UPDATE: On July 20, 2010, USC president Nikias announced that the university would return Reggie Bush’s Heisman to the Heisman Trophy Trust, as well as remove his and OJ Mayo’s murals and jerseys from the campus.
UPDATE II: On September 15, 2010 Reggie Bush returned his own Heisman Trophy.
If you follow college sports, you’re probably aware that the University of Southern California was recently hit with a series of punishments by the NCAA.
“The NCAA has ruled that the University of Southern California athletic department exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009 for a wide array of rules violations committed in its football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs,” per Rivals.com.
The main penalties were doled out to the football team and include a two-year ban from Bowl games and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years. What’s interesting to me is the part where USC was ordered to vacate victories in football for the time period in which tailback Reggie Bush was deemed ineligible.
With rare exceptions, I find vacating wins to be a pointless endeavor. Does it send a message? I guess. But is there any tangible harm done to the school?
The games were still played, and even if we go back and change the record books, it doesn’t change what we witnessed.
Rooting for a sports team isn’t about rooting for a specific result. Sure we want our teams to win, but we’re watching for the whole experience more than anything.
Suppose USC vacates their BCS Championship game evisceration of Oklahoma in January of 2005. Technically, this means Oklahoma was the champion that year. Does it change the memory of the game if you’re a Sooner fan?
What it comes down to is the meaning we attach to events and what happens when that meaning is altered. The games can’t be replayed, so the best thing we can do is try to strip the old meaning away from them and replace it with a new one. But the human mind doesn’t always work that way. Sure, sometimes we can look back on an incident which more information has been presented to us with a changed attitude, but somehow I doubt Oklahoma fans will be firing up the VCRs and gleefully replaying their 55-19 loss.
Frankly, it makes me wish the NCAA would concentrate more on the future and less on the past. I know people will say “It’s not fair to punish current players for what past players did,” but to me, that’s better than the alternative.
Exactly how has Reggie Bush been punished by this ruling? He’s still got tens of millions of dollars, a Super Bowl ring, and national fame. Is the essentially symbolic vacating of his National Championship trophy going to keep him up at night? Is Pete Carroll going to be racked with guilt as he walks the NFL sidelines? I doubt it.
What does this mean for USC? It’s hard to say. The bowl ban might hurt, but USC’s string of Rose Bowl/BCS appearances ended last year anyway. The scholarship loss will likely have a bigger impact, although USC’s a big enough fish that their quality may overcome the quantity. The Trojans will be down, but eventually, they’ll get back up. This isn’t the first time a major college team has been nailed with major infractions, and it won’t be the last.