On February 25, 1987, the NCAA suspends the Southern Methodist University football program for 1987 season for repeated rules violations but stops short of imposing the so-called “death penalty.” Still, the sanctions are the most severe levied by the NCAA against a major college football program.
The NCAA also significantly reduced the number of football scholarships SMU could offer the next two seasons and banned it from playing home games for the 1988 season. The NCAA could have banned the university from playing for two seasons. The Dallas-based university, however, elected not to play in 1988.
“Not only is Southern Methodist University a repeat major violator, but its past record of violations is nothing short of abysmal,” said an NCAA report. The probation was SMU’s seventh since 1958 and the third of the 1980s.
SMU reportedly cooperated with the NCAA to expose a slush fund for players financed by boosters.
“At first it’s shock. Then you get mad,” SMU defensive back Jimmy Young, a redshirt freshman, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s hard to pinpoint who all you’re mad at. You’re mad at the school. You’re mad at the NCAA. You’re mad at people you don’t even know because they (former players) are the ones who got us into this.”
But some thought SMU got off easy.
“It’s the NCAA’s version of cryogenics,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Scott Ostler of the penalty. “Freeze the football program and bring it back to life when someone finds a cure for flagrant cheating.”
The sanctions crippled the school’s football program for more than a decade. In its first season back, in 1989, SMU finished 2-9. The following two seasons, SMU won two games, and the program did not have another winning season until 1997.