to be allowed to compete in the intermural events regulated by the NCAA under appropriate conditions. The NCAA is involved in the contract because the NCAA regulates the way in which teams from different schools, and in particular different conferences, compete against one another. No one would want to leave the NCAA; certainly not USC which would then be unable to play its annual game against Notre Dame.

  12. Maria says:

    11.Maria, when you chastize Pac-10 fans for lameness, you clearly aren’t thinking about Oregon. Or Fresno State. Or Washington. Or, for that matter, USC.

    Well, I agree that the USC fans are rabid. Everywhere else,there are a lot of fair weather fans. Husky Stadium is ancient, and only seats about 70K, and Oregon’s stadium only seats 50K. Of course Washington and Oregon are not big states, but even in California the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum only seat 90K as compared to the 100K+plus stadiums in the MidWest and the South.

    West Coasters just don’t like football as much as some of the other regions of the country. LA doesn’t even have a pro team anymore, and it’s the second-larget city in the nation.

  13. trumwill says:

    Maria, when you chastize Pac-10 fans for lameness, you clearly aren’t thinking about Oregon. Or Fresno State. Or Washington. Or, for that matter, USC.

    Fresno State is in the WAC. I do have to say, though, for a WAC school they have amazing attendance. Something like over twice the conference average.

    And based on the quality of the football being played, I’m convinced that the national championship game should be the winner of the Pac-10 against the winner of the SEC as a default, until further notice suggests otherwise.

    The SEC I can see, but the Pac-10 is spottier around bowl season. The Pac-10 lacks the upper crest that the SEC has even if they are nearly the SEC’s equal from top to bottom.

  14. Maria says:

    Maybe the reason that teams like Alabama and LSU are so important to their fans is because the fans don’t have the much opportunity to do other things besides attend games?

    As opposed to the West Coast where there is a lot of competition for peoples’ attention.

    I’d like to attend a game in an SEC stadium some time just to see what it’s like to sit with people who are real college football lovers.

  15. trumwill says:

    I think that’s part of it. Especially when it comes to LA and the NFL. I think it’s also why some smaller markets like New Orleans and Jacksonville hold on to their teams. I also think there’s a cultural aspect to it. Football is just big in the south.

    Attending a game with 80+k fans is a surreal experience.

  16. Maria says:

    I see that ‘Bama recently approved another expansion to their stadium, which will increase capacity to 102K. Roll Tide!

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