Penalties and sanctions are an unfortunate and rather large part of college football. The NCAA has been especially busy over the last few years, as Penn State, Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and Miami have all run into some sort of trouble with in regards to violations.
In light of the recent sanctions handed down at Penn State, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look back at some of the most unethical programs/moments in college football history.
Mike DuBose took over at Alabama after a successful run by Gene Stallings, but the program recorded only two bowl appearances under his watch. The highlight of DuBose’s tenure was a 10-3 record in 1999 but that year also brought plenty of controversy. Alabama booster Logan Young paid Means’ high school coach to have the top recruit join the Crimson Tide, which brought on an extensive hit from the NCAA. Alabama was banned for two years from postseason play and were forced to reduce 21 scholarships. This incident wasn’t the only one in recent years for the Crimson Tide, as the program was forced to vacate 21 wins from 2005-07 as a result of a textbook scandal.
Gary Barnett may have taken the Purple to Pasadena during a groundbreaking tenure at formerly hapless Northwestern, but his reputation took a hit during a controversial stint at Colorado. A culture of corruption apparently existed on Barnett's watch, including the use of sex and booze to entice recruits to Boulder. Equally damaging was Barnett's dismissive attitude toward rape allegations levied by placekicker Katie Hnida. A 70–3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship game, along with more allegations of improprieties, led to Barnett's resignation. The program was put on probation and fined for the specific violation of undercharging athletes for meals over a six-year period.
Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville, the Gators football program was a bit of an underachieving, probation-earning mess. The low point came under coach Charley Pell. After an 0–10–1 season in 1979, his first year at the helm, Pell earned eight wins during an impressive second campaign and seemed to have the Gators on the brink of title contention in the SEC after a 9–2–1 season in 1984. But those improvements had come at a cost. The NCAA found Pell's program to have committed 59 infractions, resulting in a TV and bowl ban for the 1985 and 1986 seasons and a three-year scholarship reduction, penalties that crippled the program until Spurrier's arrival in 1990.
The Seminoles encountered two scandals under former coach Bobby Bowden. A sports agent bought more than $6,000 worth of shoes for Florida State players in 1993, putting the program on probation for a year. The Seminoles ran into NCAA trouble once again in 2007, as 61 players from 10 sports were implicated in an academic scandal. Florida State’s football program was forced to vacate 12 wins and six scholarships.
Hart Lee Dykes (OSU, Texas A&M, Illinois, Oklahoma)
Never has an underachieving wide receiver wreaked so much havoc on the recruiting trail. The Bay City, Texas, native was the subject of a furious recruiting battle that raised the suspicions of the NCAA, and for good reason. Granted immunity by the NCAA for cooperating in their investigation, Dykes revealed a bidding war that involved Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Illinois and Oklahoma State — all of which ended up on probation. The Cowboys finally "earned" Dykes' services, and he contributed to a potent OSU offense, although the presence of Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders and Mike Gundy no doubt played a role in the Cowboys’ success as well.
The Hurricanes have been in and out of the NCAA doghouse over the last 20 years. Former academic advisor Tony Russell helped to falsify Pell Grants in the 1990s, which helped add some extra cash in the pockets of athletes. Miami lost 31 scholarships over three years and faced a one-year bowl ban. The Hurricanes are under NCAA scrutiny once again, as former booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to players. One of Shapiro’s associates (Sean Allen) was recently accused of continuing to work as an illegal recruiter for Miami. Miami instituted a bowl ban in 2011 to help soften the blow from the Shapiro investigation, but the program is still facing stiff penalties from the NCAA.
Butch Davis guided Miami in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions but ran afoul of the NCAA in Chapel Hill. While it’s unfair to pin everything on Davis, especially with line coach John Blake steering players to an agent, but he certainly has to take some of the blame. The allegations weren’t limited to Blake, as some Tar Heel players received improper benefits and there’s an ongoing investigation into an academic scandal.
Barry Switzer was a self-proclaimed players' coach, and late in his tenure in Norman, the inmates were clearly in charge of the asylum. The Sooners athletic dorm was the scene of drug use and gunplay, and former star quarterback Charles Thompson was arrested for attempting to sell cocaine to undercover FBI agents, resulting in Sports Illustrated's famous cover featuring Thompson in handcuffs and prison orange, under the heading "Oklahoma: A Sordid Story - How Barry Switzer's Sooners Terrorized Their Campus." Switzer resigned in 1989, as the program he left behind was going on NCAA probation.
NCAA sanctions derailed a potential run at a national title for Ohio State in 2011. The Buckeyes were picked by many to win the Big Ten last season but Jim Tressel resigned in late May, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor did quit the team in June, and the team had to deal with suspensions and a black cloud hanging over the program all year. The Buckeyes’ troubles began when Tressel failed to report violations of players selling memorabilia for money and tattoos in April 2010. These violations came to light in December 2010, but Pryor and four other teammates were still allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA tagged Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban in 2012 and docked the Buckeyes nine scholarships over three years.
What was once one of college football’s premier programs was hammered with NCAA violations following a child sexual assault scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz all failed to report Sandusky after learning of allegations in 1998 and 2001, which eventually led the downfall of the program. Paterno was fired in November 2011, while Schultz and Curley are facing perjury charges. The Nittany Lions were slapped with a four-year postseason ban beginning in 2012, must pay a $60 million fine, vacation of wins from 1998-2011 and a reduction in scholarships to 15 a year.
Still the gold standard for cheating in college football, the SMU Mustang football program of the early and mid-1980s was the poster child for the renegade Southwest Conference and general college football lawlessness. An NCAA investigation revealed the existence of a "slush fund" for athletes, and it came to light that in 1985 and 1986 alone, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000. But that was probably only the tip of an iceberg of corruption; Eric Dickerson had notoriously spent his senior season in high school tooling around Sealy, Texas, in a shiny new Trans-Am before unexpectedly committing to the Mustangs. On Feb. 25, 1987, the NCAA hammer fell in the form of an unprecedented "death penalty" — the suspension of the football program for the 1987 season and the loss of all four home games in 1988.
Speaking of the Southwest Conference, a close runner-up for mid-1980s corruption in the storm-tossed league would seem to be Texas A&M. Amid positive developments under Jackie Sherrill, such as Cotton Bowls and the institution of the 12th Man tradition, the Aggies ran a loose ship and were ultimately deemed to be guilty of such shenanigans as improper employment, extra benefits, unethical conduct and lack of institutional control. Sherrill was not personally implicated in the infractions, but he did resign in 1988, the same year his program went on probation.
Don James was a legend in Seattle, leading the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, four Rose Bowl wins and a share of the 1991 national championship. Sadly, his career ended in ignominy, as improper booster involvement — including loans, summer jobs and funds for on-campus visits — led to the dreaded NCAA label of "lack of institutional control" and earned the school NCAA and Pac-10 sanctions. James resigned in protest of a lack of support for the coaching staff by then-university president William Gerberding.
He never made it in the pros, but Cade McNown had a stellar college career — and he was also at the center of a major scandal. McNown and other players were charged with illegal possession of handicapped parking passes, leading to countless parking violations and misdemeanor charges for the players involved. McNown pleaded no contest to the charge. In all, 19 Bruins players were implicated in the scam.
Pete Carroll turned USC back into a national title contender but the program also ran afoul of the NCAA under his watch. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was allegedly provided gifts, which resulted the NCAA hitting USC with the dreaded lack of institutional control. The Trojans were hit with a two-year postseason ban and a reduction in 30 scholarships over three years. The Trojans are still dealing with the effects of the penalties but should be one of the top contenders for college football’s national title in 2012.
Related College Football Content
Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
2012 Bowl Projections
Where Penn State's Players Could Transfer
Did the NCAA Get it Right With Penn State Sanctions?
20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years