Everyone’s Dirty: An Ethical Guide to College Football’s Top 25

Folks who know me will tell you in a Carolina heartbeat that I’m a moral man. I want to root for the good guy. I want to embrace the good guy. So in an attempt to filter out the good from the bad, I took a broad look at the black marks marring college football programs and their players and coaches in this year’s preseason AP top 25. (I know the rankings have changed, but such is life.) The results, to put it mildly, are not encouraging. Quick synopsis: watching college football may compromise your soul.

Special thanks to SportsDelve, which compiled a comprehensive list of schools which have been placed on NCAA probation since punishment policies began in 1953, and made the research much easier. Let’s begin at the bottom.

Justice, where is thy stern visage on the gridiron?

25. USC – The Trojans are in the second year of a 2-year bowl ban due to “lack of institutional control” between 2004 and 2009. Reggie Bush was the focus of the sanctions, and the illegal benefits he received from two sports marketers (including a rent-free home for his family) cost the football team 30 football scholarships through 2013. They were forced to vacate the 2004-05 national championship, and Bush was later stripped of his Heisman trophy. USC is second all-time with 15 years spent on probation in program history. Recent graduate Everson Griffen was arrested in Los Angels in January for battery, and had to be subdued with a taser after he grabbed a cop in the groin.

24. West Virginia – Under former head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Mountaineers committed three “failure-to-monitor” violations, which essentially means that they had too many staff functioning as coaches. The NCAA accepted the school’s self-imposed sanctions in July, which include the loss of three scholarships, a reduction in the number of hours dedicated to football, and two years of probation. In July, linebacker Branko Busick was arrested for armed robbery.

23. Auburn – The school came out clean in the Cam Newton pay-for-play fiasco, but four former players alleged that they received cash and vehicle benefits from boosters while they played for the school mid-decade. An ongoing NCAA probe took this into account, and head coach Gene Chizik initiated a confrontation with an investigator at an annual SEC meeting this summer regarding the Newton investigation. At that time, Auburn was already being investigated about more recent recruiting violations, and the process is not only ongoing, but has expanded. Sanctions, should they arise, would be nothing new for Auburn, who lose out on a chance to play for the national title after going 11-0 in 1993 after a series of tapes were released documenting an improper financial relationship between boosters, coaches, and players. Auburn is third all-time in the probation department, with 11 years spent on probation. In March, four players were arrested for armed robbery and kicked off the team.

22. Florida – The Gators were on suspension twice in the ’80s, and were probed in 2010 by the NCAA after allegations that Maurkice Pouncey received $100,000 from an agent’s representative while he was at the school. There was speculation that Florida might have to vacate its Sugar Bowl win from the previous season, but it seems that the investigation fizzled out due to lack of evidence. Even if the program is clean, the criminal records are not; during Urban Meyer’s tenure, starting in 2005, at least 31 players were arrested. In April, a month after Will Muschamp took over as head coach, cornerback Janoris Jenkins was arrested for the third time in 23 months, for possession of marijuana. Muschamp kicked him off the team, and Jenkins was later quoted as saying, “No doubt, if Coach Meyer were still coaching, I’d still be playing for the Gators. Coach Meyer knows what it takes to win.”

21. Missouri – Missouri has never been on NCAA probation. They did have three players arrested last summer for DUI, and one accused of sexual assault.

20. Mississippi State – The school became central to the drama surrounding Cam Newton when it was revealed that Cecil Newton, Cam’s father, solicited money for his son to transfer to the school. Mississippi State leaked this information to the SEC in January, and were possibly the source of the information about Newton’s academic problems at Florida. Although there was some ambiguity about the involvement of two former players in the recruitment of Newton (one of whom was later banned from school events), Mississippi State has not faced any allegations of wrongdoing. However, the school was also put on a four-year probation in 2004 for recruiting infractions.

19. Georgia – The NCAA probe into agent violations, which centered on UNC, hit Georgia last July. The allegations led to the 4-game suspension of receiver A.J. Green for selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000 to a former UNC player the NCAA defined as an agent. The school was also probed in 1996 for allegations of improper benefits for players and recruits, and was placed on probation in 1986 due to the actions of boosters. Before last year’s season kicked off, ten Georgia players had been arrested. Four were kicked off the team.

18. Ohio State – A scandal involving quarterback Terrelle Pryor and other players led to head coach Jim Tressel’s “retirement” this past May. Pryor and four others were suspended at the start of last season for trading autographs and memorabilia for cash and tattoos with a man named Edward Rife. The most ironic of these exchanges involved a sportsmanship award from a bowl game. The school vacated its wins from the 2010-11 season, and Tressel was forced out when it was revealed that he’d known about the problem since April 2010. Since the NCAA found that the problem stopped with Tressel, no new penalties will be levied. The tattoo incident may have finally eclipsed Ohio State’s previous high profile case, involving running back Maurice Clarett. After a tumultuous career, Clarett claimed that he was provided with improper benefits throughout his time at OSU. A day before signing day this February, one of the school’s top recruits, Chris Carter, was arrested for allegedly fondling up to eight women.

17. Michigan State – The Spartans last faced a probation (the four year variety) in 1996, for everything from recruiting violations to improper benefits to the NCAA-favorite, ‘lack of institutional control.’ They’ve been clean since, but they still lead all Big 10 schools with 10 years on probation since 1953. In 2009, eight players were suspended for their involvement in a campus dorm fight. Earlier this year, in March, two players were arrested in Aspen, Colorado for eluding arrest and assault after they beat up a third man at a bar.

16. Notre Dame – The Irish were placed on probation from 1999-2001 after a booster named Kim Dunbar gave gifts to recruits and players using $1.4 million in money she embezelled from her employer. A reserve quarterback named Eric Chappell was also implicated in a separate part of the investigation when he attempted to sell his free game tickets to his girlfriend two other students. Wide receiver Tim Floyd, who holds the school record for touchdown catches, received a DUI last March and was suspended by coach Brian Kelly. The suspension was lifted this month, and Floyd won’t miss a game.

15. Arkansas – In 2003, Arkansas served the first year of a three-year probation period after a booster overpaid athletes who worked at his trucking company. The school lost 10 football scholarships and 56 recruiting visits. Two players were arrested on drug charges in 2010 (neither player is still with the team), and another lost his roster spot after his second DUI this summer. According to a Sports Illustrated report, 18 players on this year’s roster have been in trouble with the law, tied for second among last year’s top-25 programs.

14. TCU – The school’s only probationary period ended in 1989, and came about because of improper booster benefits to recruits and players, and at least one payment, of $18,000, came from the Board of Trustees. When asked about the money, running back Kenneth Davis had this to say: “In all, I got about $18,000, give or take a little. Where did it go? Good question. I have $30 in my pocket now.” A lawsuit filed earlier this year accuses the school of ignoring serious allegations, including sexual assault and violent behavior, against Lorenzo Jones. Despite the fact that an English instructor considered Jones ‘dangerous,’ he was never removed from class. He also failed to complete community service for a misdemeanor assault charge, was caught in a dorm room where marijuana was present, and was finally accused of rape in a case where charges were dropped after a year. He was never sanctioned by the university. In 2009, Jones was shot by his mother’s boyfriend over an argument about a spilled beer. On a positive note, TCU was the only team in this year’s top 25 to have zero players with police records on its roster.

13. Virginia Tech – The Hokies endured their last probation period from 1987-1989 due to “oversigning” players, i.e. giving out too many scholarships. In recent years, the school was forced to deal with the well-documented saga of Marcus Vick. This summer, Xavier Boyce was suspended after being arrested on felony charges for abusing his 1-year-old daughter. Lyndell Gibson was arrested for DUI this summer, and was also fined $500 with Boyce in 2009 for stealing bicycles.

12. South Carolina – Under Lou Holtz, South Carolina received a three-year suspension in 2005 for “impermissible tutoring, participation by ineligible players, and illegal summer workouts.” The school also faced limited campus visits and a loss of two scholarships. Last summer, tight end Weslye Saunders was interviewed by the NCAA in connection with the Marvin Austin investigation at UNC, and two months later he was dismissed permanently by Steve Spurrier for “violating team rules.” This summer, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mungus was arrested for ‘nuisance conduct‘ when a police officer found him drunk and urinating on the street. Quarterback Stephen Garcia was suspended for the fifth time in his career for being disruptive at a leadership seminar after drinking beforehand. He was reinstated in early August.

11. Wisconsin – The school spent 1999 and 2000 on probation for unauthorized spending of booster money, and went right back from 2001 to 2006 after it was revealed that players were receiving unadvertised discounts at a shoe store. The team suspended 26 players for at least a game, and the NCAA stripped them of 10 football scholarships. Nine members of this year’s team are playing with criminal records, and the team suspended three players last year for reasons that were never disclosed.

10. Nebraska – The Huskers were put on NCAA probation just once, in 1986, for a violation of the extra-benefits rule. The school reported itself for distributing $28,000 in free extra textbooks to athletes in multiple sports this year, and is awaiting judgment from the NCAA. The school’s athletic director was forced to review recruiting procedures after a series of arrests in 1995 brought negative publicity, and which included charges against running back Lawrence Phillips. The episodes prompted a Sports Illustrated feature detailing how head coach Tom Osborne had a habit of rushing to defend any accused player. While Christian Peter was at Nebraska, he had eight run-ins with the law, and was accused of raping a female student twice in a span of two days. The student brought a lawsuit against Nebraska and eventually settled for $50,000, but Peter was never disciplined or suspended. Only four players on Nebraska’s current roster have criminal records.

9. Oklahoma State – It’s been more than 20 years since Oklahoma State was banned from bowl games and television for four years after boosters and assistant coaches were caught paying cash to recruits and buying them cars. Barry Sanders chose to forgo his senior season rather than play the next year, but the school has avoided probation ever since. There was some question last year that Justin Blackmon may have violated NCAA rules when he attended a Dallas Cowboys game, and the receiver was suspended after getting arrested for DUI on the way home, but it was determined that he broke no rules. Last summer, defensive end Jamie Blatnick was arrested on felony assault charges after he fractured a former offensive lineman’s orbital socket with a beer bottle in a bar fight.

8. Texas A&M – The Aggies have faced NCAA probation four times, the latest between 1994 and 1998 when a booster arranged jobs for players that didn’t include actual work, paying out more than $18,000. The school was banned from postseason play and television appearances in ’94, and given five years of probation. Earlier, in ’88, the school was placed on probation for a variety of incidents, including one where an assistant coach told a player that his father could receive medical treatment if he signed with A&M. Two players were suspended after being arrested for armed robbery in 2007, and in April 2010 Adren Dorsey was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Dorsey was suspended, and later transferred to Lamar. Linebacker Kyle Mangan was arrested after a bar fight earlier this month.

7. Stanford – Along with Missouri and Boise State, Stanford is one of only three teams on this list to never have been placed under NCAA probation. In March, however, the school was forced to discontinue an “easy class list” that was distributed to athletes since 2001 and included sources Beginning Improvising and Social Dances of North America. Only one player on Stanford’s current roster has a criminal record, according to the SI report. The only notable arrest came in 1996, when a placekicker named Eric Abrams (the all-time leading scorer, at the time) was arrested for making obnoxious phone calls to prospective student athletes, most of them young males. According to a Santa Clara district attorney, “the calls included requests for nude photos of the high school football and basketball players that Abrams, a football place-kicker, allegedly said were necessary for the Stanford Athletics Department to assess how much the athletes would grow.” Abrams was later arrested on felony sexual charges.

6. Florida State – The Seminoles are currently under probation for an academic cheating scandal that took place in 2006 and 2007 and forced Bobby Bowden to vacate wins and made it all but impossible for him to catch Joe Paterno in the all-time wins list. It was the third probationary experience for FSU, and the first since players accepted cash and gifts from ‘bird dogs’ (agents’ representatives) in the early ’90s. On the criminal front, FSU is one of only a few schools who doesn’t perform background checks on its recruits. Not surprisingly, nine of their current players have records. Last summer, Ed Imeokparia made headlines when he stole a $449 cell phone from a store in Panama City and fled to Tallahasee.

5. Boise State – Although the team has never been under probation, that doesn’t figure to last long. The NCAA is currently investigating the team for a lack of institutional control relating to almost $5,000 in housing, transportation, and meal benefits given to 63 incoming athletes during summer workouts. The team has already self-imposed three years of probation, so their clean streak will officially end when the NCAA decision comes down. On the team’s current roster, at least 18 players have been arrested for non-traffic violations, most recently an Oregon transfer who was stopped for DUI in July.

4. LSU – LSU is currently serving a one-year probationary period after an assistant coach was cited for unethical conduct by the NCAA for giving improper transportation and housing benefits to a junior college recruit. The Tigers were under probation only once before, in 1986, for recruiting violations. Stanley McClover, a player who eventually went to Auburn, also accused an LSU associate of paying him $500 to attend the school. In a high-profile recent case, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and a teammate were charged with felony assault and suspended after a bar fight that left one man with three fractured vertebrae. Jefferson allegedly kicked one victim in the face, and more arrests are expected.

3. Oregon – The Ducks received a 2-year probation sentence after assistant coach Gary Campbell forged the signature of a recruit’s father in a last-ditch attempt to get him to sign with Oregon. Campbell is still one of the team’s primary recruiters. The school is currently under investigation for paying a scouting service with close ties to Oregon players, and the NCAA believes it may have unduly influenced recruiting. A litany of arrests in 2009 and 2010 tarnished the program’s reputation, and one player was suspended for at least one game this summer after he was caught driving 118mph in a car that smelled like marijuana. The passenger, also an Oregon player, was not suspended.

2. Alabama – Alabama has spent eight of the past ten years on probation, with the current penalty arising when football players and other athletes “improperly obtained” textbooks from the student book store. This followed a five-year probationary period earlier in the decade when the Crimson Tide faced a two-year postseason ban and a loss of 21 scholarships after boosters gave cash to recruits. And that followed a 3-year probation in the mid-90s, along with a one-year postseason ban, after a recruit accepted $24,000 in booster loans, a player signed with an agent and proceeded to play 11 games for Alabama, and the athletic department gave the NCAA misleading information. In the 14 months after Nick Saban was hired in 2008, eight Alabama players were arrested. In March, safety Mark Barron, the team’s leading tackler in 2010, was charged with misdemeanor hindering prosecution after lying to cover for a cousin who wrecked his car.

1. Oklahoma – Since 1953, the Sooners have been placed on probation five times, for a grand total of ten years. The last period ended in 2009, when the Sooners were punished for a familiar crime– two players, including quarterback Rhett Bomar, were paid for work they never carried out at a car dealership. Oklahoma vacated their 2005 wins and lost scholarships during the two probation years. At least one book has been dedicated to the infamously wild Oklahoma teams of the ’80s. This year, the Sooners are among the leaders in college football with nine roster players owning criminal records. Two players were arrested in a DUI incident in January.

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14 Responses to Everyone’s Dirty: An Ethical Guide to College Football’s Top 25

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  1. Dr. K says:

    Just a quick note from a Boise State fan. Most of the $5,000 in housing, transportation, and meal benefits given to 63 incoming athletes during summer workouts can be attributed to the tennis and track teams and not the football team.

    Also, if you read the article about the 18 non-traffic violations issued, 10 of them are for an minor in possession of alcohol. Have you ever been to Idaho before? If you aren’t a Mormon or a white supremacist there really isn’t much else to do besides get drunk. And that’s the God’s honest truth.

  2. Bryan Harvey says:

    While UGA has had a high number of arrests over the years, Mark Richt has also showed an increasing willingness to dismiss players from the team, which (at least this year) has hurt the team’s depth. It also creates a lose-lose-lose situation for coaches. If your team doesn’t win, you get fired. If your top talent gets arrested, your program looks bad. If you your top talent gets arrested and you take action as a coach, you risk looking bad and losing. So what do you do other than try and be Tom Cruise on Minority Report?

    1. Shane says:

      It’s surely a frustrating choice, isn’t it? Duke football is a great example of the conundrum. We’re trying the best we can with a clean program, but it may never be good enough even to crack .500.

  3. Jack Mickelson says:

    Also would be worth mentioning the NCAA’s investigation into South Carolina players staying in the nicest hotel in Columbia:

    They got off with no suspensions, quite curiously. Can you imagine if UNC players had been caught staying in the Carolina Inn for 15 dollars a night?
    Check out the hotel for yourself:

    1. Shane says:

      Good call, not sure how I missed that one.

      1. Bryan Harvey says:

        you probably weren’t staying at the same hotel b/c you didn’t get the discount. no offense. and duke football is a perfect example of what happens when you try and please everyone.

  4. Tbone says:

    Great report, Shane. Just curious how JoePa is doing, or has done in his stay at Penn. St. Thought I read or heard his teams have never warrented an investigation.

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    Hello. And Bye.

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