NCAA football hardware has been all over the news lately. From the Ohio State ring-and-memorabilia scandal to USC being stripped of its 2004 BCS title, trophies and rings are keeping college football in the headlines during what would normally be a June lull. (Not to mention The Dan Patrick Show’s Tuesday report that Reggie Bush still hasn’t physically returned the Heisman Trophy he officially lost in September.)

All of this news raises an interesting question: when the NCAA or BCS strips a team of its title, does the governing body then go on an Ace Ventura-style mission to track down and repossess every player’s championship rings?

Apparently not. There’s nothing in the NCAA’s rulebook that explicitly covers taking back rings for vacated championships, and it seems that in most cases the NCAA thinks wiping the record books clean and taking down banners and trophies is sufficient punishment. In a June 2010 story, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples recalled a previous interview with former Florida wideout Ricky Nattiel, a member of the Gators’ 1984 SEC championship squad. The NCAA later stripped the school of that title, but Nattiel still had his bling.

Even if the NCAA wanted to be draconian - we know, that would be totally out of character for the NCAA - it would be tough to hunt down dozens of rings from players and staff that are now scattered around the country.

Plus, even if the NCAA could locate every player on the roster, there’s no guarantee that the players wouldn’t have given their rings away or lost them. Last summer ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk asked New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith, a member of USC’s 2004 title squad, what he would do if the NCAA tried to reclaim his ring. Smith replied, “If they do, I will say I lost it.” (In the USC example, though, Smith and his teammates still have a valid claim to championship rings; while the BCS vacated the Trojans’ BCS title, the Associated Press still recognizes USC as that year’s champion.)

No Sale

This ring talk leads to another question, though: why did Ohio State get into such hot water over players selling memorabilia like championship rings? The rule is actually a fairly new one that can be traced back to a 2003 mini-scandal at the University of Georgia.

After the Bulldogs won the 2002 SEC Championship and the 2003 Sugar Bowl, the players received championship rings. A few of the cash-strapped players decided to peddle their rings to pick up some extra dough. That decision didn’t sit well with Georgia’s administration or the NCAA. The school felt it was an embarrassment that its rings were floating around on the collectibles market and started buying up any jewelry that went up for sale.

Nine ring-selling players who would be returning for the 2003 season initially felt the NCAA’s wrath. The players briefly lost their eligibility for their brief careers as jewelers, but the NCAA soon had a change of heart. The governing body reviewed its rules and determined that there was no explicit language forbidding the sale of rings and other memorabilia, so the Georgia players were once again eligible to compete.

The NCAA then moved quickly to close that loophole. Paragraph 1.4 of Article 16 of the NCAA’s bylaws now clearly states, “Awards received for intercollegiate athletics participation may not be sold, exchanged, or assigned for another item of value, even if the student-athlete’s name or picture does not appear on the award.”

The nine Georgia players who regained their eligibility still received a bit of punishment from coach Mark Richt, though. When the Bulldogs played for the SEC championship again the following season, Richt announced beforehand that if the team won, those players could still receive a ring. The school wouldn’t foot the bill for it, though; they would need to scrape together $300 apiece to cover their own rings. (The ring payment ended up being a non-issue when LSU dismantled Georgia 34-13 in the title game.)

The Appraisal

Article 16 of the NCAA’s bylaws covers that question, too. For the 2010-11 academic year, the maximum retail value of any single award for winning a Division I national title is $415. The maximum value of any award for winning a conference championship can’t exceed $325.

Those are just retail prices, though. On the secondary market the rings are much, much more valuable. Georgia wideout Fred Gibson reportedly got $2,000 for selling his ring.