The Southern Methodist Mustangs football program went from being a minor to mid-major FBS program in the early and mid 1970s in the former Southwest Conference, that included schools like, Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, all traditional FBS powers and national championship contenders, as well as Houston and Baylor, to becoming a national championship contender by the late 1970s and early 1980s.
SMU had a backfield that included two future NFL running backs in Eric Dickerson who’s in he Hall of Fame. And Craig James who played for the New England Patriots and was a member of the Patriots 1985 AFC Championship team. Southern Methodist was like the Miami Florida Hurricanes or the Tallahassee Florida Seminoles in the early and mid 1970s.
Back before SMU became a national power, if they had a winning record and went to a minor bowl game or something like that, that was a huge season for them. They weren’t really known for football at all, the Dallas Cowboys were thought of as the only football team in the Dallas area in the late 1970s. Southern Methodist wasn’t a big deal for them. If they followed college football, it was the Texas Longhorns, especially when they played Oklahoma Sooners every year at the Cotton Bowl.
Bobby Bowden and Howard Schnellenburger built the Seminoles and Hurricanes football programs respectively. With a lot of hard work, both essentially starting from scratch and knowing for their programs to get the attention that they needed for them to be successful in the future, they had to convince some of the best players not only in Florida, but around the country to take a shot at Tallahassee and Miami.
Tallahassee and Miami knew they needed players in Florida and outside of Florida and not only get their education, but to be part of something in the future. Knowing that they had a much better opportunity at going to a program that was already on the map in college football. Like Florida, Georgia and Alabama, Oklahoma and many others.
Ron Meyer the head football coach at Southern Methodist and others there, didn’t have the patience for that. Didn’t go to Southern Methodist to lose at all and weren’t going to wait around for 5-10 years for them to be successful there. Southern Methodist literally treated their football program in the late 1970s and early 80s like a pro football franchise.
To be the best, you have to pay the best and literally paid high school football players money, to come to their school and play for them. And bought a lot of players as if they were the Dallas Cowboys or some other NFL franchise. And as a result perhaps the largest FBS scandal if not college football scandal of all-time and received the death penalty for it.