It would be fascinating to see the data of where the site traffic was coming from. My guess is the state of Alabama in first place, and the state of Tennessee in second place. Third place? The state of Louisiana. Followed by Mississippi and Georgia in fourth and fifth place. Seeing data on a day like this would serve to objectively catalog the relative hate and strength of rivalries in the Southland once and for all. But that's too much to ask, the NCAA can't even keep their Web site functioning. This was the message on the front page of the site:
NCAA.org is experiencing temporary technical problems. Please try again in a few minutes. Some services can still be accessed through the links below.
In all, the NCAA found that 201 Alabama athletes were guilty of violating NCAA rules, but that only 22 athletes in football, men's and women's track, and men's tennis took "intentional" advantage of the textbook situation to provide additional textbooks to girlfriends, boyfriends, or other associates. (Basically, Alabama athletes took their textbooks to a special exit and were not challenged about whether the books they took were necessary for their own studies. Football players rang up the four highest totals for excess use from $2,714.62 to $3,947.19.) You can read the full report yourself here. (After over an hour, the NCAA Web site is finally functioning again.)
Now we're left with several questions, namely, does vacating wins really serve any purpose? Certainly most Alabama fans are arguing the penalties don't matter at all. I got this e-mail shortly after the news broke of the penalties, "Clay, the NCAA taking away wins is like a girl trying to take away sex after she finds out you lied to get her in bed. You still had the sex."
But, and maybe it's because I've just spent the past six months looking up stats and records for Tennessee football as research for my new book, I do care about vacating wins. It's not a debilitating penalty, but it is a nice smack in the face that's hard to ignore in the modern era. In the Internet age, looking up school records takes no time at all. These penalties actually sting much more than they did in the past when they were only reflected in musty old media guides.
Sure, it may not sting as much for those who remember the actual on-field victories themselves, but this is extremely shortsighted. Especially for a sport like college football where season and rivalry records are so important to the historical record. For people who never experienced the games, they'll just review the win or loss in the record books and not think twice about the circumstances surrounding them. That's the vast majority of fans. Even if you witnessed the game yourself, in seven or eight years games start to run together and all you have to see are the records themselves.
For instance, while I was doing research on the 1993 Alabama-Tennessee game, I came across the Wikipedia page for the Third Saturday in October which chronicles the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry over the years. Editors have put Alabama wins in red and Tennessee wins in orange. Ties are left in white. Staring at a color-coded rivalry page is strangely mesmerizing. As I worked my way through the games, I winced or I grinned as memories of each game flooded back over me. The years from 1986 to 1992 were like repetitive computer paper cuts. (Note: I had no idea that you could feel your hand getting papercuts while typing on a keyboard before this moment.)
Then I got to 1993. In 1993, Alabama's David Palmer scored on a two-point conversion run that tied the game at 17. I'd never been more defeated by a football game. Even without losing. And there it stayed lodged in my memory, I thought for all eternity. But then, lo and behold, the game was changed to orange and a note added to the bottom of the page, reflecting ensuing NCAA sanctions on Alabama.
I can't tell you how much immeasurably better my life would be if we'd actually won that game on the field. But seeing it colored orange on the computer screen? I'm not going to lie, it made me feel a little bit better. And that's when it hit me, vacation of wins is a much stronger penalty in the Internet era than it ever has been in the past. Sure, I'd read about Alabama's probation, but I hadn't actually seen it physically in front of me. Today those changes are easy to find.
One day my son is going to grow up and I'm going to tell him about the great game that Tennessee won over Alabama back in 1993. And he'll believe me once he checks it on the Internet.
Now, the distinction between a vacated win and a forfeit is something of a metaphysical NCAA mystery. Alabama doesn't win games, but their opponent doesn't either. What a mess. Only an NCAA rule would even allow a vacated win category to exist. It's like the games never happened at all for one side? How does this make any sense at all? As a result every school will have a lopsided record book with Alabama, the opponent counts the loss on their books but Alabama can't count the win.
Ultimately though, fans and players die, records don't. That's why, if you're an intelligent college football fan, you should care about wins being vacated. Even if vacated wins are a weird NCAA construction. In fact, and I may be in the minority on this, I'd rather give up a few scholarships in the future than have to give up the wins my team actually garnered on the field.
Some other things to ponder as the probation dust settles:
Who Actually Won the Florida State-Alabama game in 2007?
On the field, Florida State won 21-14 on Sept. 27, 2007, but now Florida State is likely to be forced to vacate this win. So Alabama lost this game but Florida State didn't win it. Imagine the metaphysical mystery of this game if Florida State was forced to forfeit. Then they'd try to give the win to Alabama but Alabama couldn't take it. Seriously, vacating wins makes my head spin.
Legal Issue: Coaching Contracts and Wins Clauses
What happens if a coach isn't implicated in any wrongdoing, but his wins are stripped and as a result his contract hits a snag when it comes to negotiating a required pay increase tied to wins? Can you retroactively take back the pay increase? Has litigation like this ever ensued? What about when it sets off a triggering mechanism in other coaching contracts? Like if a coach's contract requires him to be among the top three highest paid coaches and someone passes him with a record that later gets vacated? Can you imagine the legal complexities since so many coaching contracts are intertwined now? It makes my head swim just thinking about it.
No One Wins?
On the vacating of wins, only the NCAA would design a system where teams can manage to lose a game that no one wins. That's what happens for anyone who lost to Alabama during this time frame. According to the NCAA:
The won-lost records for each of the opposing teams are not changed when games are vacated.
So doesn't this change the record books for the teams and put them on two different tracks in the series history? Yep. For instance, Tennessee gives Alabama credit for a win that Alabama can't claim? And maybe two wins. So Tennessee has the series record all-time as Alabama with one or two more wins than Alabama has themselves having. How does this make any sense at all? It's like being a little bit pregnant. Somewhere Mike Shula is kicking things. As if his era of Alabama football didn't look bad already, they are taking away some of his wins. From his best year as a coach? Ouch.
Fortunately the NCAA offers this helpful note:
This puts Alabama in the system for five years as an NCAA violator. Meaning any additional penalties they might face would be looked at even more stringently. This is perhaps the most lasting danger to the Crimson Tide. Maybe by then the NCAA Web site will stand up to the site traffic.