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Berry: Michigan should be the 2013 National Champions

| Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Louisville Cardinals deserved to have their 2013 National Championship vacated. From revelations of “StripperGate” to an FBI investigation over smuggling money to recruits, NCAA sanctions against Louisville are justified and long overdue. The NCAA sent a clear message to the Cardinals, former coach Rick Pitino and the rest of the NCAA — cheaters never win.

Stripping Louisville of their national championship is a first time an NCAA basketball team has been stripped of their title. It’s also the first time since the 2008 Memphis Tigers lead by then-freshman Derrick Rose, that a team in the national championship had to vacate their season. The Rose-led Tigers were only runner-ups, so vacating their season didn’t leave as many opening ended questions as the Cardinals’ vacancy does, but it leaves the question — who is the national champion?

Historically with vacations, the NCAA just declares that season’s champion as vacant. A recent example being the USC Trojans 2004 national championship after their victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2005 Orange Bowl. Later sanctions against the team for improper benefits caused the Trojans to vacate their title. Once again the questions: Who is the national champion? What about the runner-up?

Awarding athletes championships in the event of vacations or disqualifications isn’t a new concept, as the Olympic Committee has been doing it for decades to maintain the integrity of their organization. The Olympic committee has a track record of stripping medals then re-awarding medals to reflect the new standings. A notable example being sprinter Marion Jones, who was stripped of five Olympic medals following her admittance of steroids.

Jones’ 200m medal was revoked, and they awarded runner-up Bahamian Pauline Davis-Thompson the gold medal, bronze was moved up to silver and the fourth-place finisher was moved to bronze. For the Olympic Committee, awarding new champions takes years to fully complete due to the involvement of multiple countries, but the NCAA has the luxury of only having to choose between two teams. Renaming a new champion is simple. If one team is disqualified or given sanctions then the other team should be named the victor by default.

With that logic, instead of vacating the national championship, the NCAA should set a precedent and crown the Michigan Wolverines as the 2013 National Champions. They deserve it.

Michigan head coach John Beilein managed to lead an underclassmen team to the national championship. For a team that’s not traditionally a basketball powerhouse, Michigan’s ability to accomplish a feat like this is remarkable. Especially, since its last national championship run was in 1991 with NBA Hall of Fame hopefuls Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Michigan does have a history of incurring NCAA sanctions under Steve Fisher, but as of now there aren’t any accusations of improper benefits, talk of sanctions or FBI probes against Beilein or the 2013 Michigan Wolverines team, so why not reward the honest team in the championship?

Although the Wolverines did lose against the Cardinals it’s not like they weren’t worthy competitors. The Wolverines fought through Kansas, Florida and Syracuse to reach the finals and they could’ve beaten the Cardinals. Traveling back in time, had a couple of questionable calls down the stretch had gone in favor of Michigan, including Trey Burke’s infamous seemingly clean block on Louisville’s Peyton Siva that was called a foul, the national champion would be different. There wouldn’t be a conversation at all had Michigan won because the honest team according to NCAA standards won. Since the wrong team did win, the NCAA has an opportunity to rectify the problem by naming the Wolverines the 2013 national champion. Other than the issue of precedent, the NCAA has no reason not to name the Wolverines as national champions.

Even if the NCAA elects not to officially etch Michigan’s name into the history books, the Wolverines should self-crown themselves national champions. Self-proclaimed national championships aren’t uncommon in college sports. The Princeton Tigers have claimed 28 national championships in football, both Notre Dame and Alabama claim the football national championship in 1973 and more recently, UCF claimed a national title after going 13-0 despite not playing in the national championship game. Despite not having an official NCAA banner raised in the Crisler Center, or having the large gaudy championship rings, the Michigan Wolverines are rightfully the 2013 NCAA National Champions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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