The NCAA never could fully substantiate published reports of cash and cars to a number of SMU players. But former Oklahoma defensive back Keith Stanberry says he was offered $3,000 and a car by an SMU booster. Then along came former SMU All-America wide receiver Jerry LeVias, who told Danny Robbins of the Dallas Times Herald that he paid three players "a couple grand" last school year for getting good grades.
What did it for SMU this time and was largely responsible for getting the school stiff probation (the violations will cost the Ponies a whopping and potentially devastating 45 scholarships over the next two years, no bowls this year or next and no live TV in 1986) was a case involving Sean Stopperich, a 6'3" 265-pound bluest of blue-chip offensive tackles from Canonsburg, Pa.
At the time Stopperich was being recruited, his father, Carl, had been unemployed for nearly two years, the electric bill was three months in arrears and the family was accepting food from the Salvation Army. Says Sophia Stopperich, Sean's mother, "Our whole situation was horrible."
The Stopperiches say their son favored the University of Pittsburgh over SMU until an SMU booster decided to do a deal. But, they say, no money was mentioned or seen until the booster arrived at the Sheraton Inn Airport near Pittsburgh for a meeting with the family on Feb. 5, 1984.
As the family tells it, the visitor pulled out a manila envelope and plunked its contents, 50 $100 bills, in front of Sean, in exchange for the signatures of family members on two copies of a postdated letter of intent. Said Sophia, "I remember the look on Sean's face when he saw that money." Besides the greenbacks, family members said, the sales pitch included a $300 a month allowance for Sean, free rent on a Dallas apartment for the family, a job for Carl and a trust fund (including real estate and bonds) for Sean. Was this an unusual agreement for Southern Methodist University? "No," said Carl Stopperich. "We were told it was very common."
The family sold its home in Canonsburg and set off for Dallas. "Everything was almost perfect," Carl Stopperich told SI. "Everything was just too good to be true." Which it was.
The Stopperiches say they received about $6,000 more, but that some promises turned up empty. No job for Carl. No trust fund for Sean. The family struggled anew, at times pleading for the assistance they said they had been promised. Says Carl, "I even told Sean, 'I feel so small. It's almost like a begging situation.' " Sophia eventually was forced to work as a $250-a-month cleaning lady. Carl says that after hundreds of phone calls, he found work as a $7-an-hour laborer. Fumed Sean, "All these millionaires in Texas and they can't find anyone who can help find my Dad a job." Ironically, one of Carl's jobs was cleaning the artificial turf in the Cotton Bowl, where his son had dreamed of spending January 1.
Sean's frustration and anger over what he believed to be broken promises ultimately led him to leave SMU in September of '84. Soon thereafter, he told his mother, "I'm not coming back. There will be an NCAA man down to see you. Just be honest with him." The family returned to the Pittsburgh area, and Sean eventually enrolled at Temple, where he is a redshirt this year. Carl shakes his head sadly and says, "If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't do it."
The Stopperiches decline to identify the booster. However, a source close to Blount said that Blount gave the family $5,000 and that he and others later gave the family more money. But the source said that these payments were loans and that Blount "expects to be paid back." Regardless, it's against NCAA rules to give or loan money to recruits and their families.
Two SMU recruits who got away to Texas were running back Edwin Simmons and defensive back James Lott. Sources familiar with their recruiting told SI: