Vacating Wins and Titles is Wrong

     In 2014, the Jackie Robinson West Little League in Chicago won the U.S. Championship.  Oh wait, no they didn’t.  It was Mountain West Little League from Las Vegas.  In fact, the Jackie Robinson West Little League didn’t win any games.  They lost six times by a score of 6-0, even though it’s a double-elimination tournament.  Wait, I’m getting word in now that Jackie Robinson West never even went to the Little League World Series in the first place.  Oh right, it was New Albany, Indiana.  How could I have forgotten?
     If the opening paragraph sounded strange to you, good.  It should have.  In actuality, Jackie Robinson West (I’ll call them JRW from now on) did win the U.S. title, and they were the team which fell to South Korea in the championship game.  However, because of an investigation which resulted in Little League claiming JRW used ineligible players from outside their district (which they deny was done purposefully, but let’s be real).  The punishment?  All of their wins at the LLWS were vacated, their title was stripped, and even their LL qualification title to play in Williamsport was taken away.  But there’s one catch: it wasn’t the players’ faults.

     These kids are between 11 and 13 years old.  They have no idea what the district requirements are, and their parents probably don’t either.  The responsibility falls on the people who run JRW, those behind the scenes, for cheating and placing more emphasis on winning than teaching fundamentals and sportsmanship. The goal is always winning, but doing so through legal means and teaching kids the correct way to play the game.  Because of their inability to follow established rules, an entire team of young ballplayers and their families now suffer.
     This team had a great story.  JRW was the first all African-American team to appear in the LLWS in decades, and it was really enjoyable to see the team having a blast and continuing to win as the tournament went on.  These kids were even able to go to the White House and meet President Obama, an experience they surely will never forget.  Why take away from their accomplishments by stripping them of a title they clearly won.  Little League can try to rewrite the record books any way they want, but it doesn’t change what we have on video and in our memories, that JRW won.  We all know it, and that fact can’t go away, so why put an asterisk next to their accomplishments or try to hide them?  They won.  Period.  The means by which they won were illegal, and although we have to focus on eliminating all forms of cheating, you can’t erase what’s already been done.
     Sure, this is can be a touchy subject for people.  Nobody wants to advocate cheating, as it is the worst offense in competitions.  However, does the many really need to be punished for the actions of the few?  I’m sure we’ve all been in a classroom where a teacher allows the students to talk quietly, but when two or three people are loud and can’t lower their voices, everyone loses the speaking privilege.  Remember how much you wanted to protest, “It’s not my fault!”, and how much you hated those two or three kids at the moment?  Well that’s the situation we’re putting these kids into.  Except this time it’s the adults ruining it for everyone, the ones that should’ve already grown up.  Just as every kid wants only the trouble-makers to be punished, I say the Little League should have just given life-bans to those responsible.
     The only reason I can somewhat understand this punishment is because it is they used an ineligible player, which I guess gives them some slight unfair advantage.  But then again, the same can be said for the Patriots in Deflate-gate (and probably most other games they played), but we don’t see the NFL vacating the Patriots’ wins and taking back the Lombardi Trophy, now do we?
     Win and title vacation isn’t just an issue in Little League.  Usually, the idea of vacating wins comes from the NCAA, where numerous teams have been issued punishments which include taking away some of their victories.  In fact, 42 schools have had college basketball wins vacated, and while many of them have interesting stories, I want to focus on a football case: namely USC’s 2004 title and 2005 season.  Long story short, USC, led by Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, went undefeated in 2004, and whooped Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl for the National Championship.  They then had another undefeated season in 2005, but lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl by a last second Vince Young scramble, ending their quest for back-to-back national titles.  However, after an investigation, Bush was found to have received gifts, illegal for college players, and the 2004 title and entire 2005 season were vacated, along with a two-year postseason ban and 30 lost scholarships (only a bit excessive…).
     This is generally seen as a travesty, and for good reason.  The only people responsible for the actions that led to the NCAA’s consequences were Reggie Bush and his family.  It should have been enough for the NCAA to strip Bush of all the awards he won (including a Heisman Trophy), but instead the entire team, school, and fan base suffered from Bush’s actions.  Now no mention of the National Championship or the 2005 season as a whole exists, and it’s almost as if Bush never went to the school.
     The final example I’ll use of a team having a title vacated is the 2002 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship, won by Hawaii.  After winning, it was revealed that four-time All-American Costas Theocharidis played professionally in Europe before attending Hawaii, and although he was never paid, playing professionally takes away one’s NCAA eligibility.  Take a wild guess what the NCAA did.  Oh hey, Hawaii.  Remember that title we just gave you?  Well, we’re taking it back.  Take that, cheaters.  Again, I’ll make my point clear.  Try to stop cheating earlier (in this case the rules were a bit fuzzy on international semi-professional sports), remove the accolades/positions of offenders, but let the schools keep their titles.  They did win, after all.
     I think it’s outrageous for titles to be removed from their rightful owners, but I also think taking wins away is generally wrong.  Derrick Rose had someone take his SAT for him, which made him ineligible for college athletics.  However, this was only discovered after he played at Memphis.  The NCAA then proceeded to vacate all wins from the 2007-08 season which saw Memphis lose in the National Championship game to Kansas, finishing the year 38-2.  Due to the vacation, the team went 0-1.  Joe Paterno had over 100 wins stripped away for the Penn State scandal (they were eventually returned), even though the scandal had nothing to do with football.  Even the Fab-5 received illegal gifts.  However, none of it takes away their accomplishments on the court.
     The NCAA seems to believe that if any team violated any rules whatsoever they can just vacate wins and the problem will be solved.  That’s not how it works.  You crack down on cheating by making promises of banning players and coaches and those responsible for LIFE.  Is that excessive?  Maybe, but it’s the right kind of excessive.  It forces institutions to run tight ships and it might be able to eliminate cheating.  Maybe then we can stop worrying about fair play and put all our focus on the games.

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