INDIANAPOLIS ( TheStreet) -- In the midst of March Madness, some of the best games in college history are missing winners while powerhouse schools and sponsors are recast as losers.Marcus Camby's 22 points and seven rebounds against Georgetown in 1996 that led the University of Massachusetts to its first Final Four appearance? Didn't happen. Derrick Rose missing a crucial free throw for Memphis in the 2008 championship game? Erased, all because of violations that led the National Collegiate Athletic Association to vacate their teams' post-season appearances and rescind both financial and athletic awards. "The requirement of NCAA membership for any institution is compliance with the rules," says Paul Dee, chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. "If the committee determines a vacation of record shall apply to wins in the postseason or something for which there might be recognition, anything that's related to them would have to be removed." On its own, vacation of a school's wins is the most clerical of punishments. Wins are removed from the NCAA's statistical database, banners are removed from campuses and records and awards are expunged from the school's books and media guides. Still, since 2000, 16 teams have had wins vacated for infractions that included academic fraud, competition by ineligible athletes, direct involvement of coaches and administrators and, in some cases, complete lack of institutional control. Money can complicate matters if wins are vacated for a revenue-generating program like football or basketball, which also tend to be attached to athletic sponsors like Nike ( NKE), Under Armour ( UA) and Adidas. If the NCAA decides it's necessary to return ill-gotten winnings, that decision can impact both a school and its sports program years later. "The NCAA basketball tournament winnings are paid out over six years and would have to be removed from the conference allotment," Dee says. "If there is to be a penalty that involves the surrender of money or the return of money to a sponsor, that would have to be worked out by the school." Such returns get costly on many levels. College football's Bowl Championship series doled out $142.5 million from its five 2010 bowl games to various athletic conferences. The Football Bowl Association says that smaller contests like the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Pacific Life Holiday Bowl and AT&T ( T) Cotton Bowl paid out $200 million to their participating schools and conferences in 2009. The men's basketball tournament uses a slightly more complicated formula involving participation, scholarships and wins to determine which conferences get multiple millions and which ones get a door prize, but sponsors tend to shovel in all their funding at once.
Under Armour, for example, paid nearly $18 million to keep the University of Maryland's teams in its gear for five years. Boston College, Texas Tech, Auburn, South Carolina, Southern Illinois and South Florida are among the teams with similar deals. Of the Top 5 teams in the NCAA men's basketball rankings this week, four (Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke and Purdue universities) have apparel sponsorship deals with Nike, while one (Kansas) is hitched to Adidas products. "There's a price to be paid," says Stacey Osborn, spokeswoman for the NCAA. "Schools don't come out even after having wins vacated." That doesn't mean a school has to like it. Florida State recently lost its appeal of the NCAA's decision to vacate wins across 10 sports for academic fraud, including 12 football wins from 2006 to 2008 that dropped head coach Bobby Bowden out of a battle with Penn State's Joe Paterno for third place on college football's all-time wins list. The University of Alabama is still appealing a 2009 NCAA decision to vacate 21 football victories between 2005 and 2007 after its athletes were accused of improperly obtaining free textbooks for other students. "My subjective observation is that it's a frequently appealed penalty," Dee says. "Whenever it's given, people tend to contest it, which means it's extremely important." But is it effective? Ask John Calipari and his No. 2-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. In the lead up to this year's tournament, it's been noted that Calipari's last two trips to the Final Four -- with UMass in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 -- are now off the books after NCAA violations vacated those appearances. The NCAA has never accused Calipari of wrongdoing, but with projected NBA star in point guard John Wall and an inside track on a No. 1 seed in the tournament, both Calipari and Kentucky are under intense scrutiny. Even as it prepares to mete out punishment to the University of Southern California for alleged recruiting violations in its football and basketball programs involving star athletes Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo, the NCAA itself faces threats to its own image each time a win is vacated or a banner comes down. "It is a way of saying to these people is that they shouldn't be rewarded for having participation that wasn't fair," Dee says. "I can't speak for the NCAA on that, but anytime you lose anything for whatever reason, it's not helpful." -- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.