The 25 Sketchiest Programs in College Hoops History
College basketball has a rich, storied tradition that’s steeped in championships, competition, and oftentimes, chaos.
Which programs are known for running afoul of the NCAA? Which ones have been associated with sleazy headlines?
Here are this writer’s 25 sketchiest programs in hoop history.
The Connecticut Huskies will be sitting out the upcoming year’s postseason, but not for too many phone calls or improper benefits. Jim Calhoun’s program is prohibited from the festivities because it hasn’t taken care of its academic business with players.
At issue is the school’s Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is below the minimum score of 900. The NCAA is making the Huskies watch March Madness from home this season, in the hopes they’ll monitor their players’ studies more rigorously in the future.
For a program that won the national championship two years ago, it’s a sobering blow.
During the 1999-2000 season, Cliff Ellis’ Auburn Tigers had a dream season. They had a Top-Three ranking, they had a superstar in Chris Porter. They were ready to make a deep March Madness run.
Unfortunately, Porter had ties to sports agents. And $2500 later, Porter was suspended for the last eight games of the season, and the postseason.
Auburn wasn’t the same team without him, and the Tigers’ season ended after a second-round NCAA loss to Iowa State.
Coach Jim Harrick resigned after the 2003 season after Georgia announced findings of academic fraud involving his son, Jim Harrick Jr., who gave course credit to three players who didn’t attend a class he taught on basketball strategy.
Harrick Sr. was suspended in early March while the investigation proceeded, and the 25th-ranked Bulldogs were prohibited by the school from participating in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
Any longtime Big Ten basketball fan will know which school you’re talking about if you say “Deon Thomas,” “Chevy Blazer” or “Bruce Pearl.” It’s Illinois.
Pearl was an assistant at Iowa in the late 1980s when he told NCAA investigators that he had a taped conversation with Thomas in which he admitted Illini assistant Jimmy Collins gave him a Blazer and money.
Thomas was, to no surprise, a blue-chip recruit both the Illini and Hawkeyes was fighting for.
The NCAA did nothing with the Pearl tape, and Thomas went to Illinois and became the school’s all-time leading scorer.
But it did find other wrongs in Lou Henson’s program, and slapped the Illini with a postseason ban for lack of institutional control. Twenty-some years later, Pearl would have NCAA problems of his own.
21. Ohio State
Buckeyes coach Jim O’Brien didn’t have a problem winning games. In the end, his biggest issue was dealing with foreigners.
In April of 2004, O’Brien was forced to disclose a $6000 payment he’d made to Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7’3” center he was recruiting. (Radojevic never signed.)
However, O’Brien hid this from his employer until a lawsuit was filed that centered on improper benefits another Buckeye, Boban Savovic, had received.
When it was all over, O’Brien was fired, Ohio State was placed on three years’ probation and stripped of every win in which Savovic played, including the 1999 Final Four.
The short tenure of Quin Snyder as Mizzou coach was punctuated by malfeasance.
There were reports of star guard Ricky Clemons receiving payments from coaches. It was also rumored that Snyder gave Clemons clothing.
Eventually, all the Clemons chatter got the school placed on three years’ probation, and Snyder was banned from recruiting off-campus for a year.
Originally hired by the school to replace legendary Norm Stewart and take Tigers basketball to a higher level, instead Snyder underachieved and got the program into trouble. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Snyder is currently an assistant for a Moscow, Russia team.
Bruce Pearl had Rocky Top hoops flying down the court and up through the Top 25 rankings. He won 31 games in Knoxville in 2007-2008, became the sixth-fastest coach to reach 400 wins early in 2008-2009, and came within one point of a Final Four bid in 2009-2010.
But storm clouds were gathering.
After bringing a prized recruit into his home for a social outing in 2008 (Aaron Craft, who later signed with Ohio State), he told attendees not to tell anyone about it. When asked by the NCAA about it, he lied.
This, along with phone call overages and other misdoings, got Pearl fired in March of 2011 and slapped with a three-year show-cause penalty.
The Jayhawks have had issues on the court, and in the stands.
The Kansas ticket scandal rocked Lawrence in 2010, as school employees improperly sold nearly 20,000 KU basketball tickets over a five-year period, costing the athletic department more than $1 million in lost revenue.
Several Jayhawk players from the 2010-2011 squad have been accused by federal authorities of receiving marijuana from a man rumored to run a large pot ring. None of the players have been named as yet, but the year-long investigation continues.
Twenty-five people are charged with selling more than 1000 pounds of pot in a four-year span in Douglas and Johnson counties in Kansas. (KU is located in Douglas County.)
If you knowingly do something wrong once, shame on you. If you do it twice, shame on me. If you do it 577 times, you’re fired.
While in Norman, coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff flouted the rules by dialing prospective recruits nearly 600 times beyond the allowed number.
The NCAA accepted a self-imposed probation by the school and avoided the feared “lack of institutional control” charge that could have resulted in major scholarship reductions and post-season bans.
Just 19 months removed from an NCAA championship with the Bruins, Harrick was fired prior to the start of the 1996 season for an alleged recruiting violation, for lying on an expense account (a dinner bill for three recruits and five players), and for what the school called an “ethics violation.”
UCLA also charged Harrick with “knowingly furnishing false or misleading information” concerning an individual’s involvement in or knowledge of an NCAA investigation.
Harrick would eventually resurface at Georgia, where he would find trouble again, and for the final time.
Maybe O.J. Mayo brought down Tim Floyd. Or perhaps Robert Guillory brought him down. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What does is that Tim Floyd, Guillory, and Mayo all combined to bring down USC basketball in 2008.
A former associate of Guillory told NCAA investigators that he personally witnessed Floyd give $1000 in cash to Guillory on a Beverly Hills street corner.
The money eventually went to Mayo, the associate started talking, and before anyone knew it Floyd was out of a job, Mayo skipped town to the NBA, and the Trojans received serious NCAA sanctions.
The fact that Floyd can still find work is a miracle in itself. He’s currently coaching at Texas-El Paso.
14. Wichita State
The Shockers aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing. Back in the early 1980s, Wichita State was among the most lawless programs in the land.
In 1982, it was banned from the NCAA and NIT, and stripped of several scholarships over two seasons for gifts of cash and airline tickets. The Shockers had reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament the year before.
“Wichita State is the leader in terms of public penalties,” said David Berst, director of NCAA Enforcement at the time. The ’82 punishment marked a nation’s best (or worst) sixth time the school had been found guilty of infractions.
John Calipari burst on the national scene by guiding the Minutemen to a No. 1 ranking and a spot in the Final Four in 1996.
Minutemen basketball hasn’t been the same since. (If you’d like to read more about Calipari, see the Memphis and Kentucky entries in this article.)
The Cal Golden Bears had a team for the ages in 1995-1996.
They had a flashy guard, Jason Kidd. They had a football-playing forward, Tony Gonzalez. They had a future first-round NBA selection in Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And they had Jelani Gardner, which was going to wind up being a problem.
Coach Todd Bozeman paid Gardner’s parents $30,000 in travel expenses to come watch their son play. When his playing time dwindled, however, they turned Bozeman into the NCAA. Bozeman then lied to school and NCAA investigators about making the payments. Eventually, he came clean.
But the Bears were stripped of all their wins in 1994-1995, and all but two in 1995-1996 (including NCAA Tournament wins). Bozeman was not only fired, but walloped with an eight-year show-cause penalty.
11. Arizona State
If you’re getting $20,000 a game to shave points, someone’s going to find out about it. And in 1994, Sun Devils player Steven Smith earned $80,000.
Reported ASU campus bookie Benny Silman fronted a point-shaving scheme to Sun Devils' Smith and Isaac Burton. Each accepted. Smith received his $80,000; Burton only received $4300 for two games.
Once again, the NCAA had the last say. Smith and Burton each served jail time, while the bookie served nearly four years in prison. All told, more than $506,000 was wagered on the four games in question.
It’s been more than 25 years, but folks in New Orleans still remember the Tulane point-shaving scandal.
Sports Illustrated did an expose on the 1985 saga with the title, “Big Trouble at Tulane.” It involved John “Hot Rod” Williams, a future NBA player, and several of his teammates allegedly taking cash to change the game.
Forward Clyde Eads was rumored to be the mastermind, and he brought several other players into the fold.
And when coach Ned Fowler, who’d turned the program around since arriving in 1981, was also found to have paid some players, Tulane president Eamon Kelly decided to disband the program.
Tulane basketball remained dormant until the 1989-90 season. (Williams was acquitted of shaving points and went on to a lengthy NBA career.)
Though he’s still the coach, Rick Pitino is no longer a saint on the Cardinals sideline. Cheating on your wife by having sex with a woman at a restaurant will remove the halo every time.
The fact that the woman was the wife of Louisville’s equipment manager didn’t make things any better, nor did the attempt she made to extort the coach, which landed her in prison after she was found guilty of lying to federal agents, in addition to the extortion.
Publicly, UL’s president and athletic director still support him, but Pitino’s image has been forever marred, and negative recruiting at his expense will continue as long as he’s coaching.
Which would you like to discuss first? The drug scandal? The Laurie Fine scandal? Or the Bernie Fine version?
Syracuse hoops had a season for the ages tainted by a barrage of allegations during 2011-12—that Bernie Fine had inappropriate contact with minor boys; that his wife, Laurie, slept with numerous Orangemen players; and that there were multiple violations of the school’s internal drug policy dating back a decade.
The Bernie Fine scandal did the most damage. Jim Boeheim’s assistant was fired in November 2011 after a recording of his wife surfaced, acknowledging his abuse.
The ‘Cuse held up fairly well under all the negativity but ultimately fell short of an anticipated Final Four bid.
7. Boston College
During the summer of 1978, small-time gamblers Rocco and Tony Perla recruited high school friend and Eagles starter Rick Kuhn to shave points during the 1978-79 season.
Kuhn was to be paid a bonus, usually $2500, if BC won by fewer than eight points. Kuhn and teammates Jim Sweeney and Joe Streater agreed to the fix.
Eventually the New York mafia got a piece of the action, including participation by Henry Hill, who was portrayed by actor Ray Liotta in the movie, “Goodfellas.” In all, the trio of players (and BC player Ernie Cobb late in the season) attempted to shave points in nine games, succeeding in six of them.
The scheme was discovered a year later. Kuhn was the only player to serve time in prison.
Close your eyes, and you can still see the infamous photo of Richard “The Fixer” Perry in the hot tub with UNLV players Moses Scurry, David Butler and Anderson Hunt.
There was the Lloyd Daniels recruitment. The forcing out of coach Jerry Tarkanian after the 1991-1992 season, one year after the Rebels’ national championship season. The Runnin’ Rebels of the late 1980s and early 1990s had as much drama surrounding them as an episode of Dallas.
In the end, the NCAA couldn’t come up with much on Tark the Shark, other than playing a supporting role in his eventual ouster. UNLV received three years’ probation for rules violations, many of them stemming from recruiting Daniels. The Rebels were limited in their TV appearances, but not banned from the postseason.
When it comes to academic fraud in college basketball, the bar was set in the Twin Cities prior to the start of the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
It was discovered that former University of Minnesota academic adviser Jan Gangelhoff, under the knowledge and approval of coach Clem Haskins, had performed large amounts of classwork for Gophers players. More than 20 players received her assistance over a lengthy period; she even admitted to writing more than 400 papers for them.
The fallout was immense. Haskins never coached again. Minnesota received a four-year probation, and had to forfeit all postseason wins from 1993-98. Also vacated was the school’s first-ever Final Four appearance in 1997.
Everyone in Michigan knows the name of the late Ed Martin.
He was the legendary Wolverines booster who allegedly gave more than $600,000 to star players Chris Webber, Louis Bullock, Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor. He’s still credited today with bringing up, and eventually bringing down, the “Fab Five.”
Michigan wound up self-imposing a postseason ban, forfeited 112 regular season and tournament wins from five seasons, and its win in the 1992 NCAA Tournament semifinals.
Media guides no longer mention the names of the four former players. Banners from the 1992 and 1993 Final Fours were removed from Crisler Arena. Coach Steve Fisher, who led the Michigan to the 1989 national title, lost his job.
The Fab Five era did exist once at Michigan; there’s just little physical evidence of it today.
Memphis, which used to be called Memphis State, has bookend scandals from each era.
The 2007-2008 Tigers had all 38 of their wins vacated under John Calipari (including national runner-up) because of an ineligible player (widely presumed to be Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose). The player in question was accused of having someone else take his SAT test to be eligible, since he’d already failed it three times.
But this dark day wasn’t new to longtime Tigers fans, though—the program’s only other Final Four appearance, in 1985, was also stripped. Coach Dana Kirk brought that dubious distinction to the university after multiple NCAA violations that also got the team banned from the 1987 tournament.
It’s already received the unofficial “death penalty” once. It’s been caught sending cash in the mail, its players have been caught cheating on tests, and the current coach has been stripped of Final Four appearances in each of his previous two jobs.
It’s the University of Kentucky.
And at this point they’re the defending champs and sitting atop the world. But it hasn’t always been so. The 1952-1953 season was shut down due to a point-shaving scandal a few years earlier.
In 1987, assistant coach Dwane Casey sent $1000 in cash to recruit Chris Mills, only to have it fall open during shipping. That same year another player, Eric Manuel, was caught cheating on the SAT.
These actions placed the program on three years’ probation, and banned Manuel from ever playing college basketball again. Mills was barred from continuing to play at Kentucky.
It was the stuff of a CSI episode: a major college basketball player murders his teammate and hides the body. The coach, meanwhile, tries to convince the remaining players that the victim was a drug dealer. This was Baylor basketball in 2003. The murderer? Carlton Dotson. The victim? Patrick Dennehy. The coach? Dave Bliss.
An assistant coach taped Bliss trying to convince Bears players to frame the deceased Dennehy as a drug pusher to investigators because he didn’t want them to know he’d paid for Dennehy’s tuition himself. He wanted them to think Dennehy paid his tuition with drug money.
Bliss resigned under pressure and in disgrace. Dotson got 35 years for the murder. Baylor has come a long way toward moving past this sad chapter in the last 10 years. But it’ll never wash from memory completely.