The death blow was dealt when investigators once again uncovered evidence of boosters (including some who had been banned from the program) funneling payments to football players along with free apartments and cars.
SMU has never fully recovered.
In 2002, the University of Alabama was hit with probation, a post-season ban and a reduction in scholarships when it emerged that a Crimson Tide booster was paying a high school coach in Memphis to steer recruits to Tuscaloosa.
In 2010, following a four-year investigation, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California with four years probation, a two year post-season ban, a loss of scholarships and the vacating of the school's 2004 national championship. The offense? Reggie Bush and his family had received improper benefits from boosters (including a house) and the athletic staff looked the other way as agents hung around with players.
What these three incidents have in common is the schools were cheating in order to put better players on the field wearing their gear. By paying players and coaches, the schools were rigging the playing field. They broke NCAA rules.
The other important thing to note is that no university has been hit with the death penalty since SMU - and it's highly unlikely that anyone else will due to effect it had on SMU's football program and due to the amount of money at play in college football.
But then along came Penn State - one of the most storied programs in all the land. Now I must confess - I can't stand Penn State. Their uniforms look more suited for a junior high school than a major college team.
Penn State wasn't accused of doing anything to give their team an unfair advantage out on the playing field.
Jerry Sandusky has already been convicted of raping several young men over a long period of time. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. Joe Paterno looked the other way and did nothing when confronted with Mr. Sandusky's actions - but he was fired and then died.
And there are others who are in the spotlight after it turned out they knew about the allegations and did nothing about it.
Graham Spanier, former President of Penn State, was forced to resign from his post. Former Athletic Director Tim Curley is facing criminal charges for not reporting the abuse to authorities. Former PSU Vice President Gary Schultz is also facing criminal charges for his role in not doing anything to stop the abuse. Tom Corbett, the Governor of Pennsylvania, is under scrutiny for not pushing the investigation while he was out raising campaign contributions from board members of Mr. Sandusky's Second Mile Foundation.
As a result, this past Monday, the NCAA wielded a sledgehammer and swung it at Penn State. The school was fined $60 million dollars, placed on five years probation, banned from the post-season for four years, had 100+ wins vacated, lost multiple scholarships over the next four years and was told their players were free to transfer to any other school without having to sit out a year.
It will be years - at least a decade - before Penn State will even be competitive again. The kids who play for the Nittany Lions did nothing. The students at Penn State did nothing. Athletes in other sports that depend on football revenue did nothing.
More importantly, Penn State did nothing to violate the NCAA's rules. Yes, what happened in State College was disgusting and inexcusable. Placing the welfare of the football program over the rape of young boys is a damning indictment of the way in which big time college athletics, and the money involved in them, have warped our sense of reality.
But we have a court system to deal with these kinds of issues. Mr. Sandusky has been found guilty and will be sanctioned. The other officials will each have their day in court. Victims of Mr. Sandusky will file claims against the university for their failure to act in an appropriate manner.
But still the fact remains that the school did not violate any NCAA rule. The sanctions levied against the program now set a dangerous precedent for the NCAA in the future. Just what type of conduct will warrant a penalty like that levied against Penn State? What crimes are so outrageous that the NCAA will step in?
Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, was shocked that a university would do what the administration and football staff at Penn State did. He was appalled that the school had its priorities backwards. Mr. Emmert is a hypocrite.
His organization talks about the student-athletes who compete in NCAA-sanctioned events. He praises the ideal of amateurism and sacrifice for the good of the team. He condemns those who put money ahead of a school's mission to educate.
But, at the same time, he presides over an organization that negotiates multi-billion dollar television contracts for sporting events, puts together the second-biggest gambling event in the United States and sits by idly as football coaches at public schools find themselves the highest paid public employees in the land. And all of this money is being made off the hard work of student-athletes who don't see a dime of it.
- "Shocker: NCAA does the right thing," Jason Whitlock, Fox Sports (July 24, 2012)
- "NCAA's Mark Emmert overstepped bounds in hammering Penn State," Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated (July 23, 2012)
- "Winners, losers and the disappeared," Gamso for the Defense (July 24, 2012)
- "Penn State students bear brunt of NCAA sanctions for Sandusky cover-up as trustees emerge unscathed," Democracy Now! (July 24, 2012)