Friday, January 18, 2013

In Light of Manti Te'o, The Top 5 College Hoops Scandals

Manti Te'o flexes after a Notre Dame dunk. Not pictured: his girlfriend. (GIF via @cjzero)

Anyone tuned into the world of sports should know the story by now: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, the heart of the team during the Irish's recent run to the BCS National Championship, was bombarded by personal tragedy this season, playing through major stress after the death of his terminally ill girlfriend. Deadspin did a wonderful job breaking the story, adding one minor detail — that the girlfriend never existed. While nothing like this has ever happened in the realm of college basketball, which has been afflicted with numerous point-shaving incidents throughout the decades, there have been plenty of non-points, non-spousal scandals in NCAA hoops. Here are the top five:

5a. Georgia's "A" Students
5b. Memphis Knows the Rules
Neither of these is akin to Te'o's imaginary girlfriend and both are far more in-line with the usual NCAA violations than everything else on this list, but neither is a flat-out payment to a player, agent or any other party. Granting players automatic A's while they skip class, as former Georgia head coach Jim Harrick's son did, is an institutional issue that separates it from the norm. The fact that Harrick's son, also an assistant coach for the basketball team, did so in a class about basketball strategy is laughable since the Bulldogs could have probably breezed through the curriculum. The Memphis Tiger who had someone else take the SAT in order to be academically eligible is a product of the one-and-done system perpetuated by John Calipari (then the maven of Memphis hoops), if that player was Derrick Rose went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft after leading the Tigers to a national championship runner-up.

3. Larry Eustachy's Frat Party
With a contract extension in 2001, Larry Eustachy became the highest paid state employee in Iowa after leading the Iowa State Cyclones to consecutive Big 12 titles. Whether or not that played a part in Eustachy's popularity with coeds at frat parties on opposing schools campuses (or if that popularity came from pre-party Cyclone losses) is unknown, but his presence at such parties — let alone his drinking, fraternizing and being photographed all the while — violated a clause in his contract, even if it was within the bounds of the law. As Eustachy himself said, he was a "functional alcoholic" and the actions tied to that title led to Eustachy losing his job. He has since recovered, led Southern Mississippi to the NCAA tournament and earned Colorado State's head coaching job.

2. Rick Pitino's Off-Court Indiscretion
Rick Pitino's affair with a Louisville equipment manager's wife in the bathroom of a local restaurant was not an example of sound decision making, but it blew up further when Karen Cunagin Sypher, the woman in question, claimed to be pregnant and received $3,000 from Pitino in order to make sure things stayed quiet, to put it gently. In spite of the media's immense reporting on the story, Louisville retained Pitino as head coach. He has continued to bring inspired performances from his Louisville players, but Sypher was found guilty of extortion in the summer of 2010.

1. The Baylor Basketball Murder
Make no mistake: this is the clear-cut number one. It's not only the worst incident on this list, it very well may be the worst scandal in the history of college basketball, if not all college sports. Everything else on the list — and Te'o's hoax — is minor in comparison.

In the summer of 2003, Patrick Dennehy was preparing to play his first season in the Baylor front court after transferring from New Mexico and sitting out one year as a redshirt. One of his closest friends from the Bears was fellow transfer forward Carlton Dotson. Both had expressed concerns about their safety and purchased firearms in order to protect themselves, but the danger came from an unexpected party when Dotson shot and killed Dennehy during an argument that arose as the two were practicing firing the weapons.

The timeline for this terrible incident stretches more than two years, from June 14, 2003 (when the shooting presumably occurred) to June 15, 2005, when after being declared mentally incompetent, spending time in a mental facility and being declared competent once more Dotson received a 35-year sentence for Dennehy's murder. The sentence was handed down after Dotson unexpectedly pleaded guilty a mere five days before his trial was set to begin.

Dennehy's death was one of many incidents that plagued Baylor basketball that year and, along with the uncovering of drug use and improper payments, it led to many sanctions for the program, including a 10-year show/cause penalty on resigned coach Dave Bliss, essentially exiling him from the NCAA. Although the Bears didn't exactly thrive during Bliss' tenure, he only had two losing seasons during his four years at Baylor, which was better than the following years, as Baylor didn't record another winning season until 2008. Other penalties such as loss of scholarships and recruiting visits, being put on probation until 2010, and a ban from non-conference play for the 2005-06 season — made this one of the harshest overall decisions handed down in NCAA history.

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