10 Worst Scandals in NCAA History
With the recent news that the University of South Carolina has received notice of allegations for potential major violations, the idea of scandals in college sports has been thrust back into the limelight. While it remains to be seen what will occur with the Gamecocks athletic programs, let's take a look at the scandals that have already run their course.
Here is a look at the 10 worst scandals in NCAA history. You will notice there is a heavy bias towards incidents involving football, and that is not an accident. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and there are no bigger entities in college sports than major college football programs.
Just to be clear, this list is only including situations in which any applicable investigations have been completed. That means Nevin Shapiro, Jim Tressel and the aforementioned South Carolina story are all ineligible to make the cut.
10. Reggie Bush Returns His Heisman Trophy
Originally I had this much higher on my list, but as I looked at all the scandals, most of them involve rape, murder, defrauding the federal government, or at the very least the death penalty (the NCAA's version). As it turns out, maybe having to give back your Heisman Trophy isn't the worst thing in the world.
Most people know the story here. Reggie Bush and his family received approximately $300,000 in various benefits during his time at USC from a couple of sports agents. Maybe I'm the only one, but I wasn't exactly shocked when the news about Bush came out.
When the most famous athlete in a city like Los Angeles is a college kid, it's a pretty safe bet that he's doing something the NCAA doesn't like.
9. Florida State's Academic Cheating Scandal
In 2006 and 2007, Florida State was involved in an academic cheating scandal involving 61 players across 10 different sports. These athletes were taking an online class where they received test answers before they took exams and other work was simply being completed for them.
There were various penalties handed down by the NCAA, but the most notable were the vacating of football wins from the two seasons in question. While these were not great seasons for the Seminoles, the vacating of the wins eliminated any chance that head coach Bobby Bowden would finish his career as the all-time wins leader in Division I football.
8. Kentucky Basketball Receives the Death Penalty—Kind of
The good news for Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans is that whatever NCAA violations that John Calipari will almost certainly leave in his wake, there is little to no chance that they will be as bad as what happened at Kentucky in the 1950s.
Kentucky did not play men's basketball for the 1952-1953 season as a result of a point-shaving scandal that had occurred a few years earlier. While the Wildcats did not officially receive the so-called "death penalty" (in large part because it did not exist yet), they were banned from Southeastern Conference play, and then the NCAA allegedly pressured other schools not to schedule Kentucky that season.
This action resulted in Kentucky unofficially receiving the death penalty.
7. Duke Lacrosse Scandal
In March 2006, three players on Duke's lacrosse team were accused of raping an exotic dancer at a party held at the house of the team captains. This accusation led to what was left of the team's schedule being cancelled by the university as well as the resignation of the team's coach.
This highly publicized case was dropped after countless holes were poked in the accuser's story, yet it still severely tainted Duke University and the members of the lacrosse team. In addition to the accuser's ever-changing story, this case was also marked by the tactics of prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was disbarred for his actions.
6. Oklahoma Football Dorms
While the Oklahoma Sooners have many claims to fame as a result of their exploits on the football field, they make this list as a result of their exploits in their dorm rooms.
When you use the terms "football dorms" or "athletic dorms" these days, many people may not know what you are talking about. That's because the NCAA banned dorms reserved specifically for athletes and the University of Oklahoma may have had a large role in that decision.
In 1988, a rape and a shooting both occurred inside of Oklahoma's athletic dorm. This does not even get into the drug problem that was going on as well, which was so bad that one of the Sooners players tried to sell drugs to a cop.
When everything was said and done, the University of Oklahoma got rid of its football dorms and the man overseeing the football program at the time, Barry Switzer.
5. Alabama's Recruitment of Albert Means
In 1999, Alabama did its best SMU imitation as it paid $150,000 to secure the services of high school football prospect Albert Means. While the Crimson Tide's pay-for-play scheme was not nearly as wide-spread as SMU's, it almost landed Alabama in the same boat as the Mustangs.
The NCAA apparently considered the death penalty in Alabama's case before backing off and penalizing it with a scholarship reduction, a two-year bowl ban and five years of probation.
You know what the worst part about the whole thing is? Means played only a handful of games for the Crimson Tide before transferring to Memphis. Say what you will about SMU, but at least it got its money's worth out of Eric Dickerson.
4. Miami Hurricanes' Pell Grant Scandal
I am pretty sure the University of Miami's football program has been dirty in one sense or another for about the last 30 years. However, I felt I had to pick one specific scandal, and since the whole Nevin Shapiro fiasco is still under NCAA investigation, I suppose committing fraud against the federal government will have to do.
Starting in 1989 and continuing into the early 1990s, an academic advisor at Miami helped Hurricanes athletes (mostly football players) forge applications for federal Pell Grant money. This resulted in over $200,000 being wrongly awarded to the players.
This was the main evidence in an NCAA investigation that led to severe sanctions based on the program's lack of institutional control.
3. Tulane Basketball Point-Shaving
Tulane basketball is not exactly what I would call a "major player" in intercollegiate athletics, but the fallout from the team's point-shaving scandal in 1985 was simply too big to ignore.
The 1985 Green Wave basketball team had four players involved in a point-shaving scheme in a handful of games that nearly ended Tulane men's basketball forever. After news of the scandal broke, the university president Eamon Kelly put an end to the men's basketball program with no intention of ever reinstating it.
After being persuaded by students, Kelly finally allowed the basketball program to resume playing in 1989. This extended absence from play did not cripple Tulane hoops though; it made the NCAA tournament in 1992.
2. Baylor Basketball Murder
Baylor University basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson in the summer of 2003 in what is by far the most serious entry on this list. Dennehy and Dotson got into an argument while practicing firing their guns in the Waco, Texas area. The argument ended with Dotson shooting and killing his teammate.
After the murder, then Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss instructed the players on the team to lie to investigators by telling the authorities that Dennehy had been a drug dealer in an attempt to cover up flagrant NCAA violations that would come to light as a result of the criminal investigation.
This tactic was unsuccessful as Baylor was hit hard by the NCAA. The Bears received probation, scholarship reductions, recruiting restrictions and a ban on playing non-conference games for the 2005-2006 season, along with other smaller penalties.
1. The SMU Death Penalty
The most famous NCAA scandal of all time involved the Southern Methodist University football program. For almost a decade beginning in the late 1970s, the SMU Mustangs showed a blatant disregard for NCAA rules as they consistently paid high school athletes to come play football at the school.
As a result of its payment of players, SMU became one of the best college football programs in the country during the early 1980s. However, this success would not last as the team was under constant NCAA scrutiny for its unsavory recruiting practices.
Finally, everything came tumbling down on the Mustangs in 1987 when the NCAA slapped them with the death penalty and made an example out of them. This led to 20 years of atrocious football teams before current head coach June Jones resurrected the program in 2009.
If you would like to know more about the SMU football scandal, I suggest watching ESPN's documentary on the subject, "Pony Excess."