While Roger Goodell is at it, he should vacate the New Orleans Saintsí 2010 Super Bowl title, earned while the Saints had a bounty system for deliberately injuring opposing players. It was bad enough the system existed for the last three seasons. But players and coaches also engaged in a cover-up. Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, said without hesitation in an interview Wednesday on the NFL Network, "We were misled, there denials throughout that period. Clearly we were lied to. We investigated this back in 2010. We were told it was not happening and it continued for another two years."
There is plenty of precedent in college sports for vacating the performance of scandalous top teams. Many basketball teams, including the University of Massachusetts, have had Final Four appearances vacated since 1961. The University of Southern California football team had its 2004 Bowl Championship Series national title stripped and was banned two seasons from bowl games for the improper benefits to Reggie Bush. Bush was also stripped of his Heisman Trophy. In 1987, the National Collegiate Athletic Association gave Southern Methodist the "death penalty," a complete ban from play over its play-for-pay scandal.
Most of the cheating and slush-fund infractions in collegiate sports, while deserving of their punishments, pale in comparison to a system of players and coaches pooling money as an incentive to go out and deliberately cripple other players. To be sure, Goodell is off to a strong start in addressing the bounty scandal, suspending head coach Sean Payton for a year without pay and indefinitely suspending former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is current with the St. Louis Rams.
But if college teams can have titles and Final Four appearances vacated for improper gifts to players, improper recruiting by coaches, Goodell is well within the bounds of logic to send an unprecedented message for a literally far more injurious system. Football is a violent enough sport as it is without adding the cynical, mercenary dimension of a bounty. The biggest message Goodell can send is to tell the Saints to return the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to NFL headquarters in New York, and tell the players to return their Super Bowl rings. These were not rings earned in honor.