The NCAA's penalty for Alabama's football team makes sense. They penalized the Crimson Tide by forcing them to vacate 21 victories over a three-year period and hit them with probation.
The punishment is soft, as should be the case with Bama's violation. A number of student athletes across a number of different sports used their textbook money to obtain free books (which are ridiculously over priced to begin with) for students that were not athletes.
As far as violations go, that's about as weak as they come.
The student athletes weren't cheating (on the field or in the classroom), corrupting the integrity of the game, or breaking the law in any way. The penalty the NCAA imposed on them, aside from the probation, will largely be forgotten with time.
Alabama vacating 21 games will not have the same impact over time as Florida State vacating 14 games—if the penalty is upheld.
Florida State is currently in an appeals process with the NCAA, fighting to hold onto 14 wins. Because an academic cheating scandal ran through the athletic department a few years ago, the NCAA initially ruled that the Seminoles would have to vacate all games that ineligible players took part in—a total of 14.
Those games are especially important to long-time Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden, who is currently one win behind Penn State's Joe Paterno on the all-time wins list.
As it stands right now, the NCAA is sending the wrong message, regardless of the outcome of Florida State's appeal.
The players at Florida State cheated. No, it wasn't on the playing field, it was in the classrooms at a place of higher learning. Not only did the players corrupt the integrity of the "student athlete," they also corrupted the integrity of the school and the NCAA.
Let's take a moment to gain some perspective on these penalties.
Alabama is penalized 21 wins because of student athletes using their textbook money to obtain free books for non-athletes.
Florida State is penalized 14 wins because students cheated in their classes, and therefore, were ineligible to play.
Regardless of whether either or both of these penalties should have been handed down, the NCAA is sending the wrong message to institutions with the severity of the message. As of this moment, Alabama is forced to vacate seven more wins than Florida State over violations, which most reasonable people would consider, less than Florida State's.
The NCAA needs to remember who it is they are serving and what message they want to send to its institutions as well as the public. Because right now, they're choosing money over integrity.