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NCAA punishes Alabama with double-whammy: an asterisk and a footnote

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You've likely heard by now that the NCAA is forcing the Alabama football team to vacate 21 wins from 2005 - 2007. Clay Travis thinks that forcing teams to vacate wins "is a much stronger penalty in the Internet era than it ever has been in the past," but he appears to be in the minority. Deadspin says it's nothing. Spencer Hall likens it to a ball-control bowl victory over the NCAA for 'Bama despite "a few harmless turnovers and missed field goals." And pudding proof: Alabama fans with web sites reacted to the news by taunting rivals.

The point I think Clay underestimates is that it's not just official records that are forever-archived on the interwebosphere, everything is, and that includes all of those posts I just linked and thousands more that will follow later today. Even the official records aren't just scrubbed -- they're asterisked and explained, opening the door for fans and programs to fuss about who really won. Did the team with the most points on the board when the clock hit zeroes win, or did both teams lose? If the game was unfair for some reason -- and invalidating a win suggests that it was -- then why doesn't the other team get the win? These are the arguments that will be waged on the internet, and because there's no clear answer, the loudest and most persistent voices will revise history accordingly, footnotes or not.

This infraction by Alabama isn't buying players, no, but it's fairly serious. The NCAA found that 201 Alabama athletes were guilty of violating NCAA rules. Twenty-two of them were found to have done so intentionally. Four football players' pocketed cash extra benefits amounted to between $2,714.62 and $3,947.19.

And it all happened to a repeat offender. Alabama's now been put on probation for the fourth time in 14 years. They've been boomerang visitors to the principal's office since 1995. They've committed major violations while supposedly doing penance for committing major violations.

Sure, there are problems with some sanctions because they penalize the innocent. Giving a program the death penalty impacts television contracts, which are generally awarded to conferences, not schools. I don't want to miss watching one of a scare number of Tennessee football games just because Alabama can't be on TV.

But an asterisk that will be completely undone by fan sites? No. If all of the above information about Alabama's historical problems with the NCAA are accurate, the only way to really penalize a program without also inflicting collateral damage on innocent bystanders is to limit scholarships. Let them compete live in front of a television audience on an uneven playing field. Otherwise, it will only lead to a battle of revisionist historians waged on the internet by rival fans.