10 Most Corrupt College Athletic Programs

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March 8th, 2011

Let’s face it, our favorite college programs cheat. That thoroughbred running back who’s expected to anchor your school’s offense over the next three or four years didn’t come cheap. Sure, your school may not have been caught lately, but that’s probably because the coaches and boosters do it more discreetly than others — and kudos to them, because getting away with it isn’t always easy. According to Insider Higher Ed, almost half of all big-time college sports programs have been punished for major violations by the NCAA during the last decade. These days, even the Ivies aren’t immune to major infractions. The following programs are the most notorious repeat offenders, the blatant cheaters who always seem to have NCAA investigators breathing down their necks. This is where the phrase "lack of institutional control" becomes redundant.

  1. Arizona State — Nine Major Infractions: The Sun Devils would be the biggest cheaters, but because they aren’t a consistent football powerhouse, their misdeeds have gone mostly under the radar. Arizona State is primarily known for its baseball program, which has won five national championships and produced legends such as Reggie Jackson and fittingly, Barry Bonds. Last December, it was penalized for major secondary violations, resulting in three years probation and a one-year ban from NCAA postseason. The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions cited the athletic program for, most notably, improperly recruiting one player and giving improper benefits to multiple players. Arizona State was a repeat offender — in 2005, ASU was given two years probation for a lack of institutional control and impermissibly giving financial aid. The litany of problems led to the forced resignation of coach Pat Murphy, who led the Sun Devils to four College World Series appearances.
  2. SMU — Eight Major Infractions: Holding the unfortunate distinction of being just one of five programs in NCAA history to suffer the death penalty, SMU football is still the poster child for corruption in major college athletics. Its capital offense was maintaining a slush fund to pay players from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, even when the program was already on probation — from 1974 to 1985, it was penalized on five separate occasions. Because SMU was under such intense scrutiny from the NCAA, the powers that be had little choice but to levy the harshest penalty. As a result, the entire 1987 season was canceled, SMU was forced to cancel the 1988 season, 55 scholarships were docked and the team was permitted to hire just five full-time assistant coaches instead of the regular nine. The program was crippled for almost two decades, but it has finally experienced a resurgence over the last couple of years. In 2009, head coach June Jones guided the programs its first bowl game since the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
  3. Auburn — Seven Major Infractions: Seven major infractions for now, anyway. The Cam Newton situation aside, Auburn has had a difficult time playing by the rules over the years. Its most embarrassing incident occurred in 1991, when 60 Minutes aired recordings of head football coach Pat Dye arranging a loan for a player. The series of incriminating tapes were provided by former star defensive back Eric Ramsey and unveiled a player payment scheme involving the coaching staff and prominent booster "Corky" Frost. For its wrongdoing, Auburn received a two-year bowl ban, a one-year television and ban and lost 13 scholarships over a four-year period. Dye was replaced by Terry Bowden, who became the first Division 1 coach to go undefeated in his first season but had nothing to show for it.
  4. Minnesota — Seven Major Infractions: During his 13-year stint as Minnesota’s head basketball coach, Clem Haskins oversaw runs to the Elite Eight, Final Four and NIT Championship. Today, however, only the Elite Eight appearance remains in the NCAA record books, as everything Haskins accomplished from 1993-1994 forward was vacated. Prior to the Golden Gophers’ appearance in the 1999 NCAA tournament, a former basketball office manager revealed that she had written more than 400 papers for numerous basketball players over several years. Haskins’ contract was bought out over the summer and he later admitted to paying her $3,000 for her work. As the NCAA investigation unfolded, he was accused of paying players, persuading professors to inflate players’ grades and ignoring sexual harassment concerns. The NCAA administered massive sanctions, notably docking five scholarships over three seasons and instituting recruiting limitations. The entire athletic department suffered, as athletic director, associate athletic director, vice president for student development and athletics and academic counselor were all forced to resign due to the scandal.
  5. Oklahoma — Seven Major Infractions: Barry Switzer inherited a program on probation — it forfeited nine games from the 1972 season because of violations that resulted from the alteration of players’ transcripts — and left it on probation in 1988. The Sooners had garnered the reputation of being an outlaw program in the 1980s. During one rough patch, a shooting and rape occurred in an athletic dorm, a player attempted to sell drugs to undercover agent, and a player robbed Switzer’s home. The latter player probably didn’t receive person checks from Switzer, scalped game tickets, free airline tickets, or a boatload of money from a bidding war during his recruitment. All of that happened, and it resulted in a two-year bowl ban, a one-year live television ban and recruiting restrictions. More recently, Oklahoma’s basketball program was penalized when former basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, the same guy who later crippled the Indiana basketball program due to unethical recruiting practices, made 550 illegal calls to 17 different recruits.
  6. Texas A&M — Seven Major Infractions: The Southwest Conference is probably the most corrupt entity in the history of college sports. If you competed in the SWC during the 1980s and weren’t cheating, you didn’t have a pulse. Not coincidentally, Texas A&M enjoyed quite a bit of success during the decade, winning three consecutive conference titles under Jackie Sherrill, who Joe Paterno once lumped with Barry Switzer when bemoaning that era of college football. Sherrill resigned in 1988 after the NCAA discovered that assistant coaches and boosters were providing improper benefits to recruits — one was given a sports car and another’s father was offered medical treatment. The Aggies were given two years of probation, banned from the postseason for one season and docked 10 scholarships. Additional violations by the basketball program in 1991 and the football program again in 1994 — a booster employed and overpaid nine players who didn’t really work — almost caused A&M to suffer the same fate as SMU.
  7. Wichita State — Seven Major Infractions: Programs from smaller conferences are just as capable of skirting the rules as the big boys. Although Wichita State doesn’t have a football program, its baseball and basketball programs have flourished. The baseball program has been one of the most successful in recent history, winning the 1989 College World Series and finishing second in 1982, 1991, and 1993. The basketball program reached the Final Four in 1965, Elite Eight in 1981 and Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Of the program’s seven infractions, perhaps the most disheartening one occurred in 1982, not long after the team had reached the Elite Eight. Violations involving the promises of cash and airline tickets resulted in the stripping of two basketball scholarships over two seasons and the program’s ban from the NCAA tournament and NIT. At the time the penalties were imposed, Wichita State led the NCAA in major infractions.
  8. Wisconsin — Seven Major Infractions: Just months after its basketball program reached the Final Four in 2000, the Wisconsin athletic department was embroiled in controversy. Twenty-six football players were suspended prior to the season opener after the NCAA uncovered that members of the Badgers’ football and basketball teams were given special credit arrangements at a shoe store. A year later, Wisconsin began serving five years of probation, which included scholarship reductions in both football and basketball, for giving recruiting inducements and extra benefits and its overall failure to properly monitor its athletic program. The Badgers have managed to survive the last decade without any other major violations, and the football and basketball programs have enjoyed consistent success.
  9. Florida State — Seven Major Infractions: Former rival coach Steve Spurrier once referred to FSU as Free Shoes University, a zinger derived from a 1993 scandal in which nine Florida State players went on an agent-funded shopping spree at Foot Locker. Six years later, also during a national championship run, all-American wide receiver Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles were charged with felony grand theft for receiving $412.38-worth of clothes from a Dillard’s cashier — they only paid $21.40. Warrick was suspended for two games and Coles from thrown off the team. In 2009, Bobby Bowden was forced to vacate 12 victories because of an academic cheating scandal that also involved the men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball and men’s track and field programs — a 2007 men’s track national championship was vacated as well. The penalties ensured Bowden wouldn’t catch Joe Paterno as the FBS’s all-time winningest coach.
  10. Memphis — Seven Major Infractions: The good feelings that accompanied Memphis State’s 1985 Final Four run diminished in the ensuing years as karma, tragedy and bad luck befell various member of the team and coaching staff. Head coach Dana Kirk was fired in 1986 after the NCAA uncovered recruiting violations and vacated the 1985 Final Four appearance. He later served a prison term for tax evasion, a crime he committed while he served as the head coach. Star center William Bedford was drafted sixth overall in the 1986 NBA draft, but his career was derailed by drug addiction, and he’s currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Reserve guard Aaron Price was killed in a carjacking in 1998. Small forward Baskerville Holmes committed a murder-suicide in 1997. Assistant coach Larry Finch suffered a series of strokes that have left him debilitated. All of that was forgotten in 2008, however, when John Calipari had the Tigers positioned to win the national title. But that run was vacated by the NCAA in 2009, as Memphis was given three years of probation for Derrick Rose’s fraudulent SAT score and the $1,700 in free travel and lodging provided to his brother. Before penalties were levied, Calipari bolted to Kentucky, which could soon find its way on this list — the athletic program has six major infractions and the basketball program narrowly escaped the death penalty in 1989.

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