IMHO it is completely valid for the NCAA to force teams to vacate championships, and by association, things like championship game berths, Final Four appearances, etc. due to ineligibility issues discovered after the fact.
On the other hand, I don’t think regular-season wins should be vacated (ala BYU, Memphis with Derrick Rose, and such). I think it’s perfectly fine to strip championships and postseason/individual honors because of cheating, but it seems overkill to pretend that the entire team never existed. Barring teams from postseason play and/or invalidating championships serves to assert that the point is in the spirit of the game - which, regardless of what a farce it is in the ESPN/March Madness/big-money era we are in, is still the manifest goal of college sports - is more important than results. You played, but you cheated.
Recently a lot of bruhaha has been raised about players either capitalizing on their fame as student-athletes (Terrelle Pryor and OSU) or being flat-out bribed by universities and boosters (Reggie Bush, Cam Newton). In the latter case, it parallels the concerns about academic requirements being fudged, in that schools are deliberately bending/breaking the rules about how they can and can’t recruit. In the former? It can be tricky to ascertain whether the player is benefiting from what they have achieved as a player (in the form of free/cheap tattoos?) or if this is only a form of delayed bribery. Convoluted.
The BYU situation in particular is very strange because on it’s face it doesn’t seem to involve any kind of competitive advantage. Any fan of college sports can understand how faking a prospective student-athlete’s SAT score so they can attend Prestigious School X on a football scholarship or offering bullshit classes so student-athletes can circumvent GPA requirements gives a school an advantage on the field/court. Faking academic eligibility gives a team a player who probably would not have been on the team in the first place - and every other team in the league/division should have a grievance.
But is there a competitive advantage to covering up (for lack of a better word) shower rape? I guess the scandal breaking earlier might have tarnished the football program as a whole and made people less likely to commit to PSU… but I don’t believe that, had Paterno and the other Penn St. higher-ups involved in the cover-up simply put an end to such perversion as soon as they knew about it, it would have hurt the program, either. The lasting harm to PSU’s legacy is not the act, it is the conspiracy and cowardice that enabled it to continue without being stopped.
However, I don’t know if that fell under the NCAA’s “jurisdiction” (which is a topic in and of itself). Was it illegal? Yes. Was it despicable? Yes. That’s why when Paterno died not long after all the news broke he did so a shamed man in exile, and it’s why, from what I can gather, various other PSU officials are looking at prison time (and may have already been convicted, I must admit I haven’t kept up-to-date on this story).
That still doesn’t justify, again IMHO, throwing away all those seasons and pretending they never happened. Punishments like scholarship reduction, loss of bowl eligibility? Sure - to send a message that this kind of shit can’t be tolerated.
If there are any Southern Methodist fans/alumni around, I’d love to hear their opinions on the big scandal of the 1980s and the subsequent “death penalty.” Admittedly, it was a little before my time and I have only a passing knowledge of what went down.