Comparing PSU penalties to SMU

BY foxsports • July 23, 2012

Penn State received the most severe punishment in major college football in 25 years, but it wasn’t the “death penalty.”

And it isn’t likely to affect Penn State’s athletic future the way the NCAA’s death penalty affected SMU in 1987.

A large fine, a five-year probation, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions and vacated wins were all levied against Penn State by the NCAA on Monday for fostering a culture in which a football program took priority over the welfare of children molested by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The NCAA sanctioned Southern Methodist for its players receiving improper benefits by canceling the Mustangs’ 1987 season and their 1988 home season (leading to the school sitting out that entire season as well). The effect was that the SMU football program was so hobbled that it has never recovered.

“I don’t think Penn State will be affected in the same way,” Chad McEvoy, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, told “SMU struggled for years. Given their football success, SMU could have been a strong BCS school today. I can’t see how Penn State would be left out of the club in that regard. The Big Ten has not shown any inclination that it wants to drop them. The penalties will surely hurt them on the field for a few years. Ten years from now, however, they will likely be a strong force in the Big Ten again.”

Here’s how Penn State’s punishment compares to SMU’s:

Financial penalties

Penn State: $60 million fine
SMU: None

Penn State — even after likely massive payouts to victims of abuse at the hands of Sandusky — will be able to weather the penalty, McEvoy said. The fine is equal to the approximate annual revenue of the football program and must be paid within five years. The fine will help to fund programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims of such crimes.

The Big Ten also will fine Penn State $13 million over the next four years, the equivalent of the Nittany Lions’ take of postseason revenues.

SMU did not receive an NCAA fine, although the financial impact was heavy.

“And they couldn’t even sell that out,” said Matula.

The two shuttered seasons precipitated SMU’s fall from a national power in the now-defunct Southwest Conference to a team that struggled at less prestigious leagues like the Western Athletic Conference and now Conference USA.

“SMU could have landed up in the Big 12,” Matula said. “Look at their TV package. They’re paying each school ($20) million per year. Conference USA’s total TV package is worth ($14) million per year.”

Television ban

Penn State: None
SMU: One year

“It really crushed (SMU's) ambition of using football to build the reputation of the school,” said Fortune editor-at-large David Whitford, who penned a book about SMU. “SMU wanted to be like USC, a private college in a big city where athletes wanted to play and live. When they got deeply embarrassed and lost football for a year, they drastically downscaled.”

Postseason ban

Penn State: Four years
SMU: Three years

While all of the sanctions sting, this penalty will likely impede current Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien more than anything else when it comes to recruiting.

“USC (last year) was hit with a two-year bowl ban, which has not really hurt them in recruiting,” McEvoy said. “They have been able to successfully pitch recruits that while you won’t be able to play in a bowl as a freshman or a sophomore, you will be able to play in a bowl and compete for a national title as a junior and senior. If you are entering as a freshman at Penn State, you know you won’t be playing in a bowl at any point, unless you redshirt.”

One of the nation’s top quarterback prospects from the 2013 class doesn’t like that outlook.

“As long as it's not a four- to five-year bowl ban,” Christian Hackenberg, an incoming senior at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, told’s Dan Greenspan before the sanctions were announced. “As long as I can play in a bowl while I’m up there, I should be at Penn State.”

The NCAA is allowing entering or returning players to transfer and become immediately eligible at their new school, but that’s a tricky process since teams open practice in only a few weeks. SMU student-athletes were allowed to do the same.

Penn State’s four-year ban is the longest since the same punishment was levied against Indiana football in 1960, according to The Associated Press.

Scholarship reductions

Penn State: Limited to 15 new scholarships per season (maximum is 25) for four years

SMU: Limited to 15 new scholarships per season for four years

Starting with the 2013-14 academic year, Penn State also will see a reduction of 20 scholarships (from 85 to 65) for four years.

The scandal has already led at least two players from the 2013 class to decommit, including highly touted cornerback Ross Douglas from Avon, Ohio. O’Brien fared well in recruiting in spite of longtime coach Joe Paterno’s firing and the sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the school. His 2013 class is still ranked No. 15 by

The scholarship reductions on top of the bowl ban, however, will change things.

“You were already looking at a situation where you are fighting against perception that you are Pedophile State University,” said Ted Kian, a distinguished visiting professor and endowed chair of sports media at Oklahoma State. “You know recruiters from other schools were going into these kids’ homes and saying things like that. Now, you are going to go into the season with just 65 scholarships. If you’re Penn State, you will be going after players that other schools may have overlooked and try to keep the players already in the program from transferring.”

SMU lost a total of 55 scholarships.

“It’s not going to kill you overnight, but it will kill you,” Kian said of the reductions. “You are going to have to keep your athletes eligible and healthy and hope to sign some diamonds in the rough.”


Penn State: Five years
SMU: Probation extended three years

Part of the probation imposed on Penn State includes the appointment of an independent integrity monitor who will be posted on campus. The monitor will ensure Penn State administrators implement all the recommendations made in the Freeh Report released earlier this month that detailed a cover-up by Paterno and others.

“These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the 'sports are king' mindset that can so dramatically cloud the judgment of educators,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement that announced the sanctions.

SMU was already on probation when an investigation by the NCAA found that several players received thousands of dollars from boosters. Along with the other penalties, the NCAA extended the probation until 1990.

Vacated wins

Penn State: 112
SMU: 0

Taking away victories is usually one of the least punitive measures the NCAA has in its arsenal – unless you’re talking about Paterno.

“I don’t think this was weak for Penn State,” Kian said. “They did it specifically because of Paterno’s record. If this was any other school, nobody would care.”

Penn State must vacate the 112 victories between 1998 — when school officials were first made aware of an investigation of Sandusky — and 2011. Paterno coached 111 of those vacated wins, meaning the late coach falls behind former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (377) in major college football wins; Paterno’s win total dropped to 298.

share story