10 Most Crooked College Programs in NCAA History


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Jim Tressel, with his sweater vest and avuncular personality, certainly didn't present himself as a cheater. And yet, despite preaching about the importance of integrity, he presided over a program that failed to abide by the rules, and now he's out of a job, and Ohio State is spiraling toward irrelevancy. As any college sports fan (and any Ohio State fan) will tell you, OSU football isn't the only program that's cheating. Just in the last few months, Auburn won a national title amid accusations that Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton received a substantial amount of money in a pay-for-play arrangement. More recently, USC, on probation for the Reggie Bush scandal, was officially stripped of its 2004 BCS title. With the long and established history of crooked programs in college sports, OSU and USC are just two of many — though USC earned a spot on this list. The following giants were the most proficient cheaters during their time, almost openly inviting the NCAA to lay down the law.

  1. Southern Methodist University Football — Death Penalty, 1987 and 1988: The recent rehashing of the most notorious scandal in the college sports history has been fitting given the recent rash of violations by major programs, none of which, as far as we know, have participated in corruption as systematic as SMU's. Even under intense scrutiny from the NCAA, players were continually paid from a slush fund from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, a period in which the program was penalized on five separate occasions. When the NCAA finally decided it had enough, it canceled the program's 1987 season, essentially forced it to cancel its 1988 season, docked 55 scholarships, and required it to have just five full-time assistant coaches instead of the usual nine. The result: two decades in college football purgatory.
  2. University of Southwestern Louisiana Basketball — Death Penalty, 1973-75: Under coach Beryl Shipley, USL, now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, dominated the Gulf States and Southland conferences, twice finishing in the top 10 and once reaching as high as No. 4 in the polls. During that time, the team boasted one the decade's most talented players, Bo Lamar, who, with 36.3 points per game, led the nation in scoring in 1972. Obtaining such players and achieving such success came at a price, though. The program was cited for committing more than 100 recruiting violations and was forced to sit out two seasons, becoming just the second basketball program to receive the NCAA's harshest penalty.
  3. University of Kentucky Basketball — Death Penalty, 1952-53: Kentucky was the first basketball program to receive the death penalty, and it was well-deserved. The most serious issue that a sports team or organization can face is the influence of gambling and the game's resulting loss of integrity, so when it was revealed that Alex Groza, Ralph Beard and Dale Barnstable shaved points during the 1948-49 season, a season in which they won the national championship, severe action had to be taken. The NCAA ordered UK to cancel the 1952-53 season, the trio pleaded guilty to accepting $1,500 in bribes for gamblers, and a fourth player, Bill Spivey, was charged with perjury because he refused to testify against his teammates.
  4. Morehouse College Soccer — Death Penalty, 2004 and 2005: Although the lower, less popular divisions of college athletics have been touted as "pure," they, as it turns out, aren't always above cheating. Morehouse College holds the distinction of being the first and only Division II school to suffer the death penalty primarily due to the use of two former professional players. Levied in 2003, it was the first multiple-season ban on competition ever handed out, and it came with five subsequent years of probation. Before serving the punishment, however, the program disbanded.
  5. MacMurray College Tennis — Death Penalty, 2005-07 : Two years after Morehouse became a "first," MacMurray became a "first," — the first Division III program to be banned from competition by the NCAA. In a scandal reminiscent of SMU's two decades earlier, the father of former tennis coach Neil Hart established a fund that paid $162,000 to 10 athletes from 2000 to 2004. According to the Division III Infractions Committee, Hart called the rules a "joke," which certainly didn't help his cause.
  6. Baylor University Basketball — Probation, 2004-2010: The infamous murder of Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson put Baylor under the media microscope in 2003, and widespread corruption within the program surfaced. Coach Dave Bliss, who had paid Dennehy's and a teammate's tuition that year, falsely portrayed the deceased player as a drug dealer in an attempt to cover his tracks, but it didn't work. Committing violations serious enough to warrant the death penalty, the Baylor basketball program avoided the worst-case scenario by imposing penalties on itself, reducing scholarships and expense-paid recruiting visits for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. The NCAA took it a step further by extending the probation an additional four years, barring the team from nonconference games in 2005-06 and reducing its paid recruiting visits.
  7. Tulane University Basketball, Self-Imposed Death Penalty, 1985-1989: Essentially giving itself the death penalty, Tulane disbanded its basketball program after star John "Hotrod" Williams was arrested for accepting $8,550 for point shaving in three games during the 1984-85 season. Four other players were involved, some of whom also received cocaine with money. Charges against Williams, the ringleader of the scandal, were eventually dropped (like the program) and he went on to have a long and productive NBA career. The basketball program was reborn in 1989 under the stewardship of coach Perry Clark.
  8. University of Kentucky Basketball — Probation, 1989-1992: An investigation of Eric Manuel, who was suspected of cheating on a college entrance exam, led to the uncovering of numerous NCAA violations committed by Eddie Sutton's program. Not only was it discovered that Manuel had partaken in academic fraud by cheating on his ACT, but it was revealed that assistant coach Dwane Casey sent an envelope containing $1,000 in cash was sent to Chris Mills' father — this coming as the program was already on probation for paying recruits. Kentucky narrowly avoided the death penalty, receiving three years' probation, a two-year ban from postseason and a one-year ban from live television.
  9. St. Bonaventure University Basketball — Probation, 2004-2007: Boasting a Final Four appearance under their belt, the Bonnies have experienced quite a bit of success as an underdog basketball program, success that brought positive publicity to the school. On the other hand, their one notable misstep resulted in ample amount of bad publicity. When it was discovered that school president Dr. Robert Wickenheiser allowed former player Jamil Terrell, who only had a welding certificate, to be admitted into the school and play basketball, he lost his job. Coach Jan Van Breda Kolff, his staff and athletic director Gothard Lane also lost their jobs, and the chairman of the board of trustees even committed suicide due to the shame he felt for letting down his school. St. Bonaventure was barred from postseason play in 2004 and docked two scholarships.
  10. University of Southern California Football — Probation, 2010-2013: Fans of Southern Cal will always have the memories of the 2004 national championship and Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy acceptance in 2005, but as far as the NCAA and USC are respectively concerned, neither occurred. During his impressive career with the Trojans, Bush received numerous gifts from agent Lloyd Lake, who later sued him for not repaying the $290,000 he spent. Because of its lack of institutional control on the matter, USC was given a two-year postseason ban, docked 30 scholarships over three years and forced to vacate every win in which Bush ineligibly participated.
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