Ever since the release of the Freeh Report, which found that Joe Paterno and three other top Penn State University officials actively tried to cover up the sickening actions of convicted child rapist Jerry Sandusky—you know, to protect the reputation of the school—everyone’s been waiting eagerly to find out what kinds of criminals charges will be brought on those involved in the scandal.
No, I’m totally kidding. Who cares about criminal justice, right? Everyone’s been waiting to find out what the NCAA is going to do to the Penn Statefootball team. Because that’s what really matters, here: football.
Well, as you surely know by now, yesterday the NCAA announced its penalties. And while some people are upset the school didn’t get “the death penalty” (i.e., a ban from playing football altogether), the NCAA made sure that the Nittany Lions won’t be winning many football games in the coming years. So that ought to make the victims of Jerry Sandusky feel a lot better.
Anyway, most news outlets have been labeling the Penn State punishment “severe” and “unprecedented.” So today I thought we’d take a look at where this one actually ranks among other major punishments meted out over the years.
Let’s get started, then, shall we?
The Barry Switzer-led Oklahoma Sooners and the Charley Pell-led Florida Gators both got in trouble with the NCAA, and the programs received extremely similar punishments. So we called it a tie for the #9 spot on this list of most severe NCAA punishments.
Under Switzer, Oklahoma football players ran amok on campus in the 1980s, with players getting busted for rape, attempted murder, robbery, and drug dealing. Under Pell, Florida went from 0-10 to 8-4 and a top-10 finish in just one season, so the NCAA did some digging and found 59 serious rules violations. In the end both programs were banned from postseason and television for 2 seasons, placed on probation, and had scholarships reduced (20 over three years for the Gators, 21 over three years for the Sooners).
9. Tie: Oklahoma football (1988) & Florida football (1985)
Everyone remembers this one, right? In 2010 it was determined that former USC star running back Reggie Bush and star point guard O.J. Mayo had received gifts from agents and boosters. As a result, both the football and basketball programs were dealt severe punishments. The football team had its 2004 National Championship vacated, along with all wins from 2005. On top of that, Reggie Bush had his Heismann taken away, the team was banned from postseason play for two years, and they lost 30 scholarships. The basketball team, meanwhile, was banned from the 2010 postseason and had to vacate all wins from the 2007-08 season.
8. USC football and basketball (2010)
In 2003, Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his teammate, Carlton Dotson. This was bad enough, but Baylor coach Dave Bliss had been paying tuition for Dennehy and one other player, since he was out of scholarship money. So when the investigation into the murder began, Bliss tried to cover up his violations by getting his coaching staff and players to lie and tell investigators that Dennehy paid his way through college by selling drugs.
This was serious stuff, and it would have gotten the death penalty for Baylor basketball if the university's administration hadn't acted quickly and decisively. The school fired the entire coaching staff, banned the team from postseason play, forfeited revenues from the conference tournament, and reduced paid recruiting visits and scholarships.
The NCAA commended the university for it's efforts right previous wrongs. Nevertheless, the they did feel compelled to have its say. So in addition to the self-inflicted punishments, the NCAA put Baylor on probation until 2010 and banned them from playing non-conference games for one season—which was more or less a half-death penalty.
7. Baylor basketball (2005)
In 1951, college basketball was almost ruined by a widespread gambling conspiracy involving multiple players on seven different teams. Most of the teams involved were based in the New York (which the NCAA subsequently viewed as a corrupt city), but a couple were from the central part of the country. Kentucky was one of them.
Despite the claims of legendary coach Adolph Rupp that gambers "couldn't touch his players with a 10-foot pole," it was discovered that three of his stars were involved in the point-shaving scheme. Then a probe found other violations, including payments made to players. Thus, because of the multiple violations and obstinacy of Rupp and other university officials, the NCAA gave Kentucky the death penalty, banning them for the 1952-53 season.
6. Kentucky basketball (1951)
A bunch of teams were hit hard by the 1951 college basketball gambling scandal, but Kentucky was the only one officially punished by the NCAA. The team at the center of it all—the City College of New York—had a bunch of players go to jail and was banned from playing at Madison Square Garden, which affected the program but did not constitute a ban. However, the administration at Long Island University took drastic action, suspending their basketball program for six whole years (1951-1957). This was not mandated by the NCAA, but had they not taken action, the NCAA surely would have. Thus, I couldn't leave this one off the list simply because of a technicality.
5. Long Island University athletics (1951)
Really? The unprecedented $60 million fine, the 4-year bowl ban, the loss of 20 scholarships, and the vacation of all wins since 1998 is only the 4th most severe punishment the NCAA has ever given?
Yep, only #4. For one, the $60 million fine and the vacation of wins are symbolic actions that don't hurt football operations going forward. They hurt Joe Paterno in the history books, and they hurt academic programs at the university, since that's where that $60 million (which is the revenue the football program brings in) would have gone.
What hurts the football program is the loss of scholarships and the long postseason ban. These are severe punishments that will make Penn State an easy opponent for a decade or so, but they are not nearly as severe as the outright obliteration of the team.
4. Penn State football (2012)
This is the smallest stature program on the list, but trust me, they deserve to be here.
Morehouse College is a Division II school, which means they are allowed to give athletic scholarships but are not quite as competitive as Division I schools. In 2000, their soccer coach, Augustine Konneh, signed 2 Nigerian-born players to play for the Morehouse Tigers, even though they had already played professionally in the A-League. Not only that, but Konneh had them play in two games for the team before they were even officially enrolled in the school. When this came to light, an investigation revealed a number of other violations, and it became clear that no one in the school's Athletic Department was supervising the soccer team at all. Because of this massive systemic failure, the NCAA gave them the death penalty—for three whole years. Morehouse could not field a soccer team again until 2006.
Of course, the NCAA has more freedom to hand out ridiculously stiff punishments to non-Division I schools because lost revenue and media attention is not an issue. You can bet that if a Division II program harbored a known-child rapist in their midst, the NCAA would have banned their entire athletic program for life.
3. Morehouse College soccer (2003)
Southern Methodist University was a football powerhouse—yes, that is NFL Hall of Famer Erick Dickerson—when they were placed on probation for recruiting violations in 1985. At that point the university assured the NCAA that they would stop paying their players. But they didn't. The university's board of governors decided that it would be unfair to the current players to alter the terms of their arrangement, so they decided that they would continue paying them and then get clean once they had graduated.
With such a blatantly corrupt official policy, they probably should have paid the players equally so no one got jealous. Unfortunately, they did not do that, and one player blew the whistle on the whole thing, revealing that $61,000 in payments were made in 1986 alone.
At that point, the NCAA had had enough, so they banned SMU altogether for 1987, forbid home games for 1988, cut a whopping 55 scholarships, and forbid off-campus recruiting until 1988. This decimated the program, and it never recovered.
2. SMU football (1987)
In 1972, the Southwestern Louisiana (now called Louisiana-Lafayette) basketball team was ranked in the top-10 in the nation. Then the NCAA discovered that they were making cash payments to players, falsifying academic records to players didn't get kicked off the team, forging signatures (among other things). So since they were already on probation since 1968, the Rajin' Cajuns got the ax for two whole seasons. To this day it's the largest punishment handed out to a Division I team.
1. Southwestern Louisiana basketball (1973)
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