Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, I should probably mention it wasn’t the literal death penalty, resulting in actual death. But for fans of Southern Methodist University football, it probably seemed almost as bad. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine, and travel back to 1986, when it all came crashing down in a scandal known as “Ponygate”.
Following up on a tip sent to ABC affiliate WFAA, sportscaster Dale Hansen uncovered corruption in the recruiting practices at SMU. This led to a full NCAA investigation, during which it was revealed that between 1985 and 1986, 13 players had received money through a slush fund provided by a booster, for a total payout of $61,000. The crazy thing about this is that this had been going on since the 1970’s! In fact, the whistleblower who contacted WFAA was David Stanley, a player who had received $25,000 when he came to SMU in 1983.
The NCAA’s judgment was swift and stern, and nearly resulted in SMU’s football team being shut down until 1989. Cooperation from the school softened the sentence, and in the end the team avoided the full death penalty. The punishment was still pretty harsh: 87’s season was canceled, as were all home games in 1988. The team was on probation until 1990 and banned from bowl games and live TV until 1989. Other provisions included the prohibition of off campus recruiting until the ‘88-‘89 school year.
Of course, back then social media didn’t exist.. If there had been, do you think they would’ve gotten off easier, or would we have known what was going on much sooner? If Twitter was around then, we might’ve seen some braggy tweets from players who couldn’t resist revealing their payoffs:
And maybe the guys who’d been paid $850,000 to keep their mouths closed about it would’ve tried to put a lid on those players. Of course, they probably would’ve used fake Twitter handles:
Athletic director Bob Hitch
Head coach Bobby Collins
Recruiting coordinator Henry Lee Parker
Sportscaster Dale Hansen
There might have been a Facebook page dedicated to protesting the death penalty judgment. Maybe someone would have even started a Change.Org “Free the Mustangs” petition! A Twitter campaign might have been launched to plead for leniency. Would the punishment have been lighter with the pressure of social media campaigns? How do you think the presence of social media would have affected SMU receiving the death penalty 27 years ago?