A standard feature of NCAA enforcement is to pretend that things that clearly happened in the past did not, in fact, happen. When the NCAA decides a team has broken its rules, it often adjusts that team’s record and scraps old victories.
That’s dumb, for a few reasons: It’s impossible to quantify exactly how much of a team’s record happened because of NCAA violations. NCAA violations are often silly in the first place. And it’s weird to try to adjust reality years after the fact. But the NCAA does it anyway.
So these are some of best games ever that didn’t happen:
2008 basketball national title game: Kansas vs. Memphis
You can’t not see Mario Chalmers’ shot, which is what any argument against the validity of vacating games boils down to. The NCAA wants us to zap that from our collective memory because they can’t verify Derrick Rose’s SAT scores. Pfft.
Even before Chalmers’ game-tying three — one of the most iconic heaves of any Final Four, ever — the title game between John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers and Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks was as entertaining as is humanly possible for a college basketball game to be. That setup is usually how any game arrives at a seminal deciding moment. The stakes leading up to that point have to be major. At that point, neither Calipari or Self had made it past the Elite Eight but were paid like they already had. Derrick Rose was pretty clearly going to be a one-and-done at a time when that was still considered a sacrilegious (and bratty) declaration and he, I kid you not, missed the media day for the game because he ate too much candy. But midway through the second half of the game, with his team down one, Rose reeled off 10 straight points to give the team what felt like an insurmountable lead. And then Memphis lost that lead, in front of a crowd that included both Penny Hardaway AND Yo Gotti, because Rose and others couldn’t hit free throws.
This game was very good, very bad, and then gave us an iconic final play…basically the entire narrative arc of One Shining Moment in a single game. In the true mark of sports entertainment, it also gave us spectators and nerds and purists several compelling Basketball Things to argue about afterwards. FREE THROWS. One-and-dones vs. vet leadership. Let ‘em play vs. call a timeout and coach ‘em up. Etc. etc.
It was also proof of a central fact that the NCAA refuses to directly acknowledge in any meaningful way. Winning games isn’t a coach’s (or a player’s) only job. Creating an entertaining product is. And because creating an entertaining product is the surest path to financial viability — for the NCAA, conferences, athletic departments, coaches, players … — stakeholders will continue to do whatever they can to make sure that compelling games with talented players will still happen. And they’ll be unforgettable. You’re all welcome.
2013 basketball national title game: Louisville vs. Michigan
Louisville won one of the best national championship games in recent memory, 82-76. The first half was particularly great. Michigan’s star guard, Trey Burke, went to the bench quickly because of foul trouble. Backup Spike Albrecht — a 5’11, 170-pound kid named Spike — came on in relief and flushed four 3-pointers, getting UM out to a nice lead.
Louisville reserve forward Luke Hancock answered with his own barrage of threes, beating Albrecht’s 4-of-5 mark from deep by going 5-of-5. The Cardinals pulled ahead and stayed ahead late, with the help of a miserable foul call on a clean Burke block of Chane Behanan. Louisville had to vacate its title after a prostitution and stripping scandal.
2009 ACC football title game: Georgia Tech vs. Clemson
Georgia Tech’s 11-win season didn’t count. Something about $312 worth of clothing and “a friend of an employee of a sports agency” threw a wrench into things. But we’ll always have the ACC Championship, which featured the Yellow Jackets mounting a game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter to win the league.
2005 football: USC vs. Notre Dame
The Bush Push!
The NCAA vacated USC’s entire season (and the one before it) because it found that Bush accepted gifts from agents. But the only thing Bush accepted in this game was a healthy push into the end zone from Matt Leinart with four seconds left in South Bend.
2005 football: Fresno State vs. USC
Bush’s best game in an absurd college career featured him putting up 362 total yards against the Bulldogs in a 50-42 barnburner of a win.
1993 Final Four: Michigan vs. Kentucky
The Fab Five’s 81-78 overtime win against UK in the national semifinal didn’t count, though their loss to North Carolina in the next game did. (The NCAA only vacates wins, usually.)
2012 football: Pitt vs. Notre Dame
The entire reason the country had to be subjected to Notre Dame getting steamrolled by Alabama in the BCS Championship is that Pitt’s kicker missed a 33-yard field goal in double overtime that would’ve ended Notre Dame’s unbeaten regular season on Nov. 3. Notre Dame won in the next OT and went on to the title game, where bad things happened to it.
The NCAA later called academic shenanigans on Notre Dame and vacated all of its 2012 wins.
2011 Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arkansas
This turned out to be Jim Tressel’s last game leading Ohio State, for the same reason the game didn’t ultimately count. The “scandal” that involved Ohio State players getting tattoos resulted in the vacation of the Buckeyes’ record. But this Sugar Bowl was a good one, with the Buckeyes making a late defensive stand to beat Ryan Mallett’s Hogs.
This also ended up likely preventing an Ohio State-Notre Dame 2012 BCS title game, which probably would’ve been a fairer fight for the Irish.
1996 Final Four: UMass vs. Kentucky
John Calipari’s Minutemen had an incredible year. The Minutemen went 35-2 and made the Final Four for what’s still the only time in their history. The NCAA negated their NCAA tournament record when it ruled center Marcus Camby had taken agent gifts. That dropped the Minutemen to 31-1 after the fact, and they had to take down their Final Four banner. Kentucky won the title game, 84-71, and got to keep it — but UMass’ appearance didn’t count, meaning one half of this game’s story officially didn’t happen.
1999 Elite Eight: Ohio State vs. St. John’s
The Buckeyes beat the Johnnies, 77-74, to punch a Final Four ticket. Both of these programs had a fair bit of NCAA trouble and had to vacate wins in the years around the turn of the century, but it was the Buckeyes who had to discount this win (and their Final Four trip) after coach Jim O’Brien copped to paying a recruit $6,000 years earlier
1985 Elite Eight: Memphis vs. Oklahoma
The Tigers reached the Final Four by pulling off a 63-61 win against No. 1-seeded OU. This was a great game, tight all the way through. It was tied at 33 at the half, and 2-seed Memphis — still called Memphis State at this point — sealed things at the foul line late.
An NCAA investigation turned up cash payments to Memphis players by coach Dana Kirk. Memphis has thus had to vacate two of its three Final Four appearances ever.