9 Biggest NCAA Football Scandals
Many say the American dream is carved in the halls of the institutions of higher education: if you work hard for what you want, you can be anything. This has become an underlying theme of NCAA football: if you play like the best, then maybe you can make it to the NFL and become a star, with all the trappings of a major star. But on more than one occasion, universities have simply hit fast-forward on these dreams and showered their athletes with lavish gifts, many of which seem too good to be true. The sad reality is, while many of these scandals have been uncovered, there are probably many more that go unnoticed. So, in honor of the developing Johnny Manziel debacle, join us for a list of fairy tale promises with few happy endings as we look at the nine biggest NCAA football scandals.
In 1995, Lawrence Phillips was riding high as the hotshot running back for The Nebraska Cornhuskers. Predating the Chris Brown school of romantic resolution, Phillips was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend at the time. LP was given a slap on the wrist in the form of a temporary suspension handed down by the coach, eventually returning to regular play to lead Huskers to win that year’s Fiesta Bowl championship game. Despite going on to a professional career in the NFL, playing for the Rams, Dolphins and 49ers, Phillips couldn’t shake his bad behavior. After a streak of multiple arrests and outstanding warrants caught up to him, Phillips was finally sentenced to 31 years in prison, without being eligible for parole until he will be 57 years old.
Despite a lifetime dedicated to the Penn State Football team, Joe Paterno was fired in disgrace as the longest-running football coach of any NCAA team with the most amount of wins for that period in the history of the sport. A beloved icon at this school, so much so that there was a statue of him erected WHILE HE WAS STILL COACH, Paterno was proven to have concealed information from investigators in the arrest, trial and conviction of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. It’s truly a sad, almost Grimm-fairytale-like ending to somebody like JoePa, but one can only wonder: if he went to such lengths to protect someone that might have even suspected was a pedophile, who knows what other horrible things he may have concealed from the public over the years? The Joe Paterno statue was removed, ironically enough, after his death.
Former Northwestern-Rose-Bowl-era coach Gary Barnett hit on hard luck during his stretch in Colorado. In 2004, Barnett was investigated when it was suspected that he had lured players to play for the team with promises of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. To make matters worse, Barnett dismissively made rude comments in the context of rape allegations surrounding a female place kicker and a fellow teammate. Given the circumstances, any number of colleges with a sensible board of trustees would’ve forced Barnett out for the rock star baloney to begin with; it didn’t help his case that his team was waning in wins. The bad boy coach was forced out of the school in 2005 and has yet to reclaim the acclaim that he once achieved. Are we sensing a pattern here?
There has been a long-standing quandary about NCAA players accepting gifts: on the one hand, the colleges in question that they play for stand to make millions of dollars vs. a student’s degree and the potential he has with it. On the other hand, the student knows that this education is a gateway into a greater professional realm, which Reggie Bush was poised for in his tenure at the University of Southern California. After an investigation of his off-field antics, it was discovered that Bush had accepted scores of gifts via a sports agent, compromising his integrity as a simple student with massive talents. This thread unwove a massive scandal: in the the end, USC had to turn over its 2005 Orange Bowl national championship win, forfeiting 30 team scholarships and could not participate in bowl games again until 2008.
When you think of the University of Miami, the name itself pretty much evokes a hard-partying, major football town. It’s hard to sift through the annals of NCAA sketchiness and not have the Hurricanes pop up in more than one instance, but we’ll indulge ourselves: Mr. Nevin Shapiro, who was actually a team booster- masterminded the largest ponzi scheme in the history of college football while working for UM. Nevin must’ve torn a page out of The Great Gatsby, because the fell into the train of thought the bigger the scheme, the bigger the rewards. After convictions were said and done, Shapiro claims to have used $2 million in client money to buy off and “fund” over 70 players, coaches and staff between 2002 and 2010. In a recent interview, Shapiro confided that he was writing a book that would out the major sins of the UM football department that would possibly result in the “death penalty” of the program.
Say, speaking of the death penalty, what good list of NCAA scandals would be complete without mention of the whole Southern Methodist University thing? In a scandal that would stand as the go-to symbol for the term “slush fund”, SMU was put through the wringer for student/staff payoffs that extended for at least a decade (if not more). It essentially all started when former linebacker David Stanley was given the boot from the team for revealing his payoffs to Dallas news. Similar to the Reggie Bush debacle, all it took was one player coming out for an epic scandal to avalanche down, one that resulted in making NCAA history: the team was slapped with the death penalty for two seasons from 1987-1988 and never fully recuperated from dropping the respect, fanbase and staff numbers that it lost during that time.
While the controversy surrounding Newton isn’t necessarily cut and dry, his arrest for stealing a laptop back during his Florida days confirms that this Auburn player isn’t exactly squeaky clean. The crazy thing is that even though Newton graduated from Auburn in 2010, the school is still investigating his senior year while playing for the institution. Given the accusations that have been fueled by the media coverage of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, it will be tough for Newton to shake the suspicion that he engaged in illegal payoffs from a school slush fund during his earlier games at Florida State. In the meantime, Newtown is holding his breath that guys like Shapiro don’t blow the whistle any louder than they already have.
Ahhhh, Loren Wade. One cannot compile such a wonderful list of NCAA naughtiness and omit his strange little tale. While Arizona State University, the institute of higher learning where Mr. Wade studied during his football days, denies any connection to their former student’s activities, it is increasingly curious that Loren made the decision to murder fellow player Brandon Falkner while engaged in practice during ASU’s spring training camp. The school has been entirely hush-hush about the operation, begging the question of another payoff to keep the former player happy in his cell.
Just like many of the scandals listed here, Pryor was basically a smaller part of a much larger scheme taking place at Ohio State University. Essentially, the star quarterback was involved in an under-the-table exchange deal with a Columbus tattoo parlor called Fine Line Tattoos that was giving out services in exchange for player-earned memorabilia. Coach Jim Tressel, who is revered by many as the finest OSU coach since Woody Hayes, made the abysmal mistake of ignoring the email sent to him that notified him of the scam going on under his nose. When it came to fess up to knowing about it, Tressel claimed to be ignorant of the situation, which only made matters worse. Despite running a decent record with the Buckeyes, Tressel was forced to retire, moving on to smaller schools and smearing his reputation. One can only ponder what other infractions occurred while ol’ Jim was helming the best damn scam in the land.