The Southern Methodist University football team was hit with NCAA sanctions on February 26, 1987 because of a slush-fund created to pay players. Seeing as how the Mustangs were a repeat offender -- they were already on probation for recruiting violations -- the NCAA leveled the ultimate punishment, the so-called death penalty.
SMU was not allowed to play football in 1987. All of the school's home games in 1988 were cancelled (the university later elected to not play any games in 1988). Its probation was extended until 1990.
The school could not play in a bowl game or play a game on TV through the 1989 season. It lost 55 scholarships over four years. The Mustangs are still, to this day, struggling to recover from this punishment.
And no team, since the Mustangs, has been hit with the death penalty.
Yesterday, the NCAA announced the punishment that it was handing down to the Southern California Trojans. The Trojans were called a repeat violator who had little to no monitoring of the locker rooms, sidelines, and post-game environment.
This environment allowed Reggie Bush and his family to receive cash, merchandise, cars, housing, hotel lodging, and many, many other things. All of these things, of course, violating the NCAA's rules of amateurism.
The NCAA found that the university knew all of this was going on, yet did nothing to stop the rule violations. (Much of the same was alleged and proven of the basketball team and star recruit O.J. Mayo.) As a result, the Trojans received a two-year ban on postseason play, the loss of 30 scholarships over three years, four years of probation, and all of the team's wins from December 2004 through the 2005 season were voided.
However, despite the massive violations, the school still gets to play televised games, and most important, it was not hit with the death penalty.
The Trojans not being hit with the death penalty here leads one to wonder why? For the death penalty to be applied, the school must be a repeat violator, and said repeat violation must be a major violation that occurs within five years of the start date of the penalty for another major violation.
And this definition definitely fits Southern California. The Trojans were placed on probation and lost scholarships in August of 2001 because tutors were writing papers for various student athletes. This is deemed by the NCAA to be a major violation.
And the NCAA proves in its report that the cash payments to Bush started in 2004, well within the five-year deadline.
So why not the death penalty for USC?
Because if the Trojans aren't deserving of the death penalty, then just what program is? And if the Trojans can pay players and not get hit with the death penalty, then why was the SMU football program so destroyed? So the school can't play in a bowl game for two years? So the school's victories from a season are being stripped away? Does anyone really think this is going to prevent another school from doing the same thing?
Hell, just look at the University of Alabama. That football program has been penalized four times by the NCAA in the past 15 years. It's even had victories stripped away. Yet the last time I checked, the Crimson Tide is still the national champion, and it's doubtful that the boosters give a damn about what happened in the past. All that counts is not getting caught before the title is won.
The NCAA may strip away Southern Cal's victories from the 2005 season, but that happened in the past. It's got no bearing on now.
Former head coach Pete Carroll, who split for the NFL when the punishment appeared to be imminent, wasn't punished. Reggie Bush isn't being punished. Aaron Rodgers, despite his tweets, isn't getting a ring for winning the Pac-10 Championship in 2004.
And current coach, Lane Kiffin, isn't exactly known for following the NCAA rules.
So just what is it that makes Southern Cal and Alabama and Memphis (technically, because of recruiting violations, Memphis didn't play for the NCAA title several years ago, though we all remember watching Kansas defeat Memphis in OT) so much better than Southern Methodist?
What's the use of having the death penalty on the books if it's not going to be used against an egregious, repeat violator like USC, or Alabama, or Memphis?
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If the NCAA really wants schools to follow the rules and police their players, then stripping away victories that already happened just isn't good enough. The program has to suffer some kind of actual punishment. And that actual punishment should be the death penalty.
P.S.: The Cougars supposedly paid players in the 1980s. Their punishment was no bowl game and no TV games. So if the Cougars had to bypass TV, why not the Trojans? What makes them so damn special?
P.P.S.: Under BCS rules, USC will apparently lose that title it won for the 2004 season. But that will not be decided until after USC's appeals have been exhausted. If USC loses the appeal, the title will be stripped. However, there will be no new champion crowned, and it appears that USC will keep the money that it earned by winning the game.
So, once again, where exactly is the big punishment?