June Jones on SMU death penalty, Penn State

June Jones on SMU death penalty, Penn State

Published Jul. 25, 2012 1:46 p.m. ET

IRVING, Texas — As the current coach of the only football program to receive the NCAA's so-called death penalty, Southern Methodist's June Jones said it's not fair to compare his school's situation in the 1980s to what is going on at Penn State.

"I don't think there's any comparison, personally," Jones said Wednesday during Conference USA's football media day.

Many have made the comparison between Penn State and SMU.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the death penalty was among the options considered before Penn State was sanctioned for its involvement in covering up a child sex abuse scandal.

The penalties Penn State did receive Monday have been described as being almost as difficult as an actual death penalty, which essentially is the suspension of the program.

Penn State's penalties included a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban and scholarship reduction.

"When I heard it, I felt bad for the kids," Jones said. "The kids that were there, the kids that played there, the victims. It's just a tragedy."

SMU, meanwhile, received the death penalty in 1987 for repeated recruiting violations and paying players. The NCAA suspended the program for the 1987 season, and SMU chose to also cancel the 1988 season because other sanctions it incurred would have made it difficult to field a team.

SMU's struggles went well beyond the two-year ban. After the death penalty, the program managed just one winning season until 2009, when Jones led the Mustangs to their first bowl game in 25 years.

To avoid a repeat of the recruiting scandals of the 1980s, SMU self-imposed restrictions on recruiting and admissions that affected the program's ability to compete for talented players.

Many of those restrictions have been removed or reduced over the years. SMU has gone to three consecutive bowl games under Jones, but he doesn't believe that should serve as an indicator of Penn State's ability to compete again.

"I wasn't here for all that (at SMU), but I've heard some of the things that did happen that made it harder on themselves," Jones said. "You know, that was a different era, a different deal. I don't think the two are comparable."

One consequence of the death penalty did affect Jones. The school essentially disassociated itself from its star players from the 1980s, many of whom Jones had gotten to know during his time coaching and playing in the NFL.

One of those players, Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, was instrumental in getting Jones hired at SMU.

"That was the first thing I noticed was that Harvey Armstrong, Louie (Kelcher), Jerry Ball, Dave Richards — a lot of those guys I had coached and played against, I noticed that they were not mentioned hardly at all," Jones said. "It really wasn't their fault what happened."

In an effort to make the former players feel welcome at their alma mater, Jones hosted a charity banquet honoring SMU legends.

"That kind of just broke the ice," Jones said. "Now they come to games, they're more involved, they're really excited about SMU."

Another offshoot of the death penalty created excitement for Jones' current program. The ESPN documentary series "30 for 30" profiled what led to SMU getting the death penalty, as well as the program's recovery.

Besides the rule-breaking, the documentary, "Pony Excess," also showed an SMU football program that was a national power. In 1982, SMU ended the season No. 2 in the major polls — finishing behind national champion Penn State.

"The '30 for 30' thing, I thought, did more for us getting recognition as to where SMU was," Jones said.

"We used to walk through airports and people would say, 'SMU, where is that?' Now, because of '30 for 30,' everybody knows where SMU is and they were at one time No. 1 in the nation. The kids that I coach weren't even born when all that stuff happened. That did help us, I think."

Jones said the documentary opened a lot of players' eyes about the program's potential, even after incurring the most severe penalty ever handed out by the NCAA.

"It turned out to be an education for them," Jones said. "It also told them that at one time they were No. 1 in the country. I don't think anyone thought SMU ever did anything but lose."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire