Before I get into this, and so we are 100% clear, SMU broke the rules. There should be a punishment. Punishment for major violations should be, well, major. I am not going to argue that. Anyway….
I first set foot on SMU’s campus in the fall of 1991. That year, SMU won one football game and went 10-18 in Men’s basketball. My sophomore year was the high water mark for SMU athletics during my time at SMU: SMU won 5 football games and received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the SWC regular season title (not the tournament) and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Since that time, SMU has played in 4 different conferences (SWC, WAC, CUSA and AAC). SMU is on its 4th athletic director and 3rd president. In basketball, SMU has a 49% winning percentage under 5 different coaches with exactly one NCAA tournament appearance and zero NCAA tournament games won. In football, SMU has gone 87-173-3 (33% winning percentage) under 5 different coaches with zero conference championships, one winless season, 2 losses to I-AA/FCS schools (including last week); SMU did recently go to 4 middling bowl games (3-1 record!), but that was under a coach that is persona non grata on campus for leaving a football program in shambles due to his complete disinterest in either recruiting or reaching out to the SMU community or Dallas community at large.
I don’t know a single person that played for SMU during the heyday of SMU athletics (whenever that was). To my knowledge, there is not a single person employed in the SMU athletic department (save maybe a trainer) that was employed by SMU during the heyday of SMU athletics. There is not a single person in the administration of SMU that was at SMU during the 1980’s, and with the exception of a handful of faculty and maybe a janitor, there is no one employed by SMU today that was employed by SMU during the “Pony Express” days. There is not a single person on the board of directors at SMU that was part of the SMU leadership in the 1980’s. The ringleader/money-man during the “Pony Excess” days may have his name on the wall of the Town North YMCA, but he is not allowed on SMU campus.
This may sound absurd in light of recent news, but I believe that SMU today is one of the cleanest programs in the country. I concede that says more about the current NCAA than it does SMU. I say this because since the “death penalty” SMU has a history of self-reporting. Many of these self-reported violations would have never come to light had SMU not reported them. SMU has fired coaches and assistants for minor violations upon discovery.
It is worth noting that multiple times in SMU’s post-death penalty history, coaches have referenced unfair restrictions above and beyond NCAA minimum requirements that have hamstrung coaches and made winning more difficult. This is not imaginary. This was an academic structure created by the late Ken Pye (sometimes referred to at SMU as the “Pye Model”) that placed artificial academic restrictions on SMU coaches and student-athletes, which based on the records referenced above, severely hampered SMU’s ability to compete. I didn’t agree with the Pye Model and advocated its demise since its creation, but that does not change the fact that it existed.
SMU’s culture today isn’t one of lack of compliance; if anything, it is a culture of over-compliance. The administrative assistant in the NCAA report? Fired. The Assistant Coach? Unemployed. The Golf coach? Fired a year ago. You can say that SMU hasn’t fired Larry Brown, but there is no evidence he participated in anything, but the NCAA says he should have known. If that is your standard, the line for firing coaches forms to the left.
I mention all this because, apparently, none of that is important to the NCAA. SMU suffered the death penalty and there is no infraction that does not deserve the continued beating of a dead horse. There is nothing that SMU can do to rid itself of this stigma and SMU will always receive a harsher penalty than just about any program in the country.
The NCAA says that SMU’s past history of major violations was an “aggravating factor.” SMU’s history has also been brought up by a number of commentators. To allow SMU’s distant past to factor in to SMU’s punishment is unconscionable. In essence, the NCAA is like a Judge saying, “We caught you shoplifting and because your grandfather (who you never met) was a bankrobber, we are sentencing you to 20 years.”
NCAA enforcement is laughable and slaps on the wrists of the “haves” versus the disproportionate punishment of the “have-nots” is a running joke. The NCAA is using SMU’s past as a convenient crutch to justify an unjustifiable punishment. North Carolina five-year old violations sit in limbo despite involving a lot of students, a lot of coaches, a lot of administrators and a lot of sports, but nobody expects anything serious to happen and I doubt their past major violations will play a factor.
All I know is, I follow SMU sports. I do this because I went to school there. I could walk away and cheer for a different school. The law school I went to has an undefeated football team. My parents went to the University of Texas. But I don’t have an emotional connection to those schools. My school is SMU. And the school I cheer for is a very different place than the school that got the death penalty in the 1980’s. To suggest otherwise is crazy. No one who visited SMU in the 1980’s and visited today would suggest things haven’t changed.
If you want to know why I want to appeal these sanctions, it is because I had nothing to do with the death penalty and have been paying for it for more than 20 years. Whatever debt SMU was supposed to pay for its actions in the 1980’s has been paid back in spades. I don’t need to pay it anymore. The students don’t need to pay it. The SMU community today doesn’t need to pay it.