Lessons from SMU and the “Death Penalty”

Saturday night, ESPN featured their final “30 for 30” documentary, “Pony Excess”, chronicling the quick rise and the sudden downfall of the SMU football program.

The NCAA, after repeated warnings and issuing sanctions, leveled the most harshest punishment possible.  The “Death Penalty” forced SMU to shut down the football program for the 1987 season, lose 55 scholarships over 4 years, and was not allowed to play home games once the program was reinstated in 1988, to name a few. SMU decided to shutter the program for the ’87 and ’88 seasons.

I would suggest that you either record it to your DVR or make time to sit and watch this.  There are some things I took out of this documentary as it relates to the alleged “recruiting” of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton by his father, the Baylor murder/cover-up, and other transgressions that has taken place since SMU was literally dismantled by the Death Penalty.

Has the NCAA lost it’s “bite” as a watchdog organization? In some aspect, yes they have.  But, as we have witnessed since 1987, college sports has evolved into a business.  It’s no longer amateur sports.  For most part, fans understand this, but are still in denial about it, especially when it comes to their teams.  Fans expect their teams to be perfect, clean, and upstanding…as long as they win big every time.

That’s not possible and never will be possible.

The lesson the SMU provided is that there are some things that are uncontrollable and things that are controllable.  Babysitting 100 football players, knowing their every move, what they ate, and who they hang out with?  Uncontrollable.  Most of them are of adult age and know the difference between right and wrong.

The Board of Regents and administration being aware of a rogue booster not following the rules?  Controllable. Sherwood Blount and Bobby Lowder are classic examples of stepping over the boundaries to flex their muscles. Blount’s actions helped accelerate SMU’s downfall, while Lowder’s downfall didn’t take Auburn or Cam Newton down, but ultimately caused his own just recently.

Overall, it has to take an egregious amount of recklessness, brazen attitude, and blatancy for the NCAA to drop the hammer on anyone.  Which is why USC was given serious sanctions that will affect them for the next 5 years, not the 20 years that SMU went through.

“SMU taught the (NCAA) committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb.  “It’s like what happened after we dropped the (atom) bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.””

-John Lombardi, former University of Florida president

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