It seems every time that college football scandals are discussed on the boards somebody brings up the possibility of the NCAA handing out what is called the death penalty as punishment for the crimes committed.
The death penalty has been used sparingly over the years. Southern Methodist (1986) football and Kentucky basketball (1952) are the most prominent examples of its use.
The Kentucky situation revolved around point shaving during the 1948 NIT tournament. Four Wildcat players were involved. Investigators also found out that in addition to point shaving the entire team was also receiving cash payments in excess of what was then allowed to attend the University. Once everything was sorted out the program went completely dark during the 1952 season as the result of NCAA sanctions.
City College of New York and Long Island University which were national powers at the time were also involved in the point shaving and recruiting scandals. CCNY deemphasized its athletic program and dropped down to what is now Division III. LIU shut down its entire athletic program from 1951 to 1957, and didn't return to Division I until the 1980s.
The University of San Francisco voluntarily suspended its basketball program in the 1980's after repeated recruiting and booster related sanctions. Quentin Dailey related problems in 1982 were the straws that broke that camels back for the administration of the school. The program was revived in 1985 at a deemphasized level.
Rumor has it that number one reason Seattle U. decided to drop out of big time basketball during the same time period is because they were also about to be hammered by the NCAA for major recruiting and booster related violations.
Seattle U. had a history of probation that dated back to the days of Elgin Baylor in the late 1950's and a point shaving related scandal of its own in 1965. Insiders say that the program folded because the administration didn't think it could survive another scandal during a period of lean overall finances at the school.
The most famous and recent use of the death penalty was Southern Methodist in 1986. SMU had been on NCAA probation seven times during its history and a staggering five times since 1974.
SMU was caught playing players and was told to stop paying players. While serving a severe three year probation they were once again almost immediately caught continuing to pay players and the NCAA came down with the ultimate hammer.
"SMU taught the committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb. 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."
John V. Lombardi - Former University of Florida President
Years later, members of the committee like Lombardi who helped impose the death penalty said that they had never anticipated a situation where they would ever have to impose it, but their investigation at SMU revealed a program completely out of control.
The crippling effects the penalty had on SMU and the entire Southwest Conference has made the NCAA reluctant to ever hand the penalty out again even though it is still a weapon in their arsenal of sanctions.
That brings us to the University of Miami who some think could end up being the exception.The Hurricanes' trip before the Committee on Infractions in 1995 involved years of ill-gotten financial aid and what the NCAA refers to as "pay for play". Former UM academic advisor Tony Russell admitted to helping more than 80 student athletes, including 57 football players to falsify Pell Grant and receive kickbacks in return.
While all this was going on, players at Miami continued administering a long-running pool for on-the-field performance. According to the NCAA, players contributed money to a pool and then gave the proceeds to whichever player was deemed to have made the best tackle during the game. It went on for six years with the coaches being fully aware of it.
In 2003, the Hurricanes were put on probation and docked scholarships for baseball infractions. In the Committee on Infractions report, it defined Miami then as a repeat violator, which means that it committed major violations while already on probation for previous violations.
So when you factor in the Shapiro scandal which ran between 2002 and 2010 you have pretty much an unbroken string of cheating in one way or another at the school which dates back to the early 1980's. That cheating has resulted in the school having and maintaining an unfair competitive advantage over other schools which needs to be rectified in some way.
So what exactly does the death penalty consist of?
A "death penalty" ruling would mean the suspension of all games for one to two seasons, the freedom for any player to immediately transfer without having to sit out, the loss of significant media money through a television ban, significant reduction of scholarships over a three to four year period, significant reduction, or suspension of off campus recruiting, and a possible reduction of assistant coaches and staff during the probation period.
"You have to recognize that, today, inflicting that penalty on any one school has a lot of collateral damage to other members of the conference, involving media contract (TV) rights and a variety of things.If the NCAA committee felt some kind of death penalty was justified, Emmert said he would not be opposed, suggesting rule breakers should "recognize the price of being caught."
Will Miami get the death penalty?
Probably not...the death penalty is only invoked when a school currently on probation continues to commit violations during that period as was the case with SMU back in the 1980's. As I wrote above there is evidence of overlap that dates back to the mid 80's but all indications at this point are that the NCAA does not feel comfortable pursuing that type of penalty in this case.
I do see the NCAA putting the hammer down by blasting Miami with significant scholarship cuts and banning the program for post season play for up to four years (if the bulk of the allegations are proven to be true). I see the penalties being greater and longer than what USC received.
I don't see the NCAA considering a television ban because of the impact it would have on other members of the ACC. For example imagine the damage the Pac 12 would suffer if USC wasn't on television for two years. That being said keeping them on TV and taking the money away is an option I wouldn't mind seeing them explore.
If you really want to stop cheating you need a deterrent that hits outlaw programs in the pocketbook. Keep in mind that football is the cash cow that runs most division one athletic departments. Suspend that revenue for a year or two and that school is going to feel the consequences.