Though the school would later win an appeal to get its penalty reduced, the Tide still wound up with two years’ probation and the loss of 17 scholarships.

Bush’s dealings have put the Trojans on the brink of NCAA sanctions.

Six and a half years later, in early 2002, Alabama got hit yet again, this time to the tune of five years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 15 scholarships over three years. Dealing with a repeat offender, the NCAA actually toyed with the idea of doling out the “death penalty” for the first time since SMU had gotten the treatment 15 years earlier.

“God forbid there’s ever another appearance – ever,” said Thomas Yeager, then head of the NCAA infractions committee. “Should there be one – particularly within the five-year [probation] period – I don’t know what [other punishment] is left.”

Wouldn’t you know, we got a chance to find out in 2009, when Alabama was busted yet again for violations, some of which actually did take place during that five-year (2002-06) probation period that Yeager referenced.

The big punishment? Three more years of probation and the “vacating” of 21 football wins between 2005 and 2007.

Alabama has gone to BCS bowl games the last two years, winning the national title in 2009. Heck of a lot of good those “punishments” did. Anyone want to take bets on when the next set of violations will be uncovered?

Why do I bring all of this up? Because the University of Southern California, arguably Notre Dame’s biggest football rival, was set to be “punished” by the NCAA on Thursday, reportedly receiving a sentence very similar to what Alabama got in 2002 – five years’ probation, a two-year postseason ban and a loss of several scholarships.

The question, really is this: So what?

Alabama received essentially the same punishment and won a national championship just seven years later, in its third season after probation was lifted. Is there any reason for us to think that the Trojans – essentially the Lakers to Notre Dame’s Celtics in college football lore – can’t accomplish the same thing?

My guess is that USC will be playing for a national championship again by 2016 or so. (Hopefully by then we’ll at least have a playoff.)

Here’s the problem – because the NCAA’s punishments don’t have any teeth, there is zero incentive not to cheat. That’s why we see so many repeat offenders (see Tide, Crimson) doing the same thing over and over. Vacating wins does nothing – the world still remembers seeing it happen, no matter what the history book says. Until Usain Bolt came along, I still considered Ben Johnson the fastest man ever, because he had run faster than anyone. It doesn’t matter that Johnson’s time was nullified – we still all saw him run it. Likewise, even if you strip USC of its 2004 national title, we all still remember them winning the game. You can’t undo what’s already done.

What you can do, however, is take the money that the doings did. Make USC or any offending school pay back any money, with interest, that it wrongfully earned for bowls, championships, what have you. Heck, make them offer a rebate to anyone that bought a championship sweatshirt. These days, hitting someone in the wallet is the only way to make them listen – the money is the main reason they’re cheating in the first place.

Well, actually, it’s not the only way. If the NCAA really wants to earn some respect, then it needs to get nasty again and bring back the death penalty. We’re nearly a quarter century removed now from the execution of Southern Methodist, and while the Mustangs still haven’t fully recovered, nobody else seems to remember or take it seriously. There’s a bit of lawlessness in college football that needs to be snuffed out, and unless the NCAA wants to keep going the way of the United Nations, it needs to act forcefully and bring down the guillotine.

The beheaded can’t be an also-ran like Florida International or Hawaii, either. It has to be one of the ruling elite – like, say, repeat offender Alabama. Only then will the other big boys learn to play nice.

If the NCAA can’t do that, then it needs to go away. There’s no room in amateur (yes, I realize I’m using that term extremely loosely) sports for a governing body that doesn’t govern.

Either enforce the rules – you know, the ones that are supposed to prevent programs like Alabama and USC from getting away with this stuff – or stop pretending you have any.

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