In 1987, the NCAA delivered what became known as the “death penalty” to Southern Methodist University, canceling its entire 1987 football season because of repeated recruiting violations.
The NCAA had already put SMU on probation for paying players under the table for years. The school promised to discontinue the illegal practice, but continued paying 13 players a total of $61,000 from a slush fund.
The consequences went beyond a lost season. The school’s president, athletic director, and coach were all forced to resign, most of their players transferred to other schools, and the 1988 season was canceled as well simply because they had no one left on their team.
Will and LZ compare the college sports environment of the time to that of the present day, where the money factor has only grown. Players are now legally being paid to license their names and images for, in some cases, millions of dollars. And given the stakes for teams and their schools today, it seems unfathomable that a team could have its season wiped out ever again. Remember that Penn State was allowed to keep on playing even after its assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was sent to prison for sexually abusing boys in its locker room.
LZ and Will offer up a few more examples, and it doesn’t look good for college football.