One year after sending ripples through the ranks of NCAA Division I basketball, Michigan’s Fab Five of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson returned for their 1992-93 sophomore season as the talk of college basketball. The team with five freshman starters had transformed the image of college basketball with their baggy shorts and black socks.
The Fab Five surprised everyone in March of 1992, beating Cincinnati in the Final Four before losing the championship game to Duke. In 1993, the same team was back in the title game, falling to North Carolina when Chris Webber called for a timeout that his team didn’t have. The Fab Five’s two title games generated the third and fifth highest all-time television ratings among college basketball games.
The championship game against UNC was Webber’s last game before leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season. Rose and Howard left after the following season. The Fab Five era was over, but Michigan and its fans could savor the memories, right? Well, as far as Michigan is concerned, most of those memories are no longer a part of Wolverine history.
Last Thursday, Michigan announced that it was forfeiting its Final Four win over Cincinnati in 1992, as well as the entire 1992-93 season. According to ESPN.com, this decision comes on the heels of a federal investigation which found that Ed Martin, a Michigan booster, had illegally given $616,000 to four Michigan players. The games in 1992 and 1993 were forfeited because Martin apparently gave Webber $280,000.
I don’t really see what forfeiting all of these games accomplishes. Sure, Michigan’s pre-emptive actions might prevent the NCAA from imposing more severe penalties on the basketball program. But such measures do not repair the true extent of the damage that Michigan’s malfeasance caused.
After all, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins doesn’t get to play against Duke for the 1992 championship. Temple coach John Chaney has never reached a Final Four in his illustrious coaching career. His 1993 team just missed out when they lost to Michigan in the West Regional final. Even though Michigan has now forfeited that game, Chaney still doesn’t get his shot at college basketball’s biggest stage.
Is 1997 NIT runner-up Florida State going to hang a championship banner? What about all the teams that could have used a big win over Michigan to get into the NCAA tournament? Sure, the Michigan program has returned some money and removed a few championship banners. However, they can never give other teams the chances they deserved.
The NCAA knows that the past can’t be changed. So, it is likely that they will impose further penalties upon Michigan. Michigan has already declared itself ineligible for postseason play this year. The NCAA could extend this ban or possibly restrict the number of scholarships Michigan can grant. However, the outcome will be that second-year coach Tommy Amaker and his players, who had no part in the scandal, will suffer the consequences.
Webber and the other Wolverines who received money from Ed Martin have forever tainted the memories from a great time in college basketball. Furthermore, innocent players will suffer a punishment meant to rectify the wrongdoings of past players. I suspect that the guilty players will end up getting off pretty easily, even though Webber is charged with lying to a grand jury.
At least he no longer has to feel bad about calling that nonexistent timeout.