Let's hear it for the SMU Mustangs. It's taken a long, long time, but the school is finally number one at something in college athletics. That's right, SMU can now lay claim to being the first school in NCAA history to reach the double digits in regards to major infractions.
The team can't really lay claim to much else. Remember, despite all the money spent on its football team in the 1980s, SMU has never won a national title (actually, it's never even been in contention for a national title). And the Dave Bliss basketball teams never did much either. But with all that cheating, with all the academic fraud and paying players, SMU became not just the only school to get hit with the death penalty, but it is now the first school to be nailed 10 times by the NCAA.
This time around it's the men's golf and basketball programs that got hit with post-season bans. That makes for 12 post-seasons spread across three sports from which SMU has been forbidden. Yet the school has not one national title to show for it. Not one appearance in a championship game or the Final Four or the Elite Eight or even the Sweet Sixteen. SMU hired Larry Brown and got a NIT championship game appearance out of it as well as a one-and-out appearance in last year's NCAA tournament. That's a pretty lousy return on investment.
Larry Brown is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history. He coached teams to titles in the NCAA and the NBA. He's a turn around master, taking teams known for losing and turning them into winners. He also happened to break a few rules along the way (the NCAA punished UCLA and Kansas for his misdeeds, but only after he had left for other jobs, and only after UCLA got to a title game and only after Kansas won a title). So SMU had to know what it was getting when it hired Brown—a great coach known for breaking the rules. The school must be disappointed Brown's team got caught before he could actually win anything there.
Just look at John Calipari. The Final Four appearances for his teams at UMASS and Memphis have been wiped from the history books because of cheating, yet everyone knows they really happened, and the schools still made money, and it's doubtful anyone in Kentucky will complain when the NCAA inevitably gets around to stripping the title from Calipari's Kentucky team. That's why you hire a John Calipari. You know a few rules will be broken, and that there will be an NCAA investigation somewhere down the road. But damn, the payoff will be worth it.
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That's how it was supposed to happen at SMU. Hire Larry Brown and he'll repeat his UCLA/Kansas magic. And at least when the NCAA sanctions hit, the alums and fans can point to that Final Four banner and say it doesn't matter, that the team was a winner for once. But that didn't happen, because that never happens at SMU. No matter how much the school cheats, no matter how it cheats, it just never gets the same results that schools like USC, Michigan, Memphis, Oklahoma, Auburn, Alabama, Miami, North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse and UConn all get. SMU always gets caught before it can actually accomplish anything.
Sure, the argument can be made that maybe the NCAA really needs to find another school to pick on. I for one argued that USC deserved the death penalty over the nonsense with Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. And it's strange the NCAA has yet to do anything to North Carolina despite the academic fraud that occurred in the athletic department. But when a school continues to be as flagrant about it as SMU (hiring Larry Brown then recruiting a high school player who probably wasn't even academically eligible to play in high school and who had already cost several people their jobs over academic irregularities), one kind of has to wonder if the school just doesn't care about the consequences.
So SMU misses out on the post-season this year, and Larry Brown gets to sit out the first nine games this season. That's the punishment. Was it worth it, SMU? That NIT run, that one-and-done in last season's NCAA? Was hiring Larry Brown and getting the NCAA sanctions really worth it? Sure basketball was relevant on campus for the first time since the mid-1980s. But was all that money and effort for such little return really worth another NCAA infraction that once again made SMU the national laughingstock?
Maybe someday the NCAA will find another punching bag, some other school so inept, one that so openly flouts the rules that the NCAA has to drop the hammer on it time and time again. And maybe, someday, the NCAA will go after the big name schools in the same dogged fashion it pursues SMU. But until then, SMU, know that you actually have accomplished something: you now literally hold the record for NCAA infractions. Congratulations?