Arizona basketball fans will tell you that their Wildcats won 19 games during the 2007-08 season and played West Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
They will tell you because they were there. They saw the games or watched them on television.
Except as of Thursday, those games didn’t happen.
In its ruling against Arizona and former coach Lute Olson, the NCAA whipped out its favorite new punishment -- Arizona will vacate the 2007-08 season (among other penalties).
Erase it from the record books (I always envision some gigantic eraser dropping from the Indianapolis sky to smite the aggrieved school) and put the Scarlet Letter scourge of college athletics next to it -- the dreaded asterisk.
But until the NCAA pencil-pushers who serve as judge and jury find a way to perform group lobotomies, the whole vacated thing to me seems about as toothless as Bobby Clarke’s smile.
Arizona fans bought tickets and sat in the stands for the 2007-08 season. Just because someone sitting at a conference room said it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
I get the stain and embarrassment part and I understand that, if your school won a national championship or played in a Final Four, taking down those banners could be rather humiliating.
But as Olson enjoys retirement, what exactly does vacating wins do to him? Maybe forces him to shank one on the 11th fairway when he first hears the news.
Otherwise, it’s a sting equivalent to ripping off a Band-Aid. It hurts at first but fades rather quickly. Heck, they aren’t even his wins anyway. That was the one and only season of Kevin O’Neill, who is now at USC and is again paying for mistakes made by others.
If the NCAA really wants people to remember the Wildcats have vacated a game or a season, it has to put some muscle behind its sanction. If a coach commits a violation that forces his team to vacate a season or a game, suspend him. Make up a sliding scale -- the more games vacated or more dire the violation, the longer the coach sits.
If an athlete is involved, make him or her sit, too.
If the coach is retired or working elsewhere and the athlete has moved on, I believe the word restitution resonates with people. Arizona probably forked over quite a bit of money for this little NCAA investigation. Lawyers aren’t cheap.
But until then -- or a discount on that group lobotomy comes in -- people aren’t going to forget just because the NCAA asks them to.