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28. SMU death penalty

The Year: The 1980s

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We are used to crazy College Football scandals. It seems like these days the world of college sports is marred in football and basketball scandals.

SMU however was a big story at it’s time. After years of close scrutiny and probation over its violations of recruiting rules, the Southern Methodist University (SMU) football team’s luck ran out.

In 1986, it was caught using a slush fund for secret payments to players and their families and handed a “death penalty,” blocking it from playing at all in the 1987 season.

It is the only modern death penalty handed down to a Division I school. SMU football had already been placed on three years’ probation in 1985 for recruiting violations.

ESPN even made a special on 30 for 30 documentary showcasing the violations and the ramifications.

“It’s like what happened after we dropped the [atom] bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”

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