Cheating Scandals: The Legacy of College Football


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By Mark R. Gould

Cheating scandals have plagued college sports for years. Football is often the center of controversy, although many other sports have been caught up in scandal.

Steward Mandel on  SI.Com in 2007 wrote, “Cheating in college football is a tradition as old as the sport itself. In fact, it's hard to imagine one without the other. Scandal is almost as much a part of the sport's culture as tailgating and fight songs.”

Mandel writes that boosters are often behind the scandals. “But only the most common acts of deceit do not take place on actual playing fields; they go down in country clubs and living rooms, back-alleys and parking lots, or wherever else one might choose to partake in hush-hush transactions. And oftentimes, the perpetrators aren't even actual participants -- they're fans. Fans who really want to see their team win and who possess the financial means -- not to mention the ethical leniency -- to help.”

Cheating in college sports has been around for years. In the 1950s it was alleged that one  school would have a small plane drop bags filled with cash on the farm of football players they were recruiting.

“College football's worst-kept secret is the age-old tradition of boosters -- often with a coach's implicit approval -- buying the services of blue-chip recruits and/or fattening star players' wallets during their stay on campus. Tales of hundred-dollar handshakes, cash-filled duffle bags and shiny new cars date back to at least the days of legendary coach Bear Bryant, whose Texas A&M teams were placed on NCAA probation in the 1950s as a result of the coach soliciting the help of a few deep-pocketed oil men in the Aggies' recruiting efforts. Corruption became so commonplace in the old Southwest Conference that at one point in the '80s seven of the nine schools had been placed on probation, most notably SMU, which received the NCAA "death penalty" (and was forced to shut its football program down for one year) for a series of booster-related scandals of which school personnel were not only aware but involved,” according to Mandel.

Coach Jim Tressel with his teamRecently, Ohio State’s football coach, Jim Tressel (pictured at left) resigned  due to a scandal that has dominated the news for  weeks.


Read John Feinstein's Washington Post column about 'rotting wood in college athletics':

Many other  high profile schools have been tarnished.

Florida State University, for example, vacated 12 football victories and a 2007 men's track national championship in an academic cheating scandal, along with dozens more victories  in 10  sports.

The NCAA stripped the school of wins in which 61 athletes implicated in the scandal contributed. The men's basketball team lost all 22 wins from 2006-07, and women's basketball lost 16 victories that year, including two in the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions placed the University of Alabama on three years' probation for "major violations" uncovered in the school's 2007 textbook investigation.

UA, a “repeat offender”, according to the NCAA, was  forced to vacate football victories from games during the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons in which one of seven "intentional wrongdoers" participated. Selected individual records in men's and women's track and men's tennis were also  vacated. There were no scholarship losses for any Alabama sports program.

The NCAA said 201 UA athletes in a total of 16 sports programs -- all but rowing -- violated rules regarding the impermissible receipt of textbooks. sports.

Roughly 125 athletes were found to have "unintentionally violated" textbook rules, meaning charges totaled less than $100. Per the NCAA's legislation, the majority of those athletes were not required to be suspended from competition.

The NCAA recently  ruled that the University of Southern California athletic department exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009 for a wide array of rules violations committed in its football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs.

“This case,” said Paul Dee, the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, “strikes at the heart of the principles of amateurism.”

The consequences:

  • A postseason ban in football following the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
  • A loss of 30 total football scholarships over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.
  • A vacation of all football victories starting in December 2004 and running through the 2005 season. This includes the national championship win over Oklahoma on Jan. 4, 2005.
  • An acceptance of USC’s self-imposed penalties on its basketball program, which included a forfeiture of all wins in 2007-2008 and a one-year postseason ban.
  • All titles won during ineligible games must be vacated and trophies and banners must be removed.
  • A vacation of wins in the women’s tennis program from May 2006 to May 2009, for long-distance telephone violations committed by a student-athlete.
  • Four years of probation.

SMU--Southern Methodist University—was given the death penalty by the NCAA for its recruiting violations in the mid 1980s.

On November 19, 1986, 200 professors submitted a petition calling for the end of "quasi-professional athletics" at SMU—including a ban on athletic scholarships. In addition, SMU Board of Governors chairman Bill Clements, who was due to leave his post in two months to take office as Governor of Texas, announced that the school would tighten its admissions standards for all athletes. He also said that school officials would drop football entirely if necessary to restore the school's integrity.

Eventually, the NCAA investigation revealed that from 1985 to 1986, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster. Payments ranged from $50 to $725 a month, and had started only a month after SMU had been slapped with its latest probation.

As a result of the "death penalty," a full release was granted to every player on the team, allowing them to transfer to another school without losing any eligibility; most immediately announced they were considering going elsewhere. As soon as the NCAA announced its decision, hundreds of recruiters from 80 universities immediately rushed to SMU. Representing many top football programs around the country such as Penn State, Oklahoma, and Alabama, they waited near the team's offices to persuade players to transfer to their schools.

On April 11, 1987, SMU formally canceled the 1988 season as well.

On March 3, 1987, Clements admitted that he and the other members of the SMU board of governors had approved a secret plan to continue the slush fund payments to players. 


Contact your local library for more resources on this topic.

Bowls, Polls & Tattered Souls
by Stewart Mandel

A Payroll to Meet: A Story of Greed, Corruption and Football at SMU
by David Whitford (Author)

Meat Market - Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting
by  Bruce Feldman

College Football: History - Spectacle - Controversy
by John Sayle Watterson

The Courting of Marcus Dupree
by Willie Morris.

ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary Pony Excess

Watch the trailer for Pony Excess.


 Photo credit:jmtimages

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