An SMU Alum's Views on the Death Penalty

I grew up a fan of Penn State but I attended SMU. I thought maybe a few thoughts about what actually happened at SMU and the impact that the death penalty had on the culture of not only the athletics program but the whole university might be useful.

At the time of SMU's penalization the Mustangs were competing in the Southwest Conference along with most of the other schools in Texas and the University of Arkansas. Most SWC programs were engaged in paying impermissible benefits to their players at the time. SMU, however, received the worst NCAA sanction because (1) it lacked the political clout that other state schools had (just imagine anybody wanting to give the Longhorns the death penalty!) and (2) SMU was paying players from a slush fund that was overseen and hushed up by the Governor of Texas who was also a big wig in the SMU BoT at the time.

After the slush fund was exposed an internal investigation led by certain faculty members took over. The investigation exposed a wide swath of cover up and impropriety by members of the faculty and administration. The NCAA responded by imposing a one year Death Penalty on the Football program and requiring that SMU play no home games in the second year of the penalty. The SMU administration responded by canceling that second season, in effect extending the Death Penalty to two years. (And you didn't like how the PSU administration handled this scandal!)

Now to the effects of the Death Penalty:

SMU is a small school - the second smallest in Division 1-A/FBS/etc. Its alumni base was particularly rabid. The Mustangs played in the Cotton Bowl until 1978 (which seats up to 90,000). We didn't regularly sell out, but we managed to pull a lot of non-alums from the Dallas area. SMU football was a source of immense pride for alumni. And this pride wasn't unfounded - you may remember in Penn State's national championship in 1982, SMU finished 2nd in the country with a 11-0-1 record.

The two year Death Penalty slew the program. It took ten years for SMU to even get above .500 again (6-5 in 1997). But there were signs of life - the Ponies had gone from 1-10 to 5-6 to 6-5 over three years.

But the death penalty also changed SMU's culture. Not just athletically. Sports became something of a shame to the institution. Instead of being proud of the football program, students openly derided their programs. When I was at SMU in the early 2000s most students didn't care about the Mustangs and retained their parents' rooting allegiance. Most of us couldn't be bothered to walk across the street (literally - they moved back on campus to a stadium seating 30,000) to see a game. I remember going to one game between the Mustangs and Boise State. There must have been about 6000 people there and most of them were Boise State fans (who are really nice, by the way).

During the period subsequent to the Death Penalty, schools like UAB, South Florida, Florida Atlantic and Florida International founded programs that managed to be more successful than SMU was during that time, so it wasn't simply the "starting over" after the Death Penalty. It was the cultural shift - campus life lost any unifying focus other than Greek life. The school got even more of a "party school" reputation. When I was there students were penalized severely in their grades if they missed more than two classes to force hungover kids to class. I know a lot of this transpired before the death penalty, but without sports or some form of tangible school identity or pride the culture was allowed to degenerate to garbage. The administration created a new "tradition" - the Boulevard - to try and get people to go to games. They let people party on the school's main avenue before games. The problem was that everybody stayed outside to drink and wouldn't go in. And it's hard to blame them - the players played with the same attitude that the school had adopted - take for instance in 2005 when the Ponies beat TCU (who had just beaten Oklahoma and Utah) and two weeks later lost to 2-10 Tulane.

Recent years have seen improvements with the Ponies - hiring June Jones and three straight bowl games signal perhaps the end of SMU's long nightmare - literally 23 years in the making.

Hopefully Penn State doesn't get this sanction. But your administrators look open to being beaten into hating themselves and their school's main cultural focus. They like being told how evil they are. This is the first step. Regardless of whatever sanctions come down tomorrow (which are all illegal as the NCAA both lacks jurisdiction and is acting in violation of its by laws through this summary sanction), expect your BoT to take it lying down and permitting this nightmare to continue. Only aggressive voicing of your outrage about the fact that the media has been able to keep this feeding frenzy going with the administration's consent may be able to avoid many of the cultural harms that were triggered at SMU.

You created a Fanpost! Any content from a premium site that requires a subscription will be deleted once we catch wind of it. If you simply want to share a link, quote, or video, please consider using Fanshots instead. Thanks.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Black Shoe Diaries

You must be a member of Black Shoe Diaries to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Black Shoe Diaries. You should read them.

Join Black Shoe Diaries

You must be a member of Black Shoe Diaries to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Black Shoe Diaries. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.