If this isn’t making sense to you, welcome to college athletics. I hope you brought some Advil.
The NCAA’s practice of punishing infractions by win-vacancy is fundamentally incoherent; it’s genuinely hard to describe what the punishment means without sounding idiotic. One could argue that it’s simply the NCAA’s way of declaring that an institution cheated, but you don’t need vacancy to do that. You just need a PDF report that says, “They cheated.” Vacancy isn’t merely declaratory, but distortive. It’s taking an event that happened and ordering everyone to pretend that it didn’t.
In this regard the NCAA might want to give some thought to the company it’s keeping. Authoritarian manipulation of history is a pretty reliable indicator that (i) someone in power is embarrassed by sketchy shit that went down, and (ii) he or she isn’t up to the challenge of defending that sketchy shit in open, public discourse, so (iii) why not fall back on the exercise of power by fiat, effectively ruling that people should shut up about it and move on? Think Joseph Stalin having textbooks doctored to remove photographs of purged political rivals, or the Turkish government’s denial of post-World War I Armenian genocide.
Nearly awarding a national championship to a team that used an ineligible player doesn’t rank the NCAA among history’s greatest monsters, but you can see why they’d be a skosh embarrassed by it. The discomfort here is no doubt compounded by rules – set forth in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement but from which the NCAA benefits – indefensibly coercing the Derrick Roses of the world to provide a year’s worth of free labor to the college basketball industry in lieu of getting paid by a professional team, and thus creating incentives for student-athletes a bit marginal on the "student" part of that label to cheat. Vacating wins allows the NCAA to scrub the official record and strike a rectitudinous pose without acknowledging any complicity in the underlying crime.
Gravity’s Rainbow Jumper
More abstractly, it rattles the fault line that exists between Enlightenment philosophies of history and their postmodernist critics. Enlightenment values, which were ascendant in the profession of history toward the beginning of the 20th century, maintain that history has an objectively discernible nature – that through scientific observation we can accumulate a sound body of knowledge about past events. History, the argument goes, transcends theory and ideology; the past is observable and fixed.