At any given hour on any given day during any given season (or offseason), any given program may cross that proverbial line. During this day and age of college athletics, the race for a competitive edge is a continuous one, but teams must be wary of what constitutes ethical behavior and what the NCAA deems as suspicious activity.
Truth is, wrongdoing is spread all across the college football landscape. And as we’ve seen recently, in the cases of Michigan and possibly USC, no school or program is storied enough to be immune from prosecution.
Depending on the offense, penalties vary in severity. Probation and an abbreviated finger-waving from the NCAA may be all you get for a minor infraction. On the other hand, literally and figuratively, test the mettle of the judge and jury, and you may the middle finger and…well, just ask SMU fans.
Here now are six of the more notable cases of NCAA rules violations in recent years, nearly all of which are still fresh in our minds, I’m sure.
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Guilty Party: Alabama
The Crime: As outlined in the University of Alabama’s Public Infractions Report released in June of last year, more than 200 student-athletes from several teams within the athletics department were provided with “impermissible benefits” via the institution’s textbook distribution program.
In other words, athletes were receiving free class materials, with the university identifying 22 individuals as “intentional wrongdoers” who overstepped the parameters set forth by their scholarships in obtaining extra textbooks, some of which were valued at as much as $3,950.
The Sentencing: Sixteen teams were penalized, not the least of which was the football program. Alabama was forced to vacate 21 football wins that occurred between 2005 and 2007, Nick Saban’s first season as head coach.
The school had to pay a fine, and as was the case with the other 15 teams involved, the football program received three years probation. In addition, students were forced to pay restitution based on the value of his/her impermissible benefit, as determined by either the university of NCAA bylaws.
Alabama attempted to appeal the NCAA’s decision as it pertained to the vacated football wins, claiming the student-athletes gained no profit, but the motion was denied in March, mainly on the grounds that the school’s record as a repeat offender justified the ruling.
The Effects: As far as football is concerned, none whatsoever, unless you care that Alabama suffered slightly in the pecking order for all-time wins. The incident did not lead to any scholarships getting taken away, and within two seasons ‘Bama had itself a national title.
And it seems the NCAA’s ruling hasn’t had much of a negative impact on other Tide teams, either. Alabama finished a respectable 30th in the final standings for the 2008-09 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which awards points to a school for the overall performance of its athletics department as a whole.
Guilty Party: Florida State
The Crime: Academic fraud involving more than 60 student-athletes across 10 sports teams. According to the NCAA’s official Public Infractions Report, three members of the academic support staff provided the student-athletes with “improper assistance.”
As outlined in the report, a majority of the wrongdoing stemmed from an online music course that was utilized by many students on campus before being ultimately stripped of its academic integrity in 2006. Other improprieties involved one unidentified “learning specialist” providing players with answers to quiz questions, as well as completing portions of assigned papers on behalf of the student-athletes.
Florida State was also accused of failing to monitor its student-athletes.
The Sentencing: Regarding academic fraud as the most “egregious” infraction there is, the NCAA pummeled Florida State as a result of the scandal.
To its credit, Florida State conducted its own investigation shortly after the fraud was exposed in 2007, resulting in 23 players being suspended for the Music City Bowl of that year. However, given the seriousness of the infractions altogether, the NCAA flexed its muscle, announcing in March of 2009 that it would take scholarships away from each of the 10 teams, as well as force them to vacate any wins in 2006 and 2007 that involved the implicated athletes.
The Effects: Undermanned, the Seminoles fell to Kentucky in that Music City Bowl, but the effects of the scandal on the football program, which presumably had the most to lose, have been somewhat minimal. (The lone exception may be men’s track and field, which had its 2007 national championship wiped clean from the record books.)
The one undeniable detriment to the football program involves former head coach Bobby Bowden, whose otherwise sterling tenure in Tallahassee will forever be affected by the NCAA’s mandate that FSU vacate what has been determined to be 12 wins during the ’06 and ’07 seasons.
Rather than retiring with 389 career wins, Bowden, who was not implicated in the scandal, left the game last January with 377 total victories, second behind Joe Paterno.
Like the other nine programs — which also included men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s track and field, baseball, softball, and golf — football will be under probation until 2013. Via its self-imposed sanctions, FSU lost a number of football scholarships, and the NCAA opted to dock another one for the 2010-11 class, raising the total to six over three seasons.
But what the Florida State football program has lacked in quantity in terms of available scholarships, it has made up for with recruiting quality. According to Rivals.com, the handcuffed Seminoles’ last February signed their second consecutive class to be ranked among the top 10 nationally. Combine that with the injection of excitement that has accompanied Jimbo Fisher’s assumption of the head coaching duties, and the academic fraud hasn’t really been anything more than an embarrassment that is now beginning to fade.
Guilty Party: Michigan
The Crime: Working too damn hard. According to Ann Arbor.com, Michigan officials and the NCAA have agreed upon four separate infractions, which include a failure to adhere to the allotted time a student-athlete can participate in team activities, therefore substantiating claims made by former and current players that head coach Rich Rodriguez enforced an extra workload during the regular season and offseason.
Where the friction lies concerns whether Rodriguez is guilty of failing to create “an atmosphere of compliance” within his program,” a scenario that the NCAA said in February stemmed from Rodriguez’s loose handling of his quality control staff, a graduate assistant, and a student assistant coach.
The Sentencing: Upon completion of an internal investigation, Michigan recently imposed sanctions on itself, but the gavel won’t strike wood until the school meets with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Aug. 13-14.
It is then that the NCAA will rule whether it will merely uphold Michigan’s self-discipline or impose additional penalties. Among the self-imposed sanctions, which led to the termination of one staffer and the reprimanding of seven more, is a probation period of two years, as well as cuts to the quality control staff and a loss of 130 practice hours.
The Effects: Depending on the infraction committee’s ruling, Michigan may not know the full extent of its punishment for some time, perhaps as many as 10 weeks after its August meeting with the NCAA.
On the bright side, it seems likely that since Michigan seemingly did not gain a competitive advantage from the violations, scholarships will not be taken away, nor will there be any sort of ban on bowls or television appearances.
With that being said, for college football’s winningest program—and one of its cleanest, although the school is now being categorized by the NCAA as a “repeat violator” thanks to a 2003 scandal inside the basketball program—this incident casts even more glare from the spotlight on 2010 and possibly beyond.
Rodriguez, whose tenure at West Virginia is also under investigation, was on the hot seat before this mess arose, but what will happen if he is proven to be the facilitator of a program that plays fast and loose with the rules, no matter how innocent the violations may seem?
Guilty Party: USC
The Crime: Though nothing has yet to be substantiated, the NCAA is currently investigating whether former running back Reggie Bush accepted a number payments and gifts from a pair of San Diego sports marketers during his time in Los Angeles, including a residence valued at more than $750,000 that was used to house Bush’s family.
Bush, who has denied any involvement, has settled with both men out of court and has yet to testify under oath in the case.
The Sentencing: The guillotine has already fallen on the USC basketball program, which was found to have violated NCAA rules during the playing days of former guard O.J. Mayo.
The university self-imposed the sanctions, which included a postseason ban for the 2009-10 season, forfeited wins, and several recruiting-related restrictions.
The punishment reserved for the football program would be largely retroactive but no less detrimental. Should the accusations involving Bush pan out, the NCAA could force USC to vacate each win accumulated during the Bush years, a total that could include the 2005 national championship should the BCS see fit.
Per a recent report on ESPN.com, a verdict is expected soon, as the NCAA plans on releasing its findings on June 4. If the NCAA rules that Bush was ineligible, the BCS could then step in essentially strip USC its series wins, which include the 2004 Rose Bowl in addition to the nation title the following season.
The Effects: The residue from the alleged Bush scandal is already present. To many, the timing of former head coach Peter Carroll’s defection to the NFL — which coincided with the launch of the NCAA’s investigation — was peculiar, providing fuel for a fire that has only grown hotter.
Aided by power lawyer Shawn Chapman Holley, Bush will likely avoid trouble, but his silence is an implication of guilt.
If this situation begins and ends with Bush, the slaps on USC’s wrist will seem more like love taps. However, if the NCAA finds that school officials were knowledgeable of Bush’s shady dealings, it could rule that USC lacks institutional control over its student-athletes, which in turn could lead to scholarships being pulled, as well as postseason and television bans.
Guilty Party: Kansas
The Crime: Ticket scalping. Yes, that’s correct—ticket scalping, one of more common yet seedier practices of college athletics.
Reminiscent of an underground enterprise run by an organized crime syndicate, the Kansas City Star reported last week that five members of the KU athletics department teamed with a consultant in a scam that generated more than $1 million through the illegal use and sale of nearly 20,000 basketball and football tickets from 2005-10.
Prompted by federal investigators—who had implicated former assistant athletics director Rodney Jones in a previous scalping operation at KU that also involved real estate developer David Freeman, a convicted felon, and Roger Morningstar, father of current Jayhawk guard Brady Morningstar—university officials in December launched a 60-day internal investigation that found that Jones served as ringleader for a scheme that took wild advantage of “blind spots” in the school’s ticket operations and included moving nearly $198,000 worth of men’s basketball tickets to brokers.
The Sentencing: All five of the staffers identified in the university’s report have either resigned or been terminated. Jones, who also oversaw the Williams Fund, the school’s main fundraising arm for athletics, was suspended after the beginning of the investigation and later resigned.
Because the investigation is ongoing, no further punishment has been extended, but federal authorities are exploring possible criminal charges related to ticket operations. The scalping scam is said to have no implications for the football and basketball programs in terms of NCAA violations.
The Effects: It would be naïve to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen around the country, but because Kansas is the one who got caught, it is currently the only school busy wiping egg from its face.
Like its basketball counterpart, the football program should continue to operate as it has. Of the 19,790 tickets said to have been involved in the scandal, just over 2,000 were to KU football games.
However, the considerable revenue generated by both programs in recent years had given birth to complacency among university officials who may have otherwise nipped this in the bud. In fact, one investigator likened the atmosphere of the KU ticket office to that of a “candy store.”
In the aftermath of KU’s findings, previously disillusioned alumni and boosters are disgusted, fans are outraged, and the man who is at the center of it all—athletics director Lew Perkins—is claiming ignorance.
Whether Perkins, who rakes in about $4 million annually as the nation’s highest-paid college sports administrator, knew about the underhanded deals is nearly irrelevant. Losses have already exceeded $1 million and some feel that total may climb to more than $3 million once the feds delve a bit deeper.
Some may say Perkins is guilty by association, having either hired or promoted every individual involved. Seeing that KU employed some of the best auditing firms in the country and the discrepancies still went unnoticed, others will give Perkins the benefit of the doubt.
But more than anything else, the covert operations within the KU athletics department are embarrassing, so much so that the incident and the immediate changes made by the administration have forced other institutions to evaluate the integrity of their ticket operations. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see how long the shame in Lawrence lingers.
To make matters worse for Perkins, he was recently found to be the victim of an alleged blackmail attempt. Listen in as Perkins discusses this, the ticket scandal, and conference expansion at an impromptu press conference Tuesday at the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City.
Guilty Party: SMU
The Crime: Simply put, players were being paid. But the scandal that many consider to be the most heinous in the history of college athletics is far more intricate than that, also involving red-handed politicians, red-faced school officials, shamed former coaches, and untold amounts in hush money.
At the time when the story broke in 1986, SMU—already punished five times between 1974 and 1985 as the most frequently-penalized program in Division I—was under three years’ probation for recruiting violations. But the magnitude of what was to come would blow the lid off things.
The chain reaction was initiated when an investigation conducted by a Dallas television station found that former SMU linebacker David Stanley had been paid $25,000 to sign with the school in 1983 and then received monthly payments during his playing career.
The NCAA launched a probe of its own, mainly in response to report submitted by an SMU faculty member that had found the school was paying its players. It was discovered that from 1985-86, 13 players were paid a total of $61,000 from a slush fund operated by a university booster, including monthly payments that ranged from $50 to $725, some of which had been made to then-current NFL players who were part of the SMU program years earlier.
SMU had been caught again, but this time was different. Because the fund was scheduled to be discontinued only after the 13 players had exhausted their eligibility, officials of the athletics department insisted on continuing to pay athletes even after the program had been put on probation in 1985.
The most infamous of those officials was Bill Clements, who in 1987 admitted that while serving as chairman on SMU’s board of governors, he helped approve the plan that kept the illegal payments coming. Clements, who became the Governor of Texas weeks after stepping down at SMU, would later say that the board’s decision was made in order restore integrity to the football program, but that doing so also required the school to honor its monetary commitment to the players and their families. He would also add that he didn’t come clean sooner because “there wasn’t a Bible in the room.”
The Sentencing: Not surprisingly, the NCAA wielded nearly all it had at SMU, enacting in February of 1987 what is affectionately known as its “death penalty.”
Because of its cooperation with the NCAA, SMU avoided being subjected to the fullest extent of the “death penalty,” but the damage was no less crippling.
In addition to having its current probation lengthened for another two years, SMU lost a total of 55 scholarships over four years, could not conduct off-campus recruiting for a period of nearly two years, and was allowed to hire only five full-time assistant coaches, four fewer than is typically allowed.
As far as the scandal’s main players, school president L. Donald Shields, athletic director Bob Hitch, and head coach Bobby Collins—all of whom, along with recruiting coordinator Henry Lee Parker, knew of the payments—didn’t stick around long enough to watch the dominoes fall. Shortly after the NCAA ruled on the scandal, Shields resigned and was quickly followed by Hitch and Collins.
A later report would detail how Hitch, Collins, and Parker were paid more than $850,000 to keep quiet, presumably by several board members in an attempt to cover up the involvement of their colleague, Clemens.
But the meat of the punishment was the cancellation of the two seasons following the NCAA’s ruling. As mandated by the NCAA, the entire 1987 season was wiped out, with only conditioning drills permitted during the calendar year. With no football to be played, every player on the roster was immediately granted a full release and freedom to transfer without losing eligibility, causing coaches from around the nation to descend upon SMU’s campus and participate in a recruiting sweepstakes.
Then, upon having its home games canceled for 1988, SMU declined to participate in its seven road games, citing an inability to field a viable team. Football would return to SMU in 1989, but the program that emerged was vastly different from the one that existed prior to the NCAA’s unprecedented actions.
The Effects: Nothing short of catastrophic. SMU was the recipient of the most brutal punishment in the history of college athletics, and it could have been worse.
Nonetheless, the Mustangs still haven’t fully recovered, and the severity of their crime has left an indelible impact on the game's geographic footprint, as well as the manner in which the NCAA handles such cases.
SMU was once a proud program. The Mustangs won the national title in 1935. Running back Doak Walker claimed the Heisman in 1949. And All-Americans weren’t uncommon for a program that boasted 10 conference championships and 11 postseason berths prior to the scandal. And after a lull that ran from the 1950s through the ‘60s, the Mustangs once again thrived, despite repeatedly coming under scrutiny for the program’s disregard for the rules.
Over the course of seven seasons during the 1980s, the Mustangs posted a 52-19-1 mark. Propelled by the Pony Express backfield of greats Eric Dickerson and Craig James, SMU went undefeated in 1982 but was denied a shot at a second national championship because of a tie with Arkansas to end the regular season.
Four seasons later, SMU’s dirty laundry was being aired, signaling the beginning of a dark age for Mustang football and the dawn of a seismic shift in the landscape of college football—one that has given the game the conference alignment it has today.
In the 20 seasons since the NCAA handed down its “death penalty,” SMU has won 66 of its 238 games, earned a bowl berth only once (2009), and fielded a winning team only twice (1997 and 2009). Only now, under head coach June Jones, does it seem the Mustangs are finally beginning to shed the crippling stigma of the scandal.
Speaking of crippling stigmas, that’s exactly what hovered over the old Southwest Conference in the wake of SMU’s missteps, which, incidentally, led to much of the conference realignment that dominated the mid-1990s.
Already one of the more crooked conferences in college football, the SWC didn’t completely disband until 1996, but its dissolution began when then-Arkansas athletics director Franks Broyles, disgusted by what was going on at SMU, moved the Razorbacks to the SEC within two years of the NCAA’s ruling.
Before long, SMU had joined Rice and TCU in the WAC, and fellow SWC castoffs Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor had found far greener pastures in the Big 12. The shuffling ended when SMU, along with Rice, moved to Conference USA in 2005, where it joined old SWC rival Houston.