The other night I was watching Pony Excess, ESPN’s documentary on the SMU football scandal, death penalty and aftermath. All the while I was watching I could not help but think two things. Firstly, that if there was every a program that ever deserved college football’s ultimate sanction it was the Mustangs of the early 80’s. Secondly, SMU were most likely just the poor shcmucks that got caught.
Make no mistake about it. In my not so humble opinion, amateurism in high level college athletics died sixty years ago when Notre Dame got its first TV contract. Scratch that, it died when rich alumni took interest in how their teams were doing. The problem was noted as early as the 1950’s when the Carnegie foundation reported that three quarters of all schools were subsidizing their athletes in some way. Bret Musberger put it best at the end of the documentary “as long as they are keeping score, the will find the best players that shall allow them to score more than the other team.”
Look at all the programs that have been on probation during the past few years, Alabama a few years ago, Michigan Basketball, Baylor Basketball and most recently USC. Ask USC about Reggie Bush some time. I wonder if you will get any response other than “Reggie who” these days.
This might seem so bad if enforcement also wasn’t so inconsistent. Just look at the recent case of Cam Newton, he is allegedly guilty of much of the same things that Reggie did, but he is let off on a rather lame excuse. Do not tell me that the NCAA’s desire not to have two scandals surrounding Heisman winners so close to one another did not have something to do with it. And also how many programs do you think have been caught twice within five years. This is technically what is required for a program to get the Death Penalty but no one has gotten it since SMU, why? Because it has taken nearly 21 years for that program to even begin to show signs of turning itself around. It is the Atom bomb of college sanctions.
The idea of the student athlete, at least at the highest levels of football, is a farce. The boosters in Pony Excess are to this day, unapologetic about what they did, almost proud. “We were the best cheaters there were and everyone was just jealous of us” seems to best describe the whole mentality of this lot. The fact that they were caught in the middle of an old school newspaper war did not help either. All they did was play the game the way it was played in Texas at the time. Eric Dickerson got a Trans AM from A&M as part of recruiting. Reggie Bush got a Land Rover and a rent free apartment. The only thing that has really changed is that people seem to b more subtle about it these days. And yet the NCAA says that paying athletes would “corrupt the sport”. It is already corrupt. It cannot get any worse.