February 25 - 1987 - The SMU Football Program Receives the Death Penalty
The most severe punishment the National Collegiate Athletic Association can hand down is cancelling one whole season, which was often called "the death penalty." In football, it happened exactly once, to the program at Southern Methodist University. SMU's actual violations were rather straightforward, as they were paying money to recruits and continuing large cash payments to their players once the arrived on campus. This made SMU a powerhouse in the early 1980s with stars like Craig James and Eric Dickerson. In the mid-1980s, the payments came to light, and the school was given sanctions for the 1985 and 1986 seasons. During the 1986 season, more problems were discovered when a dissatisfied former player told the loal press that he was given a large signing bonus and regular payments from SMU. Once the school was caught again, it was backed against a wall, but very few people thought the NCAA would bring the death penalty, as SMU's violations were not unique to SMU. Yet that is precisely what they did.