With over 3 months left before even thinking about college basketball, I’m currently in college football mode, although that could be because a new college football video game comes out next week. (If you missed the somewhat comical tweet yesterday, I lost one game I played yesterday on a safety with about :25 left.)
I’m not the only one gearing up for college football though: CBS Sports has a 5 part series over the first half of the month discussing the topic of cheating. Part 1 is here, and is a great read if you have the time. To a lot of casual fans it probably seems like cheating has been a much bigger issue as of late, with Jim Tressel leaving Ohio State and recent sanctions at USC. But cheating is nothing new in the sport, as the article is quick to point out.
Is it possible these days to win a national championship at the highest level in major college football without cheating…Among the schools that have won titles since 1936, when human polls became the accepted form of determining the sport’s champion, only Penn State and BYU have never had a major violation in football.
At first, I though that was kind of misleading. 75 years is a long time, and one major violation over that time span doesn’t define a program as “dirty” when you consider the number of coaches, AD’s, and players that have come and gone in that period of time. But then they follow it up with this stat:
Almost half of the current Football Bowl Subdivision schools (55) have committed a major violation in football since 1987…Not surprisingly, 41 of those 55 schools since 1987 are from BCS conferences (based on 2010 alignment)
Okay, now you have me. On average, 4 teams a year are hit with major violations.
But here’s my question: is this actually proof that cheating in college football is actually out of control?
The reason 1987 was used as a starting point in the second statistic was that in 1987, SMU football was given what’s known as the “death penalty” by the NCAA; They were forced to cancel all their home games for the 1987 season (only allowed to play on the road so that other schools wouldn’t be penalized as well) and due to numerous player transfers, ended up not playing another game period until 1989. SMU (and in turn the now defunct Southwest Conference) has never returned to the level they were before the “death penalty” was imposed.
If you don’t know much about SMU in the mid-80’s, you really should educate yourself, as this is the case almost every violation since has been compared to. (Here’s the text from the 1987 article in the Dallas Morning News the day the “death penalty” was announced for starters) To summarize, SMU had a history of violations from the 1970’s, and was on 3-years probation in 1985. The next year, the school was accused of paying it’s players from a slush fund created in the 70’s by the school’s boosters. SMU officials later told the NCAA the payments had stopped, when in fact the school’s board of governors decided to continue paying the players who were promised the money and just not allow any new players to be paid.
This was a school flat out paying it’s players to play. There’s no plausible deniability here. Now let’s fast forward 23 years present, and look at the USC situation from last year and the Ohio State situation from this.
USC’s football violations center around one player, Reggie Bush, who received cash and gifts largely thanks to his relationship with a marketing agent. Their 2-year postseason ban, largely considered the harshest NCAA penalty since SMU, was due to the school essentially turning a blind eye to the situation, and at least one assistant football coach lying during the NCAA investigation.
At Ohio State, the original violations center around players over an 8-year period selling or trading memorabilia, most notably the players who received free tattoos for memorabilia. They were suspended 5 games when they eventually came to light. It took almost a year, because Tressel played the role of USC himself, often stating when violations were made public that he didn’t know about them. Until he announced in March that he knew of the violations, and didn’t report them to the school.
These violations don’t come close to comparing to what SMU was doing in the 1980’s. These were violations committed by the players that the university ignored. SMU’s violations were initiated BY the university. The scope of today’s violations don’t compare, but the numbers do. 55 schools with major violations since ’87.
But part of me wonders if the media climate around the teams could be contributing to the increased number of violations.
In 1987, a little TV company called ESPN was in it’s infancy, only 8 years old. Now, the media has grew into such a behemoth that such minor violations as Joe Paterno stopping to watch a player work out for a few minutes makes headlines. If this happened in the 80’s (and it probably did) do you really think it would have made headlines? No, because no one outside of the school would have found out about it.
Working in the media, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of unsolicited “tips” we receive about prominent members of society doing something they shouldn’t. Sure, most arise from the caller simply disliking the person, and many are purely fictious. But the media is such an ever-present entity any more that someone doing something they’re not supposed to is most likely going to be reported. Simply put: it’s harder to get away with things now than it used to be.
I’m not trying to defend the schools that break the rules, and I would never defend the one’s that lie when they get caught. But I think that it’s a stretch to say that cheating is as bad, or worse, now than it has been in the past. Sure, we can never think of a time that there was this much cheating being reported, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t just as much cheating. And no team, to our knowledge, has come close to what SMU was punished for 24 years ago.
I’m going to be curious where Dennis Dodd and CBSSports takes this series. I will definitely continue reading it and will probably continue to comment on it here. I do think the NCAA, much like MLB did during the steroid era, didn’t do enough to stop the problem before it exploded, and are now being pressured into fixing a major problem quickly that doesn’t have an easy solution.
But I can tell you one thing: Stripping teams of wins in the past is not a solution, it’s hardly even a punishment. Especially in cases like USC and Ohio State where the players, and in USC’s case one of the coaches, already moved on.