How can something that so many people worked for be awarded to no one?
That is the reality of the 2004 BCS National Championship.
And it is a shame.
Universities, coaches, players, parents, fans and boosters all put their sweat, time and money toward one goal: winning the national championship in college football. It is one of sports' greatest and most difficult achievements and to leave one vacated is simply unacceptable.
If a team won the championship by breaking the rules, they should vacate the title. It makes sense; cheaters should not be rewarded.
However, to leave no one as champion cannot happen. There always have to be a winner and a loser but now, the BCS says in 2004, there were just losers.
The goal of vacating the title is to punish a school by taking away the championship and all memories of it.
Simply vacating the title does not accomplish this.
To really punish the school, you have to replace the memories of their title with someone else.
Right now, and years from now, if you ask anyone who won the 2004 national championship, they will say with confidence, "USC." Why? Because fans do not accept that an entire season was wasted.
The only way to really accomplish the goal of punishing the acts of USC is to award the championship to someone else.
There are two obvious choices: Oklahoma and Auburn.
Oklahoma's only loss in 2004 was to USC. Now that the USC loss is null, Oklahoma could make a strong case that they were undefeated and played in the championship game.
Then there is Auburn.
Auburn finished the season 13-0 and second in the final standings behind USC. Also a very strong case.
Will the BCS ever award the 2004 title? No—barring a huge change in policy at the BCS, forever will the record books be blank.
What happens if the Ohio State investigation leads to the vacating of its 2002 national title? Or if more information arises about Cam Newton leading to the vacating of Auburn's 2010 BCS title? Will three national championships in one decade be left unclaimed? Can college football survive such a decade?
It is important that the BCS write a new rule that awards the championship in event of the winning team being stripped of the title. It should go something like this:
The BCS title will be awarded to:
1. Winner of BCS National Championship game
2. In event of vacated title from No. 1, runner-up of BCS Championship game
3. In event of vacated title from No. 2, highest-ranked team in final BCS standings
4. In event of vacated title from No. 3, next highest-ranked team in final BCS standings
And so on.
Every season needs a champion. There is just too much effort by those abiding by the rules to allow the cheaters to ruin the fun for everyone. Vacated titles will do nothing but be a constant reminder of the scars of cheating scandals.
Do teams want national titles that may be marred by violations?
You bet they do.
You would rather win them outright, but these schools owe it to the players, the fans and the coaches to accept any title awarded by the rules.
College football needs its national champions. 2004 is currently blank.
Give us a champion, BCS, and make sure this does not happen again.