The 10 Biggest Off-the-Field Moments of the BCS Era

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

The 10 Biggest Off-the-Field Moments of the BCS Era

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    Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky were part of one of college football's biggest scandals ever.
    Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky were part of one of college football's biggest scandals ever.Paul Vathis/Associated Press

    College football’s highly anticipated 2014 season is just over 10 weeks away from kicking off.

    When toe meets leather for the important matchup between Texas A&M and South Carolina on Aug. 28, the long, dreaded offseason will finally be over.

    On the field, college football thrills us with high-powered matchups, amazing athletes and the emergence of stars.

    Off it, college football’s world can be consumed by scandals, controversy and minutiae that tend to grab the attention of fans, message boards and reporters alike.

    College football’s Bowl Championship Series era had no shortage of controversy, and as the game transitions to the College Football Playoff, there is little doubt new controversies will arise to take their place.

    Here’s a look at the 10 biggest off-field controversies of college football’s BCS era.

No. 10 Johnny Manziel's off-Field Antics

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    Johnny Manziel was a lightning rod for controversy at Texas A&M.
    Johnny Manziel was a lightning rod for controversy at Texas A&M.Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    In 2012, Johnny Manziel took Texas A&M and America by storm. Manziel, and his electric style, made the Aggies’ transition into the Southeastern Conference special, as A&M upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa en route to an 11-2 record and No. 5 finish in the final Associated Press poll.

    Manziel, who accounted for 4,600 yards of total offense, became the first freshman quarterback ever to win the Heisman Trophy, and even bigger things were expected of him in 2013.

    That is, if he ever got on the field.

    Manziel had one of the most watched, tumultuous offseasons ever for a college sophomore. Following the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma, he was photographed gambling at an Oklahoma casino (where it was legal for 18 year olds to gamble).

    In June, he fired off an angry tweet (later deleted) saying he “can’t wait to leave” College Station, which he followed up by saying “I love A&M with all my heart but please walk a day in my shoes.”

    In July, he was asked to leave the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, where he was serving as a counselor, after oversleeping while sharing a room with Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. He later apologized for the incident.

    The day before A&M opened fall practice in August, ESPN reported that Manziel signed autographs and accepted a “five-figure flat fee” at the 2013 BCS national title game for an autograph dealer.

    The incident put his NCAA eligibility in question, and he was eventually suspended for the first half of A&M’s 2013 opener against Rice. Manziel put together another outstanding season—passing for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns against 13 interceptions—and declared for the 2014 NFL draft, where he was selected No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

No. 9 Auburn's Cam Newton Controversy

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    Cam Newton's recruitment by Auburn was dogged by controversy.
    Cam Newton's recruitment by Auburn was dogged by controversy.Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Alabama is perhaps the most football-mad state in the nation, which means it is far from immune when scandals are considered. Alabama’s cross-state rival Auburn is no exception.

    In 2010, Auburn rose to national prominence under the watch of coach Gene Chizik and an electric junior college transfer quarterback named Cam Newton.

    In October 2010, with the Tigers rising in the national polls, ESPN reported that Newton’s father, Cecil, as well as former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers, had asked Mississippi State for between $100,000 and $180,000 in exchange for Newton to sign with the Bulldogs.

    Rogers dealt with MSU reps John Bond and Bill Bell, but there was no proof that Cam Newton knew anything about the pay-for-play scheme. There was also no indication that Rogers and Cecil Newton had similar discussions with Auburn, a fact that Auburn strongly emphasized in its contact with the NCAA during its investigation into Newton’s recruitment.

    Four days before the SEC title game, Newton was declared ineligible after the NCAA determined that Rogers acted as his “athletic scholarship agent,” a violation of NCAA rules. He was declared eligible the next day after Auburn successfully argued that Newton had no verbal or written agreement with Rogers or his father, wasn’t aware of the pay-for-play scheme and didn’t hire Rogers as his agent.

    Cam Newton led Auburn to an undefeated season and its first national championship since 1957, defeating Oregon in the BCS national title game, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process. He declared for the NFL draft following the season and was the No. 1 overall pick of the Carolina Panthers.

No. 8 Jameis Winston Controversy

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    Jameis Winston led Florida State to a BCS title amid major controversy.
    Jameis Winston led Florida State to a BCS title amid major controversy.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Last fall, Florida State burst back onto the national college football landscape as a major power behind a force of nature also known as freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Winston tore through ACC defenses and led the Seminoles to their first national title since 2000, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process.

    Those accomplishments are even more amazing given the intense scrutiny that was given to Winston’s off-field life. Last fall, officials re-opened an investigation into an alleged rape committed by Winston at a Tallahassee, Fla., apartment in December 2012.

    According to court documents, the accuser had been drinking at a campus bar and got into a cab with Winston and teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby. At the apartment, Winston and his accuser were observed having what his teammates said was “consensual” sex. The victim’s blood alcohol level was measured at .04 on the night of the incident, and there were no signs of drugs in their system or outward trauma.

    If Winston had been charged with a felony, he would’ve been immediately suspended from the Seminoles’ roster, per FSU athletic department policy.

    He was cleared two days before FSU’s ACC title game against Duke. The Seminoles won the game, advanced to the BCS national title game and won on Winston’s last-second touchdown pass to wideout Kelvin Benjamin.

    "It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am,” he said in a statement after being cleared of the charges, per ESPN.

    Tallahassee police were criticized for their handling of the case. They released a timeline that stated that the woman didn’t identify Winston until over a month after the attack, in January 2013. Winston declined to be interviewed by police and the case was placed in “open/inactive” status in February 2013.

    This spring, Winston received a petty theft citation for leaving a Publix grocery store in Tallahassee without paying for $30 worth of crab legs and seafood. He apologized for the incident and served a suspension from FSU’s baseball team while completing community service.

No. 7 Alabama's Albert Means Scandal

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    Mike DuBose and Alabama were embroiled in a massive NCAA recruiting scandal.
    Mike DuBose and Alabama were embroiled in a massive NCAA recruiting scandal.DAVE MARTIN/Associated Press

    The University of Alabama’s 2000 season was disastrous. The Crimson Tide began the season ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press preseason poll and a strong contender to play for the national title. Alabama ended 3-8 and coach Mike DuBose was fired amid discord on the Tide’s coaching staff and roster.

    Once the season was over, it got worse. In February 2001, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal reported that a Memphis-area high school football assistant, Milton Kirk, said that his boss, Trezevant High School head coach Lynn Lang, had solicited cash payments from programs in exchange for the signature of Trezevant defensive tackle Albert Means, a top national recruit, on a letter of intent.

    Kirk told the Commercial Appeal that Alabama boosters had paid $200,000 to Lang in exchange for Means’ commitment to Alabama. Means played only seven games at Alabama before transferring to Memphis.

    That fueled an NCAA investigation into Alabama and Means’ recruitment that also revealed that Lang received $7,000 from a Kentucky booster in the presence of UK assistant Claude Bassett in exchange for Means’ visit to Kentucky and work at a UK camp. In addition, Lang said former Georgia coach Jim Donnan gave him $700 for work at a camp. 

    Following an NCAA investigation, Alabama received a five-year NCAA probation that included a two-year bowl ban and was stripped of 21 scholarships over a three-year span. NCAA officials said the Crimson Tide, a repeat violator, was “staring down the barrel of a gun” at the NCAA death penalty. Kentucky was also placed on probation and received a one-year bowl ban.

    In 2005, Alabama booster Logan Young was convicted of paying $150,000 to Lang to secure Means’ services. Lang and Kirk also received federal convictions for their roles in the case. At Young’s trial, federal prosecutors alleged that Lang tried to sell Means to eight schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

    The probation, coupled with the controversial departures of coaches Dennis Franchione and Mike Price, sent Alabama’s program into a serious slump that was only rectified when UA hired coach Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins. Since Saban’s arrival in 2007, the Tide has won three BCS national championships.

No. 6 Bobby Petrino Fired by Arkansas

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    Bobby Petrino's improper relationship and a breach of trust cost him his career at Arkansas.
    Bobby Petrino's improper relationship and a breach of trust cost him his career at Arkansas.Gareth Patterson/Associated Press

    In spring 2012, Bobby Petrino was riding high at Arkansas. Following a controversial departure from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons after less than one season at the helm, Petrino had built the Razorbacks into a national power, going 21-5 with a Sugar Bowl bid in 2011 and 2012.

    In April 2012, all that came crashing down. Literally.

    In early April, Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash on a winding road outside Fayetteville, with football staffer Jessica Dorrell in tow. Petrino suffered a cracked vertebra, four cracked ribs and facial abrasions, but the damage to his reputation was far worse.

    He informed Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long that Dorrell was also on the bike only 20 minutes before the report was made public. Following an investigation, he admitted to an inappropriate extramarital relationship with Dorrell (who was also engaged) that included a $20,000 cash payment.

    Dorrell was the Razorbacks’ student-athlete development coordinator, and she was hired from a pool of 159 applicants following a shorter time frame than normal for such a position.

    Petrino did not admit Dorrell’s presence on the bike to Long or the public initially, and reports show that he asked police if he was required to disclose his passenger’s identity.

    Long was not pleased with Petrino’s actions, considering them a breach of trust, and he fired him “with cause,” meaning he could not collect the $18 million remaining on his contract, he said at a news conference.

    He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program. In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.

    Petrino asked for forgiveness in a statement.

    The simplest response I have is: I'm sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart,. All I have been able to think about is the number of people I've let down by making selfish decisions. I've taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but myself. I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened.

    Following a season led by interim head coach John L. Smith, Arkansas hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. He was 3-9 in his first season at the Hogs helm. Following a season out of football, Petrino went 8-4 as Western Kentucky’s coach before going back to Louisville for a second stint as the Cardinals’ head coach.

No. 5 Miami's Nevin Shapiro Scandal

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    The NCAA investigation into Nevin Shapiro hung over Miami for years.
    The NCAA investigation into Nevin Shapiro hung over Miami for years.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    When Miami joined the ACC in 2004, the Hurricanes were expected to be one of the league’s marquee programs. So far, however, Miami has not lived up to its lofty reputation. The Hurricanes have instead been dogged by a major recruiting scandal which is just now beginning to lift.

    In July 2011, disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro told Yahoo Sports that he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to Miami athletes in both football and men’s basketball over an eight-year period.

    Yahoo reported that Shapiro claims that the benefits covered an estimated $2 million and distributed to 72 football and men’s basketball players, violating four major NCAA rules.

    Shapiro is currently serving a 20-year federal prison sentence following a conviction for money laundering and securities fraud connected to a Ponzi scheme, allegedly having used investor funds to fuel his donations to Miami athletics.

    Miami banned itself from bowls for two seasons at the expense of a potential appearance in the 2012 ACC title game. The NCAA finally issued a ruling last season, stripping nine scholarships over three seasons.

    The Hurricanes are recovering from Shapiro’s actions, but it hasn’t been easy.

No. 4 College Football Realignment

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    Bo Pelini and Nebraska were just one of a  number of high-profile programs to shift leagues during college football realignment.
    Bo Pelini and Nebraska were just one of a number of high-profile programs to shift leagues during college football realignment.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    This fall, some of the final dominoes in college football’s realignment craze will fall into place.

    For the past four years, realignment was a consistent, important matter around college football.

    The rumor mill spun with innuendo concerning which teams would join what leagues, why they would do it, and the fallout that would occur from such moves.

    Realignment reshaped college football as it enters the College Football Playoff era, which will feature teams from five major conferences (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) which will have guaranteed access into the playoff and its affiliated bowls.

    Two leagues are essentially no more. The Big East renamed itself the American Athletic Conference and no has longer guaranteed access to playoff bowls. Big East basketball-only schools split off and took the Big East name as their own, while the WAC dropped football completely.

    And from the ACC to the FCS, realignment has had a domino effect.

    The ACC subtracted Maryland but added Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse, adding Notre Dame as a member in everything but football (the Fighting Irish will play five ACC teams per season, beginning this fall).

    The Big Ten added Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers.

    The Big 12 subtracted Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M but added TCU and West Virginia.

    The Pac-12 added Colorado and Utah.

    The SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri.

    And those moves begat other moves, which completely reshaped the AAC, Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt.

    Realignment was fun to watch, but for college football reporters who enjoy their downtime and summer vacations, let’s say this: We’re glad it’s over. For now.

No. 3 Southern California's NCAA Probation

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    Reggie Bush was forced to give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy following USC's NCAA sanctions.
    Reggie Bush was forced to give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy following USC's NCAA sanctions.CHRIS CARLSON/Associated Press

    Under coach Pete Carroll, Southern California rose to national prominence, in large part due to the play of tailback Reggie Bush.

    Behind Bush, the Trojans won the 2004 BCS national title and made the 2005 BCS title game before falling to Texas and quarterback Vince Young in a game widely considered to be one of the best BCS title games ever.

    Several years later, the NCAA opened up a wide-ranging investigation that focused on the Trojans’ football and men’s basketball programs, zeroing in on the conduct of Bush and former Trojans men’s basketball guard O.J. Mayo.

    The NCAA ruled that both had accepted illegal benefits from agents (in Mayo’s case, before he played a single game for USC), thus compromising their eligibility.

    Southern California was forced to vacate its final two wins of 2004 (including the 2004 BCS national title game) and all wins in 2005. The Heisman Trust forced Bush to give back the 2005 Heisman Trophy. The men’s basketball game vacated all wins from the 2007-08 season.

    Despite those self-imposed penalties, the NCAA hit the Trojans’ football program with serious penalties, banning USC from bowl games in 2010 and 2011 and docking it 30 scholarships over three seasons.

    The Trojans are still recovering from those sanctions.

No. 2 Ohio State's Tattoo-Gate

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    Jim Tressel's Ohio State career came crashing down in late 2010.
    Jim Tressel's Ohio State career came crashing down in late 2010.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was known as one of the most strait-laced, conservative coaches in college football; the kind of guy who preferred to win with the run game and defense, who preferred the punt over a long fourth-and-two.

    In late 2010 and early 2011, that carefully manicured reputation crumbled in a controversy centered around tattoos and extra benefits.

    On December 23, 2010, the NCAA hit Ohio State with serious supensions connected with the receipt of extra benefits. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, offensive tackle Mike Adams, tailback Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and defensive end Solomon Thomas were hit with five-game suspensions for selling team and bowl memorabilia and receiving “improper benefits” from Eddie Rife, the owner of Columbus’ Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor. Linebacker Jordan Whiting was also suspended for two games.

    Emails revealed that Tressel knew about the violations well before the suspensions happened but failed to report  them to athletic director Gene Smith.

    In March 2011, he was slapped with a two-game suspension and fined $250,000 by Ohio State for failing to report the violations. Nine days later, that suspension increased to five games.

    On Memorial Day 2011, Tressel resigned under pressure, replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. Ohio State received a one-year postseason ban and was stripped of nine scholarships over three seasons by the NCAA in December 2011. That kept an undefeated OSU team out of the Big Ten title game in 2012, but the Buckeyes did make an Orange Bowl appearance last fall under second-year coach Urban Meyer.

    Tressel is at peace with how the story ended, he told The Lantern recently. 

    That doesn’t mean that there won’t be anything ever happen again at Ohio State or anywhere else. It is…really a difficult time we live in…when you have that type of atmosphere, it’s sometimes difficult to navigate. What I always liked about Ohio State and still like about Ohio State is that as difficult as the challenge is, it's still a great place with a great culture.

No. 1 Penn State's Jerry Sandusky Scandal

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    Jerry Sandusky was at the center of one of the most sordid athletic scandals in NCAA history.
    Jerry Sandusky was at the center of one of the most sordid athletic scandals in NCAA history.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Under long-time coach Joe Paterno, Penn State football enjoyed one of the nation’s proudest, most squeaky-clean reputations. All of that was destroyed in 2011.

    In March 2011, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., reported on a grand jury investigation into former long-time Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual crimes against young boys.

    On Nov. 4, 2011, Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes against underage boys; he was arrested a day later.

    As part of the grand jury investigation, Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary reported that he had witnessed Sandusky engaging in what he believed to be a sexual situation with an unidentified boy in the shower area of Penn State’s locker room in 2002.

    He said that he had reported the incident to Paterno. Paterno then, in turn, reported the incident to athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz—the bare minimum which he was required to do by law—but did not report the incident to police.

    Curley, Schultz and Penn State president Graham Spanier did not report the incident to the police. And while Sandusky was banned from using Penn State’s main campus with children in 2002, he was allowed to operate a camp on a satellite campus.

    Following Sandusky’s indictment in November 2011, Spanier was forced to resign. Curley and Paterno were both fired.

    An independent report by former FBI director Louis Freeh stated that Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz had known about the allegations since 1998 and were complicit in failing to report them, showing “a total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”

    Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22, 2012, just over two months after his firing.

    Curley, Spanier and Schultz have been charged with grand jury perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and child endangerment by Pennsylvania officials.

    In June 2012, Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and maximum of 60 years in prison.

    The NCAA also came down significantly against Penn State. On July 23, 2012, the NCAA announced probation that included a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, the loss of 40 scholarships from 2013 to 2017 and the vacation of all victories from 1998-2011—which dropped Paterno from No. 1 to No. 12 on college football’s all-time wins list.

    NCAA president Mark Emmert said at a news conference that the sanctions were designed “not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”

    Last fall, the NCAA stated that it will gradually restore the scholarships lost so that Penn State is at the 85-scholarship limit when it comes off probation in 2017.