College Basketball: Ranking the 20 Scandals That Rocked the CBB Universe
There have been so many scandals in college sports in the past few years that it almost seems like white noise at this point when news of another one breaks.
Nevertheless, all scandals are not created equal. For one reason or another, some off-court or off-field issues just capture the national attention and dominate the 24-hour news cycle more so than others.
While football has dominated the scandalous headlines as of late (Penn State, Miami, North Carolina, Oregon, etc.), basketball has plenty of skeletons in its closet as well.
Read on for a power ranking of the 20 scandals that rocked the college basketball world.
No. 20 Rick Pitino: Tabloid Fodder
In 2009 Rick Pitino was a married father of five, a devout Roman Catholic and the main character in a sex scandal that included a restaurant booth, an abortion and an extortion attempt.
The quick and dirty version of the Pitino scandal is that the coach cheated on his wife with a woman who later demanded cars, tuition for her children and eventually $10 million from him. What’s more, it was reported that Pitino admitted in a police interview to paying her $3,000 for an abortion.
It got worse for Pitino and his family when the woman accused him of sexual assault, a claim he adamantly denied.
The scandalous incident may have occurred just a few short years ago, but it is barely ever mentioned today when Pitino is discussed. Nevertheless, it was quite an embarrassment for the legendary coach, his family and the Louisville basketball program at the time.
No. 19 California: A $30,000 Ticket to Unemployment
Todd Bozeman was supposed to be the next big thing for the California basketball program. He led the Golden Bears to the Sweet 16 as a young 29-year-old and looked poised for a promising future.
But the fastest way to ground an enticing career is to ignore the long list of rules that the NCAA lays out for its sports departments.
Bozeman was forced to resign a few years after that Sweet 16 appearance after it was discovered that he paid $30,000 to highly-regarded recruit Jelani Gardner’s parents. The idea was to compensate their travel to games, but the NCAA doesn’t really care what your intentions are.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bozeman was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint.
Not exactly the way a promising career is supposed to unfold.
No. 18 Georgia: Easy A’s for Everyone
Georgia is, for good reason, known as a football school. However, the Bulldogs appeared in two consecutive NCAA tournaments in 2001 and 2002 under head coach Jim Harrick.
Furthermore, it looked like Georgia was heading to a third straight Big Dance when it entered the SEC tournament with a 19-8 record. However, that tournament appearance never crystallized because Harrick and his assistant coach son, Jim Harrick Jr., committed academic fraud.
The two Harricks provided players with A’s in classes that they never actually attended and also paid for various expenses, including a large price tag for long-distance phone calls. Harrick Jr. was fired and his father resigned just a few short days later.
At least they still have football in Athens.
No. 17 Bruce Pearl: Call Me Maybe
Bruce Pearl is no longer the head man at Tennessee thanks to a recruiting scandal that involved prospects illegally visiting his home. However, that wasn’t the first time the controversial coach found himself in the NCAA’s crosshairs.
As an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, Pearl was going after highly-regarded recruit and Chicago native Deon Thomas. While Thomas eventually committed to in-state Illinois, Pearl would have the last laugh.
He slyly recorded a phone conversation in which Thomas implied that he received cash and an SUV from Illinois, which are of course NCAA violations. Although investigations never turned up substantiating evidence, Illinois was nevertheless punished.
The Fighting Illini basketball program was given the lack of institutional control moniker and banned from postseason play for one year.
So, subsequent evidence was never actually uncovered in this case and Illinois was still punished. You should bring this up next time you ask Alabama fans what they think of the Cam Newton situation at Auburn.
No. 16 Kelvin Sampson: Don’t Text and Coach
Kelvin Sampson finally had his dream job at Indiana University. He was going to be the next great coach in Bloomington, following the legendary footsteps of Bobby Knight.
However, in less than two years Sampson was forced out of his position as the Hoosiers’ basketball coach for committing a number of NCAA violations, including illegal phone calls and text messages with recruits.
The NCAA gave Sampson a 5-year show clause penalty (which means that any team that wanted to hire him would have to prove to the NCAA that he is deserving of returning to a coaching position).
Furthermore, the NCAA gave Indiana a 3-year probation penalty, one that current coach Tom Crean has just recently led his team out of.
While the Hoosiers may be the cream of the crop in college basketball right now, it wasn’t that long ago that they were struggling to emerge from Sampson’s errors.
No. 15 Bobby Knight: No Longer the Hoosiers’ General
Bobby Knight is one of the most legendary coaches in the history of college basketball. But that doesn’t mean controversy doesn’t follow him wherever he goes.
Neil Reed, one of Knight’s players at Indiana, accused the Hall of Fame coach of choking him at practice in 1997. Video emerged that corroborated Reed’s claim, and Indiana’s president put Knight on a zero-tolerance policy.
Later that year, Knight was fired after a student claimed that Knight grabbed his arm and used a number of obscenities when interacting with him.
Knight’s dismissal led to riots and marches on the Indiana campus by fans and students protesting the firing of their beloved coach.
On a sad note, Reed has since passed away from heart complications. He was only 36.
No. 14 Ohio State: At Least There Were No Tattoos
Thad Matta has been so successful during his tenure in Columbus that it is easy to forget that he inherited a basketball program that was under the dark clouds of probation.
Jim O’Brien was the Buckeyes’ head man before Matta, and his Ohio State run did not exactly have a fairy tale ending. He was fired by Athletic Director Andy Geiger for giving money to a recruit from Serbia.
The NCAA got involved and gave Ohio State a 3-year probation penalty and a 1-year postseason ban, while forcing the school to vacate a trip to the Final Four. Furthermore, O’Brien was given a 5-year show clause penalty.
However, O’Brien has since won a wrongful termination lawsuit and all hiring restrictions on the former coach have been removed.
But if you’re looking for an explanation on how being fired for breaking NCAA bylaws and providing a recruit with money is considered wrongful termination, you’ve come to the wrong place.
No. 13 John Calipari: What Final Fours?
John Calipari may be decorating his trophy case in Lexington now, but his accomplishments will be forever tarnished in the eyes of many thanks to his role in two separate scandals at two separate schools.
It’s not every day that a school like UMass makes the Final Four, but it did just that under Calipari. However, star player Marcus Camby was deemed ineligible because he accepted $28,000, jewelry and prostitutes from agents in 1996.
Alas, in the NCAA’s eyes and according to the official record books, UMass never was in the Final Four.
Calipari also led another non-power conference team to the Final Four in the Memphis Tigers. Nevertheless, that appearance and the 38 wins the Tigers accumulated in the 2007-08 season were vacated after it was discovered that star player Derrick Rose was only eligible because a high school teammate took his SAT for him.
Calipari defenders can argue the extent to which he was actually involved in either of these cases, but the fact remains that he has left something of a path of destruction on his way to the top of the college basketball mountain.
No. 12 St. Bonaventure: The Transfer That Wasn’t
Jamil Terrell was a junior college transfer in 2002 when he decided to play basketball for St. Bonaventure University.
However, Terrell had only earned a welding certificate from Coastal Georgia Community College, which (surprise, surprise) was far short of the academic standards that the NCAA requires for Division-I eligibility.
The Bonnies were subsequently punished when news broke of the illicit transfer. Head coach Jan van Breda Kolff was fired and St. Bonaventure was forced to forfeit every game that Terrell played in while at the school.
Moreover, the Bonnies were banned from the Atlantic-10 conference tournament, and the basketball program has struggled to remain relevant ever since. However, an NCAA tournament appearance this past season may indicate that St. Bonaventure is on its way back.
No. 11 Kentucky: The Wildcats Weren’t Always on Top of the World
The 1989 version of the Kentucky Wildcats would be entirely unfamiliar to newer members of the Big Blue Nation that have become accustomed to their team’s recent run of success.
The squad finished with an abysmal 13-19 record that season (its worst mark since 1927), but that wasn’t the biggest concern.
It turns out that Kentucky violated multiple NCAA rules, which resulted in a 2-year postseason ban for one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs. The Wildcats were also forced to vacate wins and were placed on probation for three seasons.
Assistant coach Dwayne Casey gave $1,000 to the family of freshman Chris Mills. Moreover, the program illegally assisted Eric Manuel on his college entrance exams. The NCAA banned Manuel from participating in any NCAA sanctioned event, and he eventually transferred to an NAIA school.
While a 2-year postseason ban is much less daunting than what Penn State’s football program is facing now, the Wildcats’ resurgence following a multiple season tournament ban should give Nittany Lion fans some hope that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
No. 10 Southwestern Louisiana: Apparently a 1.6 GPA Is Too Much to Ask for
It’s safe to say that the 1972-73 season was not exactly a banner year for the Southwestern Louisiana basketball program.
It turns out that several of the players on the Ragin' Cajuns (the school is now known as Louisiana Lafayette) were receiving scholarship money from outsiders (aka boosters). If that had been it, Southwestern Louisiana may not have made this list.
But the program was also allowing players that had GPAs lower than 1.6, which was the bare minimum to be eligible at that time, to play in a multitude of games.
In a case that is far less nationally known than the SMU football scandal, Southwestern Louisiana was given the death penalty and forced to ban all basketball competition for the next two seasons.
No. 9 Minnesota: Do Your Own Homework
The Minnesota basketball program has only been to one Final Four in its entire history. Well, that number is zero if you ask the NCAA.
Head coach Clem Haskins led the Golden Gophers through something of a golden stretch in the mid 1990s. Haskins directed the squad to NCAA tournament appearances in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999, and the Gophers made the Final Four in 1997.
Nevertheless, the success was being racked up with ineligible players. Former manager Jan Gangelhoff admitted that she wrote more than 400 papers for a multitude of players, which the NCAA understandably frowns upon.
The Gophers were forced to vacate any victories, titles, tournament appearances and awards that they accumulated from 1993 to 1999 and were also stripped of five scholarships for future seasons.
Additionally, Haskins, Athletic Director Mark Dienhart, Vice President of Athletics McKinley Boston, assistant Athletic Director Jeff Schemmel and academic counselor Alonzo Newby were all fired in the wake of the scandal.
No. 8 Fab Five: No More Banners
Who would have guessed that Chris Webber’s ill-advised timeout would have been only the second biggest mistake he made during his days in Ann Arbor?
The Michigan Fab Five (Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson) took the college basketball world by storm with their baggy shorts, flashy style of play and entertaining victories. They led the Wolverines to two Final Fours, although never brought home the ultimate prize.
However, it was later discovered that Ed Martin allegedly made payments of $616,000 to a handful of players, including Webber. Head coach Steve Fisher was fired, the Final Fours were vacated and the banners were taken down from the rafters.
Documentary-based arguments with former Duke Blue Devils aside, the Fab Five still resonate in the college basketball world today. Shorts are as baggy as ever, fast breaks are a regular part of the game and Webber and Rose are still household names.
But if the NCAA had its way, you wouldn’t remember them at all.
No. 7 Northwestern: Even Nerds Cheat
Wait, what? Northwestern is on a list of the biggest college basketball scandals of all time?
I guess if Harvard can be hit by a cheating scandal though, nobody is safe.
Northwestern finished 5-22 in the 1994-95 season, but the putrid record may have been the result of more than just the Wildcats’ incompetence on the court. Dewey Williams and Kenneth Dion Lee, who both started for Northwestern, were charged with fixing the outcome of multiple Wildcats’ games.
Basically, Northwestern starters were point shaving. Williams and Lee were both eventually suspended for their roles in the scandal.
To make matters worse, players on the Northwestern football team were indicted for perjury later that year for betting on their own games.
I’m pretty sure library books are free, so I don’t know what all these Wildcat players needed the money for anyways.
No. 6 Arizona State: Not a Safe Bet in the Desert
When Arizona State and Oregon State play each other in basketball, it doesn’t usually register on the national radar very often. In fact, President Obama’s brother-in-law is the head coach of the Beavers now, and that still doesn’t really catch the interest of most college basketball fans.
But the game in 1994 certainly did.
Stevin Smith was a guard for the Sun Devils that year, and he was paid $20,000 as a part of a substantial point-shaving scheme. Smith later admitted that he took bribes during four other games besides the matchup with Oregon State in that same season.
In 1997, Smith was given a 1-year prison sentence for engaging in the point shaving scandal.
No. 5 Tulane: Not so “Hot Rod” After All
Head coach Ned Fowler looked like he finally had the Tulane basketball program on the right track.
Following five consecutive losing seasons, the Green Wave were starting to win games left and right under the guidance of Fowler and behind the star power of forward John “Hot Rod” Williams.
Unfortunately for the Tulane faithful, if certain allegations were true, Williams wasn’t exactly playing under the NCAA’s guidelines.
It was reported that Williams accepted nearly $9,000 to alter the point spreads in multiple matchups, including games against Virginia Tech and Southern Mississippi.
In fact, Williams was later acquitted, but that didn’t really help the Tulane basketball program. The university decided to drop its basketball program in the aftermath of the point shaving scandal, and it was not reinstated for a number of years.
Anytime a scandal results in the dropping of a program entirely, it’s probably going to find itself on lists like this.
No. 4 Syracuse: The Bernie Fine Scandal
While the Bernie Fine scandal at Syracuse did not garner quite the national attention and horror that the Jerry Sandusky story at Penn State did, it was incredibly disturbing in its own right.
Bernie Fine, an assistant coach for the Orange and someone who was involved with the program for 36 years, was fired after child molestation allegations were levied against him by a number of individuals, including former Syracuse ball boys.
Jim Boeheim originally seemed to support Fine with his initial comments regarding the issue, but once he learned more of the facts behind the scandal, he supported the university in its decision.
Situations like this are always dicey, but considering the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky issue, it was somewhat refreshing to see Syracuse proactively fire Fine in this instance. Either way, it is extremely unfortunate and disheartening that things like this happen anywhere, let alone inside a major sports program.
No. 3 Boston College: A New Definition of the SI Cover Jinx
Boston College’s point shaving scandal resulted in one of the more infamous Sports Illustrated covers of all time.
In something that sounds like it came straight out of a mobster movie, Eagles’ players Rick Kuhn, Jim Sweeney and Joe Streater joined forces with the Rocco Perla, Tony Perla (they were brothers), Paul Mazzei and Henry Hill to fix the final result of nine separate Boston College basketball games in the 1978-79 season.
Basically, the basketball players were asked to fail to cover the spread and then given $2,500 each time they were able to pull it off.
Nevertheless, the plan was foiled when Hill revealed the scheme after he was arrested. Everyone involved was brought to trial, although Sweeney and Streater ended up not being charged.
The same couldn’t be said for Kuhn, Mazzei and Tony Perla, who were each given 10-year prison sentences.
Seems like a lot of trouble for $2,500.
No. 2 1950’s Point Shaving Scandal: New York, New York Indeed
There once was a time when the Community College of New York (CCNY) was a national powerhouse.
Yes, it’s true.
CCNY won both the NIT and the national championship in 1950 (how times have changed) and looked poised to dominate college basketball for much of the upcoming decade.
The Beavers were involved in perhaps the largest point shaving scandal to ever hit college sports. It was one that dated back to 1947 and spanned more than 80 games over the next three seasons.
It turns out that a multitude of players from seven different schools were involved in the incident, including the prestigious Kentucky Wildcats. New York District Attorney Frank Hogan arrested 32 players, and Kentucky was given a 1-year postseason ban.
Moreover, basketball in the New York area was nearly left with a permanent black mark. The NIT left the city until 1986, and CCNY and New York University fell all the way to the Division III ranks.
Not exactly the type of dominance the Beavers were anticipating.
No. 1 Baylor
In terms of scandals, it doesn’t get much bigger, or scarier, than what happened to Baylor in the early 2000s.
Patrick Dennehy and Carlton Dotson both transferred to Baylor and were teammates on the 2003-04 Bears basketball team, but they would be forever linked for much more than that.
After an extensive police search, Dennehy’s decomposed body was discovered with gunshot wounds to the head.
His decapitated head.
Dotson eventually plead guilty to murdering his teammate and was given a 35-year prison sentence.
If that had been it, it would have been bad enough. But it turned out that head coach Dave Bliss instructed his players to lie to investigators by telling them that Dennehy had been involved with drug deals as a way to pay his tuition.
In reality, Bliss was out of scholarships and had been paying Dennehy’s tuition himself. Bliss even threatened to fire an assistant coach if he didn’t go along with the plan.
To make matters even worse, drug and alcohol problems later hit the program and Bliss’s staff was hit with recruiting violations.
Ultimately, Baylor was suspended from postseason play the next season, given an extensive probation period and saw many of its players transfer away. The fact that Baylor has appeared in the NCAA tournament and competed for the Big 12 title less than 10 years removed from this tragedy is a testament to Scott Drew’s incredible coaching and program-building ability.