The thing about vacated wins and national championships is that you can’t go back in time. Louisville beat Michigan, 82-76, in the 2013 NCAA tournament men’s basketball championship game.
Until the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee on Tuesday said it didn’t.
The panel didn’t hand the championship to Michigan or force Louisville to forfeit the game. It simply declared the game should not have happened — Louisville players were deemed ineligible in the aftermath of a sex scandal — and therefore, in the NCAA’s eyes, did not.
Now try telling that to athletes and coaches from the 12 Division I teams that have had their national championships vacated since 1971.
“In our minds, we still won it,” said Melissa Luellen, a member of Tulsa’s 1988 women’s golf team, whose NCAA championship was later vacated.
Conceptually, a vacated title is a tough concept for the college sports world to accept. It’s even harder when confronted with all the stuff championship teams have lying around to celebrate their victories: trophies, banners, hats, T-shirts, rings, “One Shining Moment” video tributes.
The NCAA now requires athletic departments to return trophies, take down banners, remove signs and strike language from letterhead that recognizes records or championships achieved during vacated games.
Louisville has already removed its 2012 Final Four banner and 2013 national championship banner from the KFC Yum! Center, a university spokesman said, but the school did not share plans on how it will store them.
Michigan vacated its entire 1992-93 men’s basketball season and every game played from 1995 through the spring of 1999. That includes a Big Ten Tournament title, two Final Four appearances and a National Invitation Tournament championship. The Wolverines’ banners famously sit rolled up in storage on campus.
UCLA does not display its vacated 1995 softball national championship trophy or banner, the university said.
But through 1990, there were no NCAA regulations that mandated athletic departments do anything with the spoils of their (vacated) victories.
The NCAA vacated Syracuse’s 1990 men’s lacrosse national championship after investigators found the head coach’s wife co-signed a car loan for the Orange’s top player. The NCAA record book contains an asterisk next to that year’s title game that states: “After the 1990 championship, the NCAA Committee on Infractions determined that Paul Gait had played in the 1990 championship while ineligible. Under NCAA rules, Syracuse and Paul Gait’s records for that championship were vacated.”
But Syracuse ignored (and continues to ignore) the NCAA’s ruling. The national championship trophy famously went missing before administrators could return it to the NCAA. The school instead commissioned a trophy of comparable shape and size to celebrate the title. Instead of the NCAA logo, it bears a large orange S and reads, “1990 Lacrosse Champion.”
The championship banner still hangs in the Carrier Dome.
Tulsa, whose women’s 1988 golf championship was vacated, still displays the NCAA’s trophy, a school spokesman said.
That golf team didn’t break any NCAA rules. NCAA investigators vacated wins for the entire athletic department after track and field coaches let athletes run under assumed names to bolster roster size.
The golf team still recognizes the victory in its media guides and record books, something that’s outlawed today by the NCAA.
“I still have my ring,” said Luellen, now the women’s golf coach at Auburn. “Nobody ever asked for it back.”
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