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The Loneliest LOSERS
Tim Layden
November 18, 2002
Fifteen years ago SMU's powerhouse football program was obliterated by a pay-for-play scandal and the NCAA's first "death penalty." Since then 20 other college programs—including Alabama football this year—have qualified for the ultimate sanction, but all have been spared. Why hasn't the NCAA dropped the death bomb again? Much of the answer lies in the athletic rubble at SMU
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November 18, 2002

The Loneliest Losers

Fifteen years ago SMU's powerhouse football program was obliterated by a pay-for-play scandal and the NCAA's first "death penalty." Since then 20 other college programs—including Alabama football this year—have qualified for the ultimate sanction, but all have been spared. Why hasn't the NCAA dropped the death bomb again? Much of the answer lies in the athletic rubble at SMU

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Bennett is a Texan to his core, a defensive end at Texas A&M in the '70s. He knows where to find players and how to talk to them. He will make the team better. "I had other job opportunities," says Bennett, who had been defensive coordinator at Kansas State. "I know what can happen here."

SMU has heaps of tradition. Doak Walker played for the Mustangs. So did Kyle Rote and Jerry Levias, the first black player in the SWC. Yet there is a ceiling. SMU needs to play in a conference with Southwestern flavor. "But that conference doesn't exist," says Johnston. The stadium is gorgeous but small-time, and Turner preaches a message of moderation that Bennett would have a tough time selling to blue-chip recruits. "I don't pretend that we're going to compete for the national championship," Turner says. "There's no reason why we should."

If the death penalty was intended to forever change a place, then it has succeeded here. SMU is chastened and fearful, with modest expectations. There is no place quite like it in college football. Probably never will be again.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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