The college football season kicks off this week amid what some people are calling the Golden Age of Cheating.
For those short on memory, it’s business as usual. And cheating is in the eye of the beholder.
History dictates Miami’s scandal-plagued program should escape the NCAA “death penalty” and be back in the national championship hunt before long.
There will be some pain depending on how hard the NCAA wants to come down on the Canes.
Miami was last on probation in 1998 for major violations involving more than $600,000 of improper money going to athletes. It got probation and a reduction in financial aid and was back in business in no time, winning a national title three years later.
Being put on probation is like a slap on the wrist, though a postseason ban can hurt a program for awhile. But the NCAA doesn’t like to level that penalty because of the collateral damage it can bring to a conference and future television contracts.
Since the first BCS title game in 1999, 10 of the 36 teams that participated in the game were on probation at least five years prior to the game and one within six years. Five of the those BCS title game winners were on probation within five years of the game and two within at least three years.
Circumventing NCAA rules has become an art form. Here a few programs that have mastered the endeavor.
n ALABAMA (2009 national champion): NCAA probation 2002-06 and ’09-12.
Crimes: Labeled a “repeat violator” by the NCAA (which is like telling your 2-year-old he is being bad); charged with athletes giving books received on scholarship to others. Four highest amounts of impermissible “book” benefits obtained by football players. The first probation was in part for paying $20,000 to a recruit. Alabama was on probation when it won the ’09 title; banned from bowls in ’02 and ’03, but rebounded in ’08 with 12-2 record. Could win second title while being on probation this season. Is this why Nick Saban never smiles?
n OKLAHOMA (BCS runner-up 2003, ’04, ’08; 2011 AP preseason No. 1): Probation in ’05-’06 and ’08-’09 (hit with financial aid reduction).
Crimes: The hidden job trick, aka payments to football players for jobs not performed. The school was already serving probation from ’05-’06, when last violation was cited and given two additional years of probation through May 2010.
n OHIO ST. (BCS runner-up in ’06/’07): Probation ’06-’08.
Crimes: Extra benefits to football players by representatives of the university’s athletics’ interests. It recently self-imposed punishments for players accepting improper benefits, waiting for NCAA ruling.
n MIAMI (BCS 2001 national champion): Probation ’95-’98.
Crimes: Pell Grant fraud involving more than $212,000. Cash awards were given to football players for game performances that included bounties of between $20 to $200; excessive financial aid to athletes of more than $412,000 from 1991 through ’94. Penalty: three-year probation, reduction of financial aid.
n FLORIDA ST. (1999 BCS national champion): Probation 1992--94; 1996.
Crimes: Athletes involved with sports agents with some receiving benefits. The ’96 report followed similar allegations in ’92 though ’94, when sports agents were seen in dormitories.
n USC (BCS 2004 national champion): BCS title vacated. On probation 2004-’05; ’10-’13.
Crimes: Lack of institutional control involving myriad violations (see Reggie Bush); in 2001, academic fraud. Two-year bowl ban ends after ’11 season. Doesn’t seem to have lost much.
Since 1953, Auburn, Oklahoma, Alabama and USC are among the 10 most penalized FBS programs in the country behind all-time leader SMU. The SEC, which has won five straight BCS titles, is the most penalized conference. Its schools have been placed on probation 27 times for a total of 61 seasons.
On an interesting note: ESPN aired a so-called blue ribbon panel to discuss college football and integrity issues. Two of the panelists were head coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, whose programs are among the most penalized in the country.
Maybe we could bring John Dillinger back to life and have him talk about keeping banks safe.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.