What is a Vacated Win?

by Jason Fertig

I don’t understand why the NCAA did not cancel the Penn State football program for the foreseeable future (i.e. give it the “death penalty”), perhaps for several decades. That seems like a logical way to move forward after the heinous and disgusting events. Penn State football games should be out of the public eye for a long time.

Instead, the punishment is spiteful, confusing, and Orwellian. Fines, lost scholarships — fine. Forcing the school to vacate wins? What exactly does that entail? The AP ran a Q&A on this issue that does not clarify much. If the school cannot claim the wins in the record books, what about Larry Johnson’s rushing yards or LaVar Arrington’s tackles? Did they still happen?

In thinking of an analogy to NCAA’s punishment tactics — I don’t want to draw a parallel to the horrific acts committed by the coach who does not deserve his name mentioned anywhere — consider this scenario:

A high-school-football running back is caught cheating. The principal investigates, and learns that the student has been cheating since he came to the school, but no teacher ever reported him aside from in-class discipline. In wanting to put this kid in his place, the school hands down the following punishment:

1. He receives detention for the rest of his school career

2. If he wants to graduate, he must retake every class in which he cheated

3. He will still be eligible to play football, but he is not allowed to practice — he will be unprepared for each game

4. All of his past stats are removed from the school’s records, but the results of the games still stand.

Why not kick the guy off the team and expel him from school, but let the statistics stand? Sports is secondary to morality, but bad people can win games. Some athletes enshrined in the various sports halls of fame were not choir boys. O. J. is still is a Heisman Trophy winner.

Scrubbing sports record books sounds like the old Soviet joke — “the future is known; it’s the past that keeps changing.” Penn State needed the hammer dropped, but thanks to the NCAA, we now have a new way to debate the death penalty.