10 Biggest College Football Scandals of the BCS Era
With Oregon's recent admission that “major violations” occurred under former head coach Chip Kelly, the college football world is left to wonder, “what's next?”
Sadly, the news breaking about Oregon is hardly a surprise anymore. This is the same old song and dance for some of the nation's biggest college football programs. On the heels of almost any spectacular run of success, allegations of NCAA violations follow.
Oregon's plight certainly has the possibility to become a major stumbling block, but it's not the biggest or most shocking scandal to rock an FBS program over the last decade-and-a-half.
To put the pending Oregon mess in perspective, here's our list of the biggest college football scandals of the BCS era.
No. 10: Auburn
Coming in at No. 10 is the quasi-scandal of Cam Newton's days at Auburn. There are still lingering questions about the whole “pay for play” situation and whether Cam himself knew, or should have known about what was going on.
Newton's entire college career is mired in controversy. While a backup at Florida, Newton was arrested for stealing a laptop. He even tried to cover it up by throwing the laptop out a window—as if that could possibly throw off investigators.
Newton was also accused of academic improprieties during his time in Gainesville.
Auburn still hasn't closed the books on the 2010 season, and more may yet be discovered. But even if nothing else comes of Newton's days at Auburn, the media circus that surrounded his final season in college football is enough to earn the No. 10 spot on our list of BCS-era scandals.
No. 9: Alabama
What would a scandals list be without good old Alabama? Over the past couple of decades, there doesn't seem to be a single stretch of more than a few seasons without the Crimson Tide stepping in some sort of excrement. Not even the mighty Nick Saban has been able to completely avoid questions from the NCAA.
It seems like Alabama has been on double-secret probation forever now. The NCAA has repeatedly found the Tide to be in violation of some rule or another, but those infractions have never amounted to much more than a slap on the wrist and an extension of the perpetually existing “sanction” of probation—whatever that means.
But in 2009, that slap on the wrist was a little harder than usual. Athletes from multiple sports—including football—were given free textbooks that they in turn gave or sold to other students.
The dreaded “lack of institutional control” violation was levied, and Alabama was placed back on probation—which had just expired—through 2012. The Tide also vacated all football wins from 2005 to the midway point of 2007, a total of 22 games.
No. 8: Arizona State
Considering the lives ruined and lost in this scandal, it seems somehow unfair to not have it near the top of worst college football scandals. But the truth of the matter is that Arizona State isn't what many would consider a major national power in college football and the scandal involved a player that saw the field in just three games.
Arizona State self-reported to the NCAA that a football player, Loren Wade, had an improper relationship with a staff member who also funneled approximately $1,100 to Wade. In March of 2005, during ASU's spring practices, Wade shot and killed Brandon Falkner, a former ASU defensive back.
In 2007, Wade was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Sure, Arizona State itself was not culpable in this whole mess, but an illicit affair, improper financial payments and murder all lead up to one heckuva scandal.
No. 7: North Carolina
Just a few years back the preseason buzz was all about North Carolina and just how good the Tar Heels' defense was going to be. Could UNC finally win an ACC title? Is the BCS a foregone conclusion for this talented bunch? Is a national title run possible?
Unfortunately, we'll never know the answers to those questions.
Thirteen players were suspended for the season opener against LSU—a game UNC still nearly won. Allegations of money from agents and a raging academic scandal were uncovered, and UNC is still feeling the effects of this scandal with scholarship reductions and a postseason ban.
Funny enough, as soon as the scandal began to edge towards the basketball team, it began to lose importance in the eyes of the UNC folks conducting the query.
No. 6: Colorado
In hindsight, there's little about the Gary Barnett era at Colorado that doesn't make you shake your head. First, we'll look at the whole Katie Hnida fiasco.
Hnida became just the second female to appear on a football roster when she made the team as a kicker in 1999. But in 2000, she was cut. Hnida then levied allegations of harassment and rape against the football team.
Curiously, Hnida herself didn't complain until after she was cut, and her accusations were made to the media—not to law enforcement. It was the university itself that had to ask the police to investigate the allegation.
Whether it was the revenge of a woman scorned or was true (Colorado football had been involved in no fewer than six rape allegations), Barnett did just about everything wrong in trying to get to the bottom of the Hnida situation.
Barnett said, “We were doing her a favor [by putting her on the team].” He went on to say, “It was obvious Katie wasn't very good. She was awful... Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible, okay? There's no other way to say it: she couldn't kick the ball through the uprights.”
A year later, two Colorado players were accused of raping a woman they had met at a party.
By the time 2004 rolled around, Barnett found himself suspended (and later fired) after it became apparent that football players and possibly others associated with the program had hired strippers at recruiting parties.
In the end, the University of Colorado basically rewrote the book on recruiting violations.
No. 5: Florida State
Florida State's transgressions come in at No. 5 on our countdown of BCS era scandals. While the “Free Shoes University” does spill over past the introduction of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998, that's not the scandal that lands the Seminoles in this collection of dubious programs.
While the fact that agents had bought over $6,000 worth of shoes for FSU players in the 1990s certainly gave Florida State a black eye, it was the academic cheating scandal of the late 2000s that not only cost Bobby Bowden 12 wins on his record, it also eventually led to his retirement.
When Florida State was forced to vacate the 12 victories, it seemed as if Bowden had lost his shot at beating out Joe Paterno for the most wins in FBS history. But with Penn State vacating 14 seasons worth of wins in the wake of the Sandusky saga, Bowden now again reigns as the coach with the most wins in FBS history with 377.
No. 4: Miami
There has been so much wrong with the Miami football program over the years, a spot in the top five shouldn't surprise anyone. In fact, the only reason “The U” isn't higher on the list is exactly because scandals have become what we expect from the Hurricanes.
Where to begin? After rewriting the books on NCAA violations through the 1990s, the Hurricanes entered the BCS era as a program intent on restoring its good name.
There were the cash payments from Luther Campbell for big plays and the massive Pell Grant scandal which led to some pretty nasty sanctions, but once the BCS era got underway, Miami looked to be mending its ways. The Hurricanes even earned a trip to two BCS title games and won the 2002 Rose Bowl Game (the 2001 season's national championship game).
Then came some unfortunate comments from Kellen Winslow.
We can all respect loyalty to one's team, but apparently no one told Winslow it really isn't “all about this U.” What's worse, his unfortunate comments about being “a soldier” in “a war” came at a time when real American soldiers in real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fighting and dying. Ill-advised comments to begin with were made inflammatory, disrespectful and down right stupid by their timing.
Fast forward a few more years and we come upon the real scandal that places Miami on our list: the Nevin Shapiro saga.
Shapiro, a Miami booster, provided all manner of impermissible—not to mention illicit and illegal—benefits to Miami players over the course of several years.
The actual allegations are numerous and include so many players over several seasons, it's hard to sort through it all. Suffice it to say the breadth and depth of the scandal will leave a scar on Miami football that may never fully heal.
No. 3: Ohio State
The story of Jim Tressel and his resignation/firing from Ohio State is another example from history that shows the cover-up is often worse than the crime.
A few Ohio State players were accused of some fairly minor infractions. In the grand scheme of things, selling a few mementos in order to get some tattoos isn't that big of a deal. Had Ohio State simply reported the incident to the NCAA, there would have been some punishment, but it would have been nothing compared to what Ohio State faced because of the actions of Tressel.
When the NCAA did find out about the situation, Tressel committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of the NCAA: he lied. Not only did he lie, he did so in writing. Unfortunately for Tressel, the media had evidence (in the form of emails) that Tressel was not only fully aware of the incident, he actively tried to smooth things over. All of this led to Tressel's forced resignation and some pretty harsh penalties for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State vacated some victories—which included a Big Ten title and a Sugar Bowl title—but the biggest point of pain came this last season when a 12-0 Ohio State team was prevented from playing for a national title, or any bowl, thanks to a one-year postseason ban.
Maybe Ohio State should have known better. After all, this wasn't the first Tressel-coached program that found itself in hot water.
A story on ESPN.com appeared in November, 2004 about Youngstown State's football program. It had accepted NCAA sanctions based on impermissible benefits to a star football player during Tressel's tenure as head coach of the national championship-winning Penguins.
No. 2: Penn State
The Penn State scandal which led to the Nittany Lions vacating 111 wins over 14 seasons and cost legendary head coach Joe Paterno his job after 46 seasons makes our list at the No. 3 biggest scandal of the BCS era.
With everything so fresh in our memories, many will wonder why this shocking and horrifying scandal didn't top our list. Primarily, this scandal revolved around one man—Jerry Sandusky—who, at the time of the incidents, was not an active employee of the university. Furthermore, the actual events of this scandal had very little to do directly with the program itself. No players were involved and the perpetrator was a former assistant coach.
Still, this is easily one of the most shocking and heart-wrenching scandals ever to hit collegiate sports.
By now, we all know the story. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of some pretty heinous acts with children, some of which apparently occurred at Penn State football facilities. Sandusky was arrested, tried and convicted for his actions, and will unquestionably spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The lasting impact on Penn State football, however, will be monumental. It could take years, or even decades for the program to regain its footing—if it ever does. Penn State has completed one season of its four-year postseason ban and harsh scholarship reductions. The deeper into the sanctioned time frame we go, the more prominent the repercussions are likely to get, and things are going to get much worse for the Lions before they get any better.
Maybe that's the way it should be. Maybe some good will come of this. Maybe, just maybe, college programs around the nation will realize that there are more important things than football.
No. 1: USC
At last we come to the biggest college football scandal of the BCS, the infamous Reggie Bush era at the University of Southern California.
The Trojans football program was in the midst of yet another annual run to the top of the rankings in 2004, thanks in large part to the exploits of star running back Reggie Bush. Unfortunately for the Trojans, it was later uncovered that Bush was receiving a massive pile of improper benefits. Now, instead of talking about the great USC dynasty of the early 2000s, we talk about vacated wins, a forfeited BCS championship trophy and Bush's returned Heisman.
Add in the fact that head coach Pete Carroll jumped ship right before the scandal broke, and the whole thing smells like a landfill on a hot summer's day.
USC was hit with some pretty severe penalties in addition to the vacated wins and BCS national championship. The NCAA imposed a three-year scholarship reduction as well as a two-year ban on postseason play.
With the downfall of a dynasty, the first-ever invalidated Heisman Trophy and, most importantly, a vacated national championship all combine to make the USC-Reggie Bush episode the No. 1 college football scandal of the BCS era.
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