There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about amateurism in major collegiate sports in America. While the NCAA intends to promote amateurism for its student-athletes, there is so much money involved in major college sports that it has been near impossible to keep the true spirit of amateurism intact.
After all, the value of a full-ride scholarship to play sports is essentially a professional salary, not to mention what the universities make with television and merchandising deals, as well as ticket sales.
College sports have become so competitive in the fight for the almighty dollar, that some schools have found themselves in the middle of disgraceful scandals that involve various forms of cheating, some to keep student-athletes eligible, while others involve inducements to get student-athletes to attend certain schools.
Here are five examples of the dark side of college sports and how far schools would go to be at the top of the heap.
Florida State University – Academic Fraud, 2007
The Seminole football team was swept up in a scandal that involved more than 60 student-athletes across 10 sports, and the scandal led to vacated wins for the football team in 2006 and 2007, which kept Bobby Bowden from retiring as the all-time wins leader in Division I football.
The scandal involved academics, as the student-athletes participated in an online course and had test answers given to them before the exams, and in some cases had another person do classwork for them.
Alabama – Football Recruiting, 1999
Alabama has been so wildly successful over the decades that it’s hard to imagine that it would need to break any rules to get a high-school player to play at the school. But in 1999, Alabama apparently thought that high-school recruit Albert Means was a bigger deal than its own tradition.
The Crimson Tide received a two-year bowl ban and five years of probation after the NCAA found that the school had paid $150,000 to get Means to sign with the Tide. Ironically, Means only played a few games at Alabama before transferring to Memphis. The stench of Means’ attendance stuck with the program for years afterward, however.
University of Miami – Pell Grants, 1990s
College is expensive, even when you have a full-ride scholarship to play sports. At least, that seemed to be the thought at the Univerity of Miami in 1989 and into the early 1990s, when football players participated in a fraud on the federal government.
Though all the players had scholarships to attend school, an academic advisor reportedly helped the athletes forge fraudulent Pell Grant applications, which ended up in the players collecting more than $200,000 from federal taxpayers. The NCAA came down hard on Miami, though it did not receive the death penalty despite a history of playing fast and loose with the rules.
Southern Methodist University – Football Recruiting, 1980s
When you visit many websites for college athletics departments and you visit the “recruiting” page, you see several disclaimers warning about fans and boosters and their involvement with student-athletes and recruits. The story of SMU is a cautionary tale, as the football program is still the first in NCAA history to receive the “death penalty.”
It was found in 1986 that for almost a decade, SMU boosters had operated a “slush fund” of money that they reportedly used to induce top high-school players to sign with the Mustangs. The most recent NCAA investigation revealed that 13 players on the 1986 team had received about $61,000 in payments out of the slush fund in that season alone. The “death penalty” – which closed down the SMU program for several years – came about because the football program was already on probation for other violations.
University of Minnesota – Academic Fraud, 1999
The Univesity of Minnesota didn’t have the successful basketball history as other programs like North Carlina, Duke or Kentucky, but it was a competitive program that saw its revival in the late 1990s not only go down in flames, but it hampered the Gophers for several years afterward.
The day before a resurgent Gopher squad was going to start the 1999 NCAA Tournament, an office manager in the athletics office admitted that she had written about 400 term papers for 20 men’s basketball players over several years, with head coach Clem Haskins admitting later that he had paid the woman $3,000 each year to do the work. As the academic fraud lasted several years, the program was forced to vacate titles and wins over the previous five seasons¸ serve four years of probation starting in 1999 and had five scholarships lost over the following three years.