College Football's Biggest Scandals Since 2000
Scandals have played a big part in college football becoming the 24/7/365 sport that it is today.
For the most part, these scandals are relatively minor transgressions that only turned into major problems when the cover-up was blown. Jim Tressel might still be coaching at Ohio State if he had come forth earlier with his knowledge about players selling memorabilia for tattoos. It's a similar situation for several of the academic and pay-for-play issues on this list.
The same cannot be said when it comes to Jerry Sandusky, Colorado's mid-2000s recruiting tactics and everything that has happened at Baylor over the past few years. Those are the crimes against humanity that cannot and should not be forgotten anytime soon.
We're listing the scandals in chronological order of when the story first broke. Things that led to vacated wins, firings or bowl bans were considered.
In addition to the scandals that warrant a deeper discussion on the following slides, here are a few others that temporarily unsettled the college football world:
—Arizona State running back Loren Wade was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting and killing a former ASU football player in March 2005.
—Seven former Toledo players pleaded guilty to conspiracy for a point-shaving scandal in the mid-2000s. One running back even confessed to getting paid $100 to fumble a ball in a bowl game.
—Cam Newton's father allegedly sought more than $100,000 for his son to play at Mississippi State, causing Newton to be ruled ineligible twice during the 2010 season. But he never missed any games, and there are no records of money ever exchanging hands.
—Though no one was ever fired or suspended and no wins were vacated, Jameis Winston's time at Florida State was filled with controversy. There was the crab legs fiasco during the 2014 offseason, as well as the sexual assault allegations that eventually resulted in an FSU settlement of nearly $1 million.
—And in perhaps the most bizarre scandal of all, a former Wake Forest radio announcer was accused of providing game plans to opposing teams.
Albert Means Pay-for-Play
The Details: Back in 1999—before most recruiting sites even existed—Albert Means was regarded as one of the biggest high school prizes in the entire country. Wealthy businessman and Alabama booster Logan Young made sure his team got the supposed can't-miss defensive tackle, paying $150,000 to Means' high school coach (Lynn Lang) to steer him toward the Crimson Tide.
According to longtime Tennessee booster Roy Adams, this was anything but a one-time investment by Young. In 2005, Adams told ESPN's Mike Fish, "I mean during that 10-year period over drinks and wine, Logan made no secret of how he was able to buy players and stuff like that. I knew. I had to cover up for him."
The Aftermath: Allegations about the pay-for-play scandal first surfaced in January 2001, after which Means transferred to Memphis. Though Alabama only got to use him for seven games, it received a two-year bowl ban and five years' probation, as well as a reduction of 21 scholarships. Kentucky also received a one-year bowl ban and three years' probation in part for paying Lang.
Interestingly, the man who benefited the most from all of it wasn't even required by courts to forfeit the bribe money or serve any jail time. Other than two years' probation and a meager fine, Lang just had to adjust his income tax returns and serve 500 hours of community service.
Lasting Impact: Alabama struggled for the next few years and went through another scandal—this one involving textbooks—that resulted in 21 vacated wins from 2005-07. Obviously, the Crimson Tide have been doing quite well over the past decade under head coach Nick Saban, but there were more than a few years at the beginning of the millennium in which it looked like Alabama's glory days would never return.
The Details: In Gary Barnett's seven years as the head coach at Colorado, he and the program came under fire multiple times for their handling of sexual assault allegations. Per the Associated Press (h/t the Augusta Chronicle), an eight-person panel concluded in May 2004 that "sex, alcohol and drugs were used to lure football recruits to the University of Colorado and lax oversight by top university officials was to blame."
Earlier in the year, the program had received its sixth rape allegation against a player in the span of about three years. One of the six was made by former placekicker Katie Hnida, whom Barnett called an "awful" player who couldn't "kick the ball through the uprights."
The Aftermath: Following the comments about Hnida, Barnett was placed on paid administrative leave. However, he was reinstated a few months later and coached for another year-and-a-half before being forced out.
On a tangentially related note, Colorado was fined $100,000 in 2007 and placed on probation for two years for "inadvertently undercharging" over 100 athletes for meals over the course of six years spanning Barnett's tenure as the head coach.
Lasting Impact: Colorado had great recruiting pull in the early 2000s, ranking 22nd nationally in 2002 and 19th in 2003, per Scout. But that ship sailed in a hurry as scrutiny of recruiting tactics increased, and it only got worse as the team sputtered through 10 consecutive losing seasons. Though there weren't any bowl bans or major penalties imposed, the Buffaloes became less than a shell of what they used to be in the 1990s.
The Details: In April 2006—just over three months after Reggie Bush won the Heisman—reports began to surface that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts and benefits while at USC. (The money didn't come from the school.) The scandal began when sports marketer Michael Michaels went public with allegations about Bush's parents not paying $54,000 worth of rent for the year they spent in a house Michaels owned in Southern California. In 2007, Bush reached a settlement with Michaels for at least $200,000. Bush later reached an agreement with fellow sports marketer Lloyd Lake, who was seeking nearly $300,000 worth of repayments.
The Aftermath: After four years of investigations into Bush and similar allegations about basketball star O.J. Mayo, the NCAA ruled in June 2010 that USC had to vacate wins from 2004 and 2005 (including a BCS championship). The Trojans were also given a two-year postseason ban, faced a significant three-year reduction in scholarships and were placed on probation for four years. The school agreed to return its copy of Bush's Heisman trophy one month later, and Bush voluntarily forfeited his trophy in September when it became clear he was going to otherwise forcibly lose it.
Lasting Impact: USC won at least 11 games in seven consecutive years from 2002-08, but it has not hit that mark since. The Trojans did finally reach the Rose Bowl this past season and are a top candidate for the College Football Playoff this coming year, but it took a long time for them to fully recover, largely because recruiting from 2012-14 was made so difficult by the NCAA sanctions.
As far as Bush is concerned, it's as if he never played college football. The 2005 Heisman remains vacated to this day, and as Gary Klein wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2014, Bush is a nonentity at USC, "Nowhere to be seen around the campus."
Cheating at Florida State
The Details: A widespread cheating scandal rocked Florida State to its core in 2007. A total of 61 student-athletes in 10 sports were implicated, many of which were on the football team. As a result, 23 Seminoles were barred from competing in the 2007 Music City Bowl, including several starters.
"A significant portion of the academic fraud violations involved a music course offered to students without incident for more than 10 years before its academic integrity was compromised in the fall semester of 2006, resulting in academic fraud occurring during this time, as well as the 2007 spring and summer semesters," the infractions report said.
The Aftermath: Florida State was placed on four years' probation and faced a slight reduction in scholarships, but the vacation of wins was the big whammy. Twelve games in which ineligible players competed were retroactively removed from Bobby Bowden's career win total, destroying any hope he had of bypassing Joe Paterno on the all-time wins list.
Lasting Impact: Though it was a huge story at the time, the lasting impact is essentially nil. Bowden retired after the 2009 season, which is something he likely would have done at the age of 80 regardless of the scandal. And the 'Noles seamlessly transitioned into the Jimbo Fisher era, winning 10 games in the first season after the sanctions were levied.
The Details: Prior to what was supposed to be a great 2010 season, Greg Little, Robert Quinn and former 5-star recruit Marvin Austin were kicked off the team, with the former two ruled permanently ineligible, for accepting cash and other benefits from sports agent Terry Watson.
Those allegations also included that a tutor was writing papers for Little and Austin while trying to convince them to sign with Watson's agency. Charges against Jennifer Lauren Thompson were eventually dropped in 2014.
A total of 13 players were suspended for the start of the year, contributing to yet another five-loss season, as the impermissible benefits coincided with an investigation into academic fraud at the university, including allegations fake classes were created to aid player eligibility.
(That academics investigation eventually led to the Wainstein Report, which is a whole new ball of wax that will likely belong on this list if and when sanctions are levied.)
The Aftermath: Head coach Butch Davis was fired in July 2011. Two months later, the school vacated all 16 of its wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Not satisfied with those self-imposed sanctions, the NCAA added a postseason ban for 2012, three years' probation and a reduction of 15 scholarships. But the Tar Heels were able to dodge the dreaded "lack of institutional control."
Lasting Impact: UNC hovered around .500 for the next four years and has struggled to reel in players like it did under Davis. The Tar Heels had the fifth-best class in the nation in 2009, but they haven't come anywhere close to that level since. They did match a school record with 11 wins in 2015, though, so the scandal didn't permanently break them.
Tattoo-Gate at Ohio State
The Details: Six Ohio State players—most notably, Terrelle Pryor—received suspensions for part of the 2011 season for selling championship rings and jerseys in exchange for tattoos. But the real scandal didn't begin until a few months later when head coach Jim Tressel confessed to knowing this was going on but doing nothing about it.
The Aftermath: In March 2011, Tressel was initially suspended for two games and fined $250,000, but he abruptly resigned in May—which was followed a week later by Pryor withdrawing from the university for the supplemental NFL draft. That December, the NCAA issued Tressel a five-year show-cause penalty, effectively blackballing him from coaching college football again until the end of 2016. Ohio State was given a one-year postseason ban, vacated wins from the 2010 season and received a slight, brief reduction in scholarships.
Lasting Impact: The Buckeyes went 6-7 in the 2011 season, but they've been more than fine since then, posting a 61-6 record with three consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff under Urban Meyer.
The only lasting impact here is the way we now view the man who was once a legend in a sweater vest. Tressel could now be hired without any penalty, but his name was barely a whisper in this year's coaching carousel, despite leading the Buckeyes to six consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles the last time we saw him at the FBS level.
Miami and Nevin Shapiro
The Details: While orchestrating a Ponzi scheme that swindled investors out of nearly $1 billion—a crime for which he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison—Nevin Shapiro "reinvested" some of that money in Miami's sports programs as a booster from 2002-10. In 100 hours of jailhouse interviews, Shapiro told Yahoo's Charles Robinson he provided impermissible benefits in the form of cash, cars, yacht trips, jewelry, meals and prostitutes to "at least" 72 Miami athletes, most notably (in terms of NFL success) Vince Wilfork, Sean Taylor, Jon Beason, Devin Hester and Willis McGahee.
The Aftermath: A week after Robinson's investigation was published, Miami declared 13 players ineligible for the start of the 2011 season, though several of those players had their suspensions either reduced or entirely dropped. Miami self-imposed a two-year bowl ban and reduced allowable paid recruiting visits and evaluations by about 20 percent. The NCAA subsequently placed the program on three years' probation and reduced scholarships by three per year for the next three years.
Lasting Impact: Miami was already a far cry from the dynasty it used to be. In fact, the Hurricanes fared better in the six years after the scandal broke (45-31; 59.2 percent) than in the five years before it (35-29; 54.7 percent). Aside from a few assistants getting two-year show-cause penalties and Miami being remembered as the home of the biggest booster brouhaha of the decade, the revenue lost from the two-year bowl ban seems to be the only noteworthy impact.
The Details: In November 2011, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky faced charges related to allegations that he sexually abused young boys in the 1990s and 2000s, most of whom he met through The Second Mile, the charity he founded in 1977. In June 2012, he was found guilty on 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. According to a report by PennLive's Charles Thompson in 2016, head coach Joe Paterno was told about the abuse as early as 1976, which would mean it occurred for more than three decades.
The Aftermath: In addition to what amounts to life in prison for Sandusky, the public perceptions of Penn State and Paterno were irreparably marred over the course of the arraignment and trial. Paterno announced his retirement days after the scandal broke and passed away a few months later. Once regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history, Paterno died as a vilified man (outside of State College) because of the possibility that he knew what was going on and looked the other way.
Shortly after Sandusky's trial ended, the NCAA hit Penn State with a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions and a mandate to vacate all wins from 1998-2011. Also, The Second Mile dissolved in 2016.
Lasting Impact: The postseason ban was eventually reduced to just two years and Paterno was posthumously re-credited with 111 wins. It only took four years of consistently above-.500 play before Penn State was back in the top 10 of the polls and playing in the Rose Bowl. Despite the reduction in scholarships, the Nittany Lions were still able to recruit well and didn't stay down for long. But it's something that will forever be tied to Paterno's legacy.
Sexual Assault at Baylor
The Details: The most public names involved in Baylor's ongoing sexual assault scandal have been Tevin Elliot, Shawn Oakman and Sam Ukwuachu (whose conviction was overturned on appeal), but this runs much deeper than just a few isolated incidents. According to Marc Tracy and Dan Barry of the New York Times, at least 31 Baylor players were alleged to have been involved in at least 52 rapes from 2011 to 2014, per John Clune, an attorney representing some of the victims.
And new accusations and lawsuits seem to be coming out every month. Per Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach of ESPN, as of this past May, there were six federal Title IX lawsuits "pending against the university on behalf of 15 women who say they were sexually assaulted or physically assaulted by students, including many former football players."
Most of the scandals on this list are over and done with, but we may have only reached the tip of the iceberg with Baylor.
The Aftermath: Head coach Art Briles was fired. Athletic director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation before resigning. President Kenneth Starr was demoted before resigning. Several others either voluntarily left the university or were forced to do so, but the biggest one may have been Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford. She resigned after less than two years at the position, saying on CBS This Morning in October (h/t SI.com), "I think Baylor set me up to fail from the beginning. The harder I worked, the more resistance I got."
As far as the football players were concerned, when the summary of the Pepper Hamilton Report was released in May 2016, many recruits requested releases from their national letters of intent. 5-star 2015 signee Jarrett Stidham subsequently transferred out of the program.
Lasting Impact: It's important to remember that this scandal, as with Penn State's and Colorado's, has far more severe consequences than those pertaining to a college football team's ability to win, and the lives of the victims and their families should really be the focus here.
Regarding the football team, though, the NCAA has yet to take action, but this may end up being the biggest scandal in college football history. For now, the impact is that Baylor's name is beyond tarnished and the team is struggling to win games and sign recruits following two coaching changes in two years. The Bears signed just one 4-star recruit this year and only did marginally better in 2016. Even if they don't receive some sort of death penalty, it's hard to imagine they'll have the necessary talent to compete in the Big 12 for years to come.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
Recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com.