Sport Prophecy

by Eric Nelson

Any college sports fan with a keen memory may remember USC’s 2004 Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma to win a national title, Michigan’s Fab Five appearing in two Final Fours, and Joe Paterno’s record number of victories for a NCAA football head coach.

To a historian, on the other hand, the memories are not as clear.

Punishment was certainly appropriate for Penn State in wake of child sexual abuse charges against a former assistant of Paterno’s. Football’s money and power at the school had taken precedence over morality among certain individuals, and institutional shame, admonishment, and correction was needed.

But the path of “vacating wins” that was chosen by NCAA regulators, which affected games between 1998 through 2011 and cut Paterno’s win total, seems to foster forgetfulness rather than forgiveness, at a cost to the historical record and our integrity. New information, particularly crimes that did not influence the outcome of any a particular game, should be added to a school or individual’s record book rather than used to erase it. Changing the score alters not one fan’s memory of his hero’s day of victory, and generations to come must be able to trust that a historian’s work, warts and all, has not been scrubbed by the censors.

This is not to let cheaters off the hook — Ben Johnson’s stripped 1988 gold medal comes to mind — but to take a stand against the rulemakers who favor a system that flaws the records hundreds helped make in hopes of correcting a wrong that only a handful may be held guilty for.

Judgment, as it is, lies waiting in the future, not in changing the past.

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Now for an award that is etched in stone:

The annual P.P. Waldenström Trophy.

The Sports Prophecy chooses the outstanding college football player far earlier than the boys at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club pick their Heisman, and doing so early in the fall lends an advantage to the quarterbacks who fling the ball around before coaches drag out the conservative playbook.

This fall the best gunslinger of the bunch may be Matt Barkley, the USC Trojan quarterback with a golden arm. Whether that arm helps win the Rose Bowl is one thing, Barkley’s heart of gold — he’s done mission trips to Africa and plays guitar in a worship band — cinches this one.

Waldenström not only likes the long ball, he sees a potential Pietist. Matt Barkely is the 2012 P.P. Waldenström Trophy winner.

Eric Nelson is Pietisten's sports prophet.

See all articles by Eric Nelson