I got an Information Please or Sports Illustrated Sports Almanac from my grandmother for nearly every Christmas between 1991-2015. A lot of the information in these were fairly repetitive, but I still loved opening up my new sports almanac every year and diving into various statistics & records. If I needed to know who won the third-most NASCAR races behind Richard Petty & David Pearson, or how many people fit inside the Rose Bowl, or who had led the National League in batting average in 1956, I could open up my sports almanac and find this information.
At some point we started getting cute with these things. Specifically, the National Collegiate Athletic Association started getting cute with these things. I remember looking at the college basketball Final Four page and seeing a few spots marked “Vacant”. There would be little letters representing footnotes next to them, and at the bottom of the page there would be passages about how a school had to vacate the spot due to ineligible players or other mitigating factors. I didn’t really think about it too much at the time, but it did seem odd that the NCAA felt the best way to punish these schools was to take their name out of the sports almanac.
Sports almanacs stopped being a thing a few years ago. Information Please, later branded with the ESPN letters, stopped making them in 2009. Sports Illustrated went a few years longer, but their last edition I can find record of (or have a copy of) went out in 2015. The Internet has made publications like these irrelevant, as now you can type anything you’re wondering about into Google and find out that way. Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the days when I would look up so many things in my Almanac that the spine would get destroyed. My 1994 edition was in a couple of pieces by the time I was done with it. I had a lot of questions that year.
Also, I get the feeling that people don’t want to find out the facts as much as they used to. Better to go with what they feel in their heart than to get out a book and find out what actually happened. That doesn’t help almanac sales.
So now kids go to Wikipedia if they want to find the list of NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. And there’s a pretty good likelihood that pretty soon instead of “Louisville” next to the year 2013, “Vacant” will be there with a footnote.
I’m not here to defend the University of Louisville and how its representatives conducted themselves during the recruitment of athletes. As an alumni of the institution, I am shocked that the University would allow business to be conducted in such a way, and appalled that there was never anything like it during my recruitment. I always knew academics took a backseat at Louisville, but I had no idea the differences were that vast, y’all.
Seriously though, I disavow the actions of Andre McGee while representing my alma mater. What he did was reprehensible, and his refusal to take any responsibility for his actions or to answer to the NCAA or anybody else is shameful. If McGee learned anything during his time at Louisville as a student-athlete or working for the basketball program, it doesn’t seem to have been anything good. Whether Rick Pitino knew what was going on or not, it’s obvious that he failed in teaching McGee the difference between right & wrong, and it’s hard to feel sorry for him getting suspended for a few games as a result.
One can make the argument that the NCAA getting hot and bothered over sex while turning a blind eye to athletes at the University of North Carolina being awarded credits for bogus classes is rather hypocritical, and it is. The University of Louisville decided to cooperate with an NCAA investigation while that institution didn’t, and they are getting hammered while UNC won’t face any consequences for their actions. In that light, it isn’t fair. However, it should be expected. And I certainly don’t want to be the one to make the argument that prostitutes should be used in recruiting, because that certainly isn’t the case.
There was a time in my life when the thought of vacating a national championship seemed like the end of the world. OK, it wasn’t that long ago. I used to take more pride in the accomplishments of my sports teams than my own accomplishments…which gets really sad when you realize that the professional sports teams I root for have combined for one world championship during my lifetime. Eventually I reached the point where I realized that the only accomplishments that can really change my life in a positive way are the ones that I achieve.
Much more importantly, I’ve managed to finally figure out that a loss for my sports teams isn’t the same thing as a loss for me. I used to get really depressed after my teams would have big losses. Playoff losses were especially bitter. I don’t know if it was the fact that I got used to them thanks to my teams, or if I noticed that the sun still came out the next day and everything was the same in my everyday life. My perspective on sports is much different than it was when I was in college attending Louisville games, or even a couple of years ago when I started writing columns for Dustin’s blog. A Stanley Cup Final loss for the Preds a couple of years ago might have set off a week of binge drinking and uselessness. This week, it’s provided fuel for other worthwhile endeavors and motivation for the future.
I made a point in my Preds Playoff Thoughts column earlier this week that all we can count on for sure from our sports teams are memories. Coming up short in the Stanley Cup Final didn’t take away all my positive memories of the Preds sweeping the Blackhawks & beating the Blues & Ducks on their way to the Final. The Cincinnati Bengals continually come up short in the playoffs, but that doesn’t take away from my positive memories of Boomer Esiason & Anthony Munoz leading the team in the early 90s or Chad Johnson’s touchdown celebrations in the 2000s. The Cincinnati Reds have lost more games than they’ve won for most of my existence, but that doesn’t take away from the positive memories I have of going to games with the grandmother that gave me a sports almanac for Christmas every year for two decades.
Those “Vacated” teams in the sports almanacs existed. Their fans watched them win games and make deep runs in the postseason. The NCAA later saying it didn’t happen doesn’t make it so.
And the NCAA vacating a Louisville basketball national championship doesn’t mean that I didn’t see it happen.
You want to take it away, NCAA? Come and get it.
You might be able to get the University to take down their piece of cloth from the rafters of the KFC Yum! Center.
You might be able to put the word “Vacant” in the record books.
You’ll have to take my pennant, t-shirts & other mementos out of my cold, dead hands.
You’ll never take my memories.