Remembering 100 years of SMU football history

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Editor’s note, Sept. 16 3:15 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout.

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Dr. Jim Kirby (Courtesy of James Stewart)

SMU’s Faculty Club met Tuesday to listen to Jim Kirby speak on the history of SMU football. His lecture was titled, “The Not So Good Old Days at SMU,” and was based on a paper Kirby researched and wrote for the centennial celebration.

Kirby’s lecture outlined SMU’s history from the start, giving details on Ray Morrison, SMU’s first foorball coach, and the early history of the Mustangs. Coach Morrison was credited with making the first oval-shaped football and also brought about SMU’s first rule violation in 1922 – a recruiting violation.

Kirby went on to describe the glory days of both SMU football and its not-so-glory days of violations. During the time of Doak Walker, SMU football games reached an average attendance of 60,000 people, leading to the expansion of the Cotton Bowl. But shortly after the golden days of Doak, SMU started paying its football players, according to Kirby.

From 1958 to the 1980s, a powerful group of boosters, high up in SMU’s leadership, pooled funds and paid players to come and play on SMU’s football team, according to Kirby.

Kirby said tens of thousands of dollars were paid to some players, enormous sums at the time, and cars were even given out to certain recruits.

While these paid players did bring victory to SMU on the field, they also eventually brought about the harshest penalty that any school has ever received under the NCAA.

Due to the numerous violations of paying players, in 1987 SMU’s football team had its entire schedule cancelled, numerous scholarships were lost and many other penalties were imposed.

This penalty essentially killed SMU’s football program and resulted in investigations, including but not limited to prostitution accusations and grade manipulation, according to Kirby.

Kirby said following the death penalty, students were selling shirts on the Dallas Hall lawn which said “Get paid, laid, and a passing grade – Only at SMU.”

While a moment of embarrassment for the university, the death penalty also had further reaching implications.

In a discussion section at the end of the lecture, one attendee charged that “the academics of SMU have not flourished because of the need to subsidize athletic endeavors” in the wake of the death penalty.

Kirby himself stated that the “NCAA was not aware” of the effect that the death penalty would have on the university and that the total cost of those sanctions cannot be measured.

SMU’s football team has had an “unbridled – as in out of control” history, as Kirby joked in his opening remarks, but this history is certainly a significant part of SMU’s century of existence.

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