So the NCAA has informed you that they’ll be stripping your school of its national championship.
This is far from a fun time in any athletic program’s life, and it’s particularly insulting for your fans and the players that participated in the winning game in question. You were all there, you saw it happen. There were t-shirts and DVDs. Back when there were VCRs, someone definitely taped it.
But the NCAA doesn’t care about your joy. Just the process of taking it away from you. And making sure they repossess that sweet trophy you guys got for the trouble.
This has happened to 20 programs since 1971. And all of them, like suckers, surrendered the trophy... except for one. Of course, it’s the 1990 Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team, the greatest lacrosse team of all time for a variety of reasons.
If you’re a Syracuse fan, you already know the story. But for visiting fans like supporters of the Louisville Cardinals or probably whoever wins the 2018 NCAA Tournament, you may need a quick rundown. Basically, Nancy Simmons (Roy Simmons Jr.’s wife) co-signed a car loan for Paul Gait, who starred for the team that year. That’s it.
Where things got interesting, however, is what happened after the NCAA decided they wanted the trophy back from us. This is where the guide comes in handy:
How to NOT vacate your national championship
1. Be the greatest team of all-time
This one may seem subjective, but it’s a great start to getting your team recognized across the landscape of your sport as the champ, no matter what the NCAA says. Syracuse outscored teams by 10 goals per game en route to an undefeated season in 1990. It’s tough to argue with those results and the flashy style of play, which had never been seen before.
2. Have a legitimate gripe about the title being vacated
In 1995, when the ruling came down, the NCAA said that Nancy Simmons was an agent of the school because she was Roy Simmons Jr.’s wife. That sounds like a stretch, and Coach Simmons has always (rightfully) stoked doubts about the legitimacy of that argument.
3. Make the trophy go away
Really, this should be the easy part. Just lose the trophy, as Syracuse did, when athletic director Jake Crouthamel went to collect it. Other schools haven’t bothered to do this for reasons unknown. Losing a trophy should be really easy.
4. Have an unbroken code of silence about its whereabouts
This is where things get more difficult. While it’s easy to get rid of a trophy, it’s not easy to get literally everyone that knows where it is to keep quiet about it. However, the Syracuse lacrosse fraternity is a tight-knit one. And even the creators of “The Lost Trophy” documentary were members themselves. Somehow, there have been no cracks in the foundation of this conspiracy to keep it a secret (and we don’t even know how many people truly know at this point).
5. Be super goddamn vague when the primary figure in question is asked about it
Now, Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich probably wouldn’t be that good at this part, especially given how they were removed from their positions in 2017. But in Syracuse’s case, Simmons has not only kept a tight lip, but also been super vague in a way that really doesn’t incriminate him when people ask. He simply says things like it’s with “friends of Syracuse lacrosse” whenever an inquiry comes through. Slugger is hard as hell.
He kept at it in the documentary, as well. As Vice once pointed out, the takeaways at the close of the film provide even more questions than answers:
“I can’t tell you where it is,” Cambria said. “But I can tell you where it’s not. It’s not buried. I know it’s not buried with his father, which is where I thought it was prior to this. But there’s a telling quote from coach when, at the end of the film, he says, ‘If the NCAA were to relent, the trophy would be found.’
”So it’s accessible. That’s all I know.”
If you can pull off all five of these steps, that’s your best bet to stop the NCAA from vacating your title. It’s hard to check all of those boxes in retrospect — the first one, particularly, is difficult to really know until you’ve done it and that’s still dependent on all that happens afterward, too. Having a coach that not only sticks with the program but also has a family history with it helps too. Simmons is stone-faced at all times when asked about it.
Louisville has its work cut out for it to replicate the success of Syracuse’s unofficial campaign to keep its championship. Few have ever been as equipped as the 1990 SU team though, mind you. Perhaps only USC’s Reggie Bush, who lost his Heisman Trophy, is the only one whose excellence could’ve served as a similar amount of cover (and even now, we all know Bush won the damn thing).