SMU Football and the NCAA Death Penalty

This week, the Broncos will play the Mustangs of Southern Methodist University for the very first time. SMU is most know nationally as the only school to ever suffering the full extent of the wrath of the NCAA's "Death Penalty"!

The Early 1980's were the "Glory Years" for SMU football. Coach Ron Meyer led SMU to the SWC football championship in 1981 with a 10-1 record. Their only loss was to Texas 9-7. Eric Dickerson and Craig James were the best half back combination in college football and the only thing that prevented SMU from playing for the National Championship in a Bowl was NCAA probation. The 1981 team did finish #1 in several polls and the SMU fans consider the 1981 team their National Championship team.

Bobby Collins replaced Ron Meyer in 1982, but the team did not lose a beat, finishing undefeated and with a huge victory over Pittsburgh in the Cotton Bowl. The 1982 team actually finished higher than the 1981 team in the AP Poll. The 1981 team finished 4th and the 1982 team finished 2nd. A midseason loss to Texas 15 to 12 cost SMU another SWC championship, but SMU finished the 1983 season with only two losses after a Sun Bowl defeat at the hands of Alabama. Although the 1984 SMU team lost two conference games, they still tied for the SWC championship and went on to beat Notre Dame I the Aloha Bowl 27 to 20.

The 1985 and 1986 SMU football teams had uneventful back to back 6-5 seasons. The SMU football program was given the "death penalty" by the NCAA in 1986 which banned SMU's football team from competing for one year and playing a limited, away games only, schedule in its second year of probation. SMU officials elected to not compete at all in the second year of the "death penalty" probation.

Football returned to SMU for the 1989 season with a mostly freshman squad sprinkled with JC players. The new-look SMU football actually played on campus. SMU hadn't played football on campus since 1947. In 1948 SMU started playing its games in the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park. In 1978, SMU changed their playing venue to Texas Stadium in Irving. The 1989 team finish 2-9 starting a stretch of 7 consecutive losing seasons.

The real indicator of the effects of the death penalty showed when SMU played its sixth game against the University of Houston in the 1989 season. SMU gave up 1,021 yards and Houston quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware threw for 517 yards in the first half on only 25 completions. SMU lost 95-21.

The SMU football program has never recovered from the NCAA Death Penalty. A 6-5 season in 1997 is the only winning season for SMU's football team since the Death Penalty. So devistating was the impact of the Death Penlty, the NCAA has not mandated the penalty for any other school, although several schools have had more serious violations than SMU in the last few years, most notibilty Alabama.

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