"U"-Thanized: College Football's Death Penalty and the Miami Scandal

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Sebastian and Co. have some explaining to do

It should be pointed out that, at the time of writing, the University of Miami has not been found guilty of any infractions in relation to the allegations leveled against them by Nevin Shapiro.

That being said, if they are true, the laundry list of alleged violations (get the full story here) are arguably the most egregious in the history of the NCAA. The most infamous of scandals in which a university was found at fault occurred in 1987 at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas (recently chronicled in the ESPN Films documentary "Pony Excess").

SMU was an upstart program that enjoyed great success in the late 80's with a backfield spearheaded by Craig James and Eric Dickerson. Time would tell that SMU acquired such talent by implementing a "play for pay" system, as well as boosters offering to bankroll many other illegal benefits that included, but was not limited to, housing, cars, and apparel. Following an investigation, the NCAA levied an unprecedented series of sanctions against the SMU program.

The full list included:

  • The 1987 season was canceled and only conditioning drills would be permitted during the 1987 calendar year.
  • All home games in 1988 were canceled. SMU was allowed to play their seven regularly scheduled away games so that other institutions would not be financially affected.
  • The team's existing probation was extended until 1990. Its existing ban from bowl games and live television was extended to 1989.
  • SMU lost 55 new scholarship positions over 4 years.
  • SMU was required to ensure that nine boosters previously banned from contact with the program were in fact banned, or else face further punishment.
  • The team was allowed to hire only five full-time assistant coaches, instead of the typical nine.
  • No off-campus recruiting would be permitted until August 1988, and no paid visits could be made to campus by would-be recruits until the start of the 1988-89 school year

If found guilty, should Miami receive the "Death Penalty"

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This ruling became known as "The Death Penalty," for essentially killing off the SMU program.

Since the charges were levied, SMU hasn't even come close to sniffing the kind of success they once enjoyed, even some 24 years later (it should be mentioned former Hawaii coach June Jones did get them back to the bowl season last year).

The charges Nevin Shapiro, a jailed Ponzi schemer and former booster, alleges against the Hurricanes are equally, if not more damning than the infractions SMU was found guilty of.

The University of Miami is at a point where they need to start forming a contingency plan for the very real possibility that the NCAA levies the same sort of penalties against them. The implications of this of course, for a program as storied as the "U's," would send shock waves throughout the sport and the Coral Gables community as a whole.

Last year, revenues generated from football brought in close to $47 million for the university alone, not to mention all the money local businesses and hotels stand to lose without big time college football in "The Magic City." 

Should the NCAA find Mr. Shapiro's charges to be true, the NCAA will have no choice but to pull the trigger, and it will be a long time before we see "The U," alive and well again.

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