After it airs the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday night, ESPN plans to broadcast a documentary about the SMU football program that received the NCAA death penalty in 1987.
(James’ dirty little secret is now out)
ESPN analyst Craig James was a key member of the SMU football team in the early ’80s but has long attempted to separate himself from the dirty dealings of college football’s most notorious program.
The story of why SMU football was canceled, if you don’t know it, is actually pretty simple.
SMU linebacker David Stanley admitted to WFAA-TV in Dallas - on-camera - in 1987 that he received $25,000 from school athletic officials to sign with SMU in 1983. Stanley then was paid more money as a player by SMU employees during the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
The Stanley story led to another NCAA investigation that uncovered what the DALLAS MORNING NEWS characterized as a “slush fund” established by a single SMU booster to pay players. The NCAA and the DALLAS TIMES-HERALD documented that from 1985 to 1986, $61,000 was paid to 13 players.
So who was the booster the NCAA confirmed was behind that fund to pay SMU players?
The ASSOCIATED PRESS reported on Feb. 27, 1987:
Sherwood Blount Jr., a developer and sports agent who was banned from booster activity at SMU two years ago, was the unidentified source of payments for student athletes cited in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.’s probation report this week, the Dallas Times Herald reported.
The newspaper quoted persons close to the SMU athletic department as saying that Blount provided $61,000 in cash payments.
Blount was one of nine boosters barred from SMU athletics in August 1985, when the NCAA put the school on three years’ probation.
That’s right, Blount set up the slush fund to pay SMU players after the NCAA had already “barred” him “from SMU athletics” for previous misdeeds.
So it should come as no surprise that the DALLAS MORNING NEWS in 1987 also reported that the slush fund, which SMU athletic director Bob Hitch admitted knowing about all along, was actually originally established in 1981.
Craig James’ career at SMU spanned 1980 to 1983. When James moved on to pro football, one guess who is agent was?
The same Sherwood Blount who set up the slush fund that pounded the final nail into the SMU football program.
In his book Game Day, A Rollicking Journey to the Heart of College Football, James gave this carefully parsed account of his days SMU:
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I never received a nickel during my playing days. But I can say with certainty that no benefits were ever extended to me from anyone associated with the SMU administration.
Not coincidentally, there’s not a single mention of Sherwood Blount in the book.
Is it unreasonable to think that with James’ agent found to be behind the slush fund that led to the death of the SMU program, James took money from that agent during his playing days at SMU? Especially considering Blount was already barred from the program by the NCAA when he set up the ‘85 slush fund?
What would happen today if James was currently playing for SMU and it was found he was taking money from an agent?
Whether that agent was associated or not with the SMU administration, James’ college football career would be over and the SMU program would have some explaining to do to the NCAA.
Knowing what we know now, is it unreasonable to think that James actively participated in the same dirty system at SMU that eventually led to the football program’s demise?
UPDATE (Dec. 11, 2010): The only man who refused to appear in ESPN’s documentary about SMU’s Death Penalty was Sherwood Blount.
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