SMU 'Death Penalty' Walk in the Park Compared to Penn State

Nick R. BrownContributor IIIJuly 24, 2012

The "Death" of Penn State Football
The "Death" of Penn State FootballPatrick Smith/Getty Images

As everyone in the college football world is now aware of, the NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State University on July 23 due to the malfeasance of former coach Jerry Sandusky, the former coaching staff and the administration.

There was some expectation of a Southern Methodist University-style "death penalty." The so-called death penalty laid down on SMU by the NCAA terminated the Mustangs from participating in football operations in 1987 after it was found that the program was paying players via a slush fund since the 1970s.

The penalties handed down to Penn State will be compared ad nauseam to SMU. Many, including the NCAA, have already claimed that the penalty was not as severe and was created to allow for the program to focus on student athletics and rebuilding a responsible, morally stable program.

I cannot agree.

The Penn State penalties include a $60 million fine, vacation of 112 wins, a four-year ban on postseason play, a four-year scholarship reduction and a five-year probation.

I would like to focus on a few of these. The $60 million fine will be broken up over the four-year ban period. This $15 million per year fine will effectively cripple the recruiting budget, rendering Penn State short on funds to make an effective run at recruits over the next four seasons.

This will be a devastating blow to incoming talent for the team.

The four-year ban on postseason play will also have a tremendous negative effect on recruiting.

In this day and age of potential college football stardom, largely via screen-time during conference championship and bowl games, many players desire to cash in. This effectively increases their NFL draft value. Without such opportunities at PSU, there will most certainly be a lack of interest from high-value prospects.


By comparison, the SMU death penalty killed the football program for an entire season and SMU football has never returned to much prominence. But the thing that most people ignore is that SMU drastically de-emphasized football after the penalties were handed down. The school's focus changed in regard to student athletics.

Had this not happened, there is a strong possibility that the program would not have lingered in college football purgatory and would have returned to prominence in a relatively short time, rather than waiting 25 years to join a stronger conference and once again build a "big time" program, as they attempted to do last offseason.

For Penn State, this would never be a problem. Penn State has too big of a brand; they still have a 106,000-seat stadium, a much larger fanbase and the ability to recover quickly.

Bill O'Brien could have sold this to players. He could have said, "Look, we're taking a year off, but then we are starting fresh and want you on board to help us through this."

Instead, Penn State is looking at four years of reduced recruiting budgets, no bowls, conference games or playoffs, and a reduction of scholarships. The result is much, much worse than the SMU penalties.

The initial reaction may be that Penn State will be back in the show in 2016, but that is hardly the reality. PSU will need to rebuild their recruiting process. Because of the penalties, Penn State will only have roughly 10-11 scholarship seniors up until 2020.

2020. Let that sink in for a minute.

I will be 40 years old by the time Penn State has more than roughly 10 scholarship seniors on both sides of the ball. The NCAA has basically handed down an almost decade-long penalty to Penn State University.

The comparison to SMU is basically absurd.

It might not be the case in name, but the Penn State sanctions are the new "death penalty." This unfortunate torch has been passed and no longer resides in Dallas, Texas, but in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania.

UPDATE: In light of the SMU television black out being discussed in the comments, I wanted to add a few points.

We first have to place the television black out penalty in the context of 1987. There was no SWC BCS bowl revenue sharing. There would have been no conference revenue sharing the likes of today if it even existed. There was not Internet, there was no Twitter, there was only TV as the major extension of football recruiting to get your program known to those who may be interested but had never seen the Mustangs play.

By comparison, PSU loses all conference revenue sharing, and they get no revenue sharing from bowls. I learned today that the cost to the football program over four years because of this would be closer to $100 million.

The loss of TV coverage in this day and age isn't nearly as harmful. Updates on PSU football would be everywhere from Youtube, to Twitter, to football forums, and recruiting sites like Rivals.

The loss of SMU TV coverage was a huge deal because it basically cut SMU out of any media attention nation wide. And this is a harsh reality of the penalty. Today, cutting PSU out of TV would not be such a bad deal, and would basically be impossible to cut off entirely.

So I would agree with the notion that this aspect of the SMU penalty may have been more harsh. But on the other hand, I would argue that losing $100 million in total revenue over the course of four years is much more damaging to recruiting and rebuilding the program.

I once again have to re-issue my point that SMU de-emphasizing football is a major reason for the long rebuilding period. Had this not been done, SMU could have very easily been a part of the Big 12 and returned to national prominence much earlier.


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