1. The Death Penalty
As a private school in the powerful Southwest Conference with a proud and rich football tradition, Southern Methodist was under a lot of pressure to perform. However, due to its comparatively small size it was difficult for SMU to be competitive without breaking NCAA rules. The NCAA watched SMU closely as it had a reputation for stepping over the line, and five times between 1974 and 1985 SMU’s football program was placed on some form of probation.
In 1985 SMU was given a three-year probation, two-year bowl ban, and one season live TV ban for recruiting violations. While serving these penalties, it was brought to light some of the worst NCAA violations had been, and still were ongoing at SMU. A former player, David Stanley, alleged that SMU had paid him a substantial sum of money to sign with the Mustangs and continued to pay him while he was enrolled in school.
Then it came out that improper payments continued at SMU, even after it had been put on its latest period of probation and that from 1985-86, while on probation, SMU had paid 13 players $61,000 from a booster slush fund. In addition, the athletic department staff had full knowledge of the slush fund and AD Bob Hitch had been involved with the fund since 1981.
The depth of these violations, combined with stricter NCAA regulations, led to SMU receiving the “death penalty.” SMU’s 1987 season was cancelled and it was allowed no home games in 1988 (the season was subsequently also cancelled). The NCAA committee declared that the penalty was given in order to “eliminate a program that was built on a legacy of wrongdoing, deceit and rule violations." The punishment effectively destroyed SMU’s football program, which has gone 66-169-3 after thel team was brought back in 1989. The death penalty didn’t just severely damage football at SMU, it was also one of the major factors that led to the dissolution of the Southwest Conference in 1996.
Since 1987, 30 schools have been eligible for a “death penalty” punishment, but only two have received it (Morehouse soccer and MacMurray tennis) and none by a Division I schools since SMU was punished.