The truth of the matter is that college football risks embarrassment every season, every Saturday. It is a sport dependent on a large number of athletes, played by institutions of higher learning that purport to align academics and athletics. This, of course, is a perilous venture. It's impossible for more than 100 Division I-A schools to issue 25 scholarships each year and include only scholars. Hence, poor behavior can ensue, practiced by players, coaches and recruiters. It is, at all times, a combustible mix.
The BCS is an embarrassment all by itself, without description. NCAA rules guarantee hilarity at any time and has served football well in this regard. And, of course, there is the occasional on-field folly.
1. Death and Teddy Roosevelt: November 1905
The role of America's 26th president in saving college football remains unclear. What is clear is that in the fall of 1905, college football, which had started in 1869, had become increasingly violent. Three college players died that season (and 18 players at all levels of the sport), prompting public unrest. This compelled President Roosevelt to summon the leaders of college football's "Big Three,'' Harvard, Yale and Princeton, to the White House to discuss the state of the game, with an eye toward quelling the violent and dangerous play. It has often been said that Roosevelt delivered an ultimatum to the schools to change the game of football or have it abolished. That account has recently been challenged by historians, yet it is apparent that college football had reached a crossroads. Not long after Roosevelt's intervention, dangerous plays such as the flying wedge were abolished, and the forward pass was legalized.
2. SMU gets the death penalty: Feb. 25, 1987
The history and mythology of modern college football are papered with examples of programs whose keepers and boosters flaunted NCAA rules by building quasi-professional programs with marginal student-athletes. But only one has received the NCAA's death penalty: Southern Methodist University. The Mustangs rose to the top of the high-powered Southwest Conference in the early '80s, riding on the back of the Pony Express backfield (Eric Dickerson and Craig James), and twice finished in the top five in the nation. At swank parties all over Texas, where football is big business, SMU alums bragged to their Longhorn and Aggie brethren. Then the bubble burst: SMU was found to have made approximately $61,000 in payments to athletes from funds provided by a booster, with the approval of university officials as high up as former -- and future -- Texas governor Bill Clements, who was then chairman of SMU's board of governors. NCAA officials did not levy the penalty lightly, but, said Dan Beebe, the lead investigator on the case, "I'm not sure what else would have gotten the message across to those people.'' It has been nearly two decades since the NCAA took down SMU; 16 schools have since been eligible for the death penalty, but none have received it. SMU has never recovered. "It's like an atomic bomb,'' SMU coach Phil Bennett told Sports Illustrated in 2002. "The NCAA did it once and caused devastation beyond belief, and it's never going to be done again.''
3. Woody Hayes punches an opposing player: Dec. 29, 1978
In 28 seasons as Ohio State's head coach, Woody Hayes established himself as one of the all-time greats, winning 205 games, 13 Big Ten championships and two national titles. He was also known for his legendary temper. Unfortunately, that temper would bring about a humiliating and untimely end to an otherwise distinguished career. With two minutes left in the Buckeyes' 17-15 Gator Bowl loss to Clemson, Tigers defensive tackle Charlie Bauman intercepted OSU quarterback Art Schlichter's pass, crushing the Buckeyes' last hope of victory. As Bauman ran out-of-bounds on the OSU sideline, an irate Hayes, 65, was caught on camera taking a swing at the Clemson player before being restrained. The shocking image of Woody losing control would be his last -- he was fired by the school the next day.