Penn State Sanctions: Comparing Them to Most Severe NCAA Penalties of All Time

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJuly 23, 2012

Penn State Sanctions: Comparing Them to Most Severe NCAA Penalties of All Time

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    The sports world was shocked when NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions for the Penn State Nittany Lions. Already losing head coach Joe Paterno and the statue that stood out in front of Beaver Stadium due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State learned that there is so much more this program will have to deal with.

    No, Penn State did not receive the death penalty, but it might as well have. Things like a four-year bowl ban, five years' probation, loss of scholarships and removing more than 100 wins is good enough to set this program back many years.

    But are these sanctions the worst the NCAA has ever handed down?

    Let's take a look back at some of the worst sanctions in NCAA history and see where Penn State will rank after today.

Kentucky Basketball

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    Kentucky basketball is considered the first program in NCAA history to receive the death penalty. It occurred during the 1951 season, when Kentucky players were arrested for a point-shaving scandal that dated back to the 1948-49 season.

    The SEC decided to open an investigation, which revealed that up to 10 Kentucky players had received impermissible financial aid. It also showed that former head coach Adolph Rupp knew about the ineligible players and allowed them to play anyway.

    The NCAA decided to ban postseason play for the entire Kentucky athletic department during the 1952-53 season, and the basketball program was banned entirely from competing during that season.

Baylor Basketball

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    Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was killed by his teammate, Carlton Dotson. Former head coach Dave Bliss had told his players to lie to the NCAA by saying that Dennehy was a drug dealer and also broke NCAA rules by improperly paying for his scholarship, along with that of another Baylor player, Corey Herring.

    Dotson was later sentenced to 35 years in prison, while Bliss was given a 10-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA, which is effective until 2015. The university was put on probation until 2010, was banned from the postseason for a year and suffered a loss of scholarships.

    Baylor is just now getting back on its feet, reaching the NCAA tournament in three of the past five seasons.


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    The USC scandal really had to do with two stars, Trojans running back Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo. They both accepted improper benefits, including gifts from agents.

    As punishment, Bush surrendered his 2005 Heisman Trophy, which remains vacant to this day. The football team had to give up all of its victories from the 2005 season, as well as the final two wins of its 2004 national championship season. The Trojans were also banned from postseason play during the 2010 and 2011 seasons and lost a total of 30 scholarships.

    The basketball program also had to sit out the 2010 postseason and surrendered all of its victories from the 2007-08 season.

Ohio State

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    Ohio State was recently involved in a scandal that included a total of eight players accepting cash and tattoos for player memorabilia. What made things worse is that former head coach Jim Tressel knew about what happened but decided to hide the information until the season was over.

    When the NCAA found out about it, it hit the Buckeyes with scholarship reductions, a one-year bowl ban and probation, forced it to vacate the entire 2010 season and gave Tressel a five-year show-cause penalty.

    The Buckeyes are feeling the effects of these sanctions right now, as they will not be eligible for a bowl game during the 2012 season.

Michigan Basketball

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    Michigan basketball really took flight during the 1980s and 1990s. That was until a scandal involving team booster Ed Martin took place. There was a six-year investigation trying to find out exactly what the relationship was between Michigan basketball and Martin.

    The investigation revealed that Martin had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan players Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock.

    Michigan suffered serious consequences, including loss of scholarships, four years' probation, no postseason play for the 2002-03 season, several vacated wins, including the 1998 Big Ten title and 1997 NIT title, and returning $450,000 that was given to the university for postseason play throughout the 1990s.

    The scandal also cost legendary head coach Steve Fisher his job.


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    SMU had been on probation a total of seven times, including three years' probation for recruiting violations back in 1985. So when it was discovered in 1986 that a total of 13 players were receiving inappropriate cash payments from members of the athletic department, the Mustangs were the first and only football program to receive the death penalty.

    The school lost 55 scholarships over the course of four years, the entire 1987 season was canceled, no off-campus recruiting was allowed until August of 1988, only five assistant coaches were allowed on the staff and their probation was extended until 1990.

    These penalties have always been considered the worst in the history of the NCAA. The Southern Methodist football program is just recently getting back on its feet, making three straight bowl appearances, the first since the 1984 season.

Penn State

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    While Penn State may not have actually received the death penalty, the sanctions it received are just as good as a life sentence.

    The Nittany Lions will lose pretty much all of their income for an entire football season with a $60 million fine. They will lose several scholarships over the course of four years and suffer a four-year bowl ban and five years' probation, while players are allowed to transfer immediately without any consequences from the NCAA.

    Then you top it off with losing head coach Joe Paterno, seeing his statue removed, him no longer being the all-time winningest coach and having to deal with a black eye that will mark this university for several years to come.

    You could make a serious case for this being the harshest penalty ever handed down in NCAA history. Penn State lost everything, including the man that helped build this university and gave it its great reputation.


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    While every school on this list has dealt with severe consequences for their actions, I would say what Penn State is going through is by far the worst.

    This program got what every other team received and then some: losing scholarships, not being allowed to participate in bowl games, probation, a hefty fine and allowing student-athletes to come and go as they please.

    Penn State also lost Joe Paterno, the man who is responsible for this program being as big as it is. Not only did they see his historic statue get removed from campus, but he was also docked more than 100 wins, which no longer makes him the winningest coach in college football history.

    Penn State has lost everything it has ever known and will feel the effects of all of this for several years to come. No, it is not a death penalty—the Nittany Lions will still be allowed to play on Saturdays—but this is a program that is almost starting from square one.