Shock waves reverberated out of Coral Gables last week as the University of Miami's football program was rocked by allegations of a major scandal. This comes on the heels of scandals at Ohio State and North Carolina that cost coaches Jim Tressel and Butch Davis, respectively, their jobs. But as big as these scandals have been, they don't have quite the impact of what we consider the 10 biggest ones in sports history. Take a look:
Baseball's steroid era
Y ou can't really point to a seminal moment that defined baseball's steroid era. But we do have snapshots. The parade of sluggers in front of Congress in 2005. Alex Rodriguez's 2009 admission of a failed test six years earlier. Jose Canseco's allegations in 2005. The shadow of suspicion over the great home run chase of 1998. Barry Bonds' pursuit of the season and career home run records in 2001. Roger Clemens. Who knows how far back the steroid era goes, how deep the problem became and when (or if) it ended? But it left a scar over a sizable chunk of baseball history. Steroid use appeared so rampant, there are few, if any, players from the late 1980s to the early 2000s who would surprise us to learn juiced. Even if you believe the worst has passed, ramifications of steroid use will linger for many years as Hall of Fame voters decide what to do with Clemens, Bonds, Mark McGwire and dozens of other players. That makes this our pick for the biggest sports scandal ever.
Tour de France doping
As bad as the steroid era damaged baseball, no sport has suffered more from doping allegations than cycling. Doping is so widespread that even though American hero Lance Armstrong has never failed a test, most find it hard to believe he hasn't done something illegal … just because it seems everyone is dirty. Essentially, cycling has lost all credibility. Unless you're a die-hard cycling fan, the Tour de France has gone from one of the special events on the sports calendar to an event most people barely acknowledge. Quick: Name who won this year. See what we mean?
The Black Sox
Over the years, the fix of the 1919 World Series has become nostalgically quaint — chiefly because of the novel and film Eight Men Out and the sympathetic and likeable characters such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver. But let's just take a second to look at the cold, hard fact: Members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox agreed to throw the World Series (which the Reds won five games to three). The World Series! Sure, the White Sox were shortchanged by cheapskate owner Charles Comiskey, and there's some evidence to suggest several players accused in the fix never actually did anything wrong. (Jackson, for example, hit a series-leading .375 with no errors.) While the eight players accused to have taken money to throw the Series were cleared in a legal trial, MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them for life — a ban that remains in effect to this day. The fact that the Black Sox story remains so strong some 92 years after the fact is a testament to just how potent this scandal was.
Even Little League — the most innocent, pure and simple league in our sports world — wasn't immune from scandal. In 2001, a pitching sensation named Danny Almonte of New York threw the first perfect game at the World Series since 1957. One problem: He wasn't 12. He was 14, two years older than permitted. It felt like a punch to the gut. Even Little League has cheaters.
Nancy vs. Tonya
Quite possibly the most bizarre and sensational sports drama we have ever witnessed. In a plot straight out of some bad TV movie of the week, figure skating princess Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the leg so the girl from the wrong side of the tracks (Tonya Harding) could make the Olympic team. Turns out the attacker was hired by the ex-husband of Harding, who lied about the attack during the subsequent investigation. Both made the Olympics with Kerrigan winning the silver and Harding finishing eighth. Harding has gone on to be a D-level celebrity, appearing on reality shows and even trying her hand as a boxer.
We're not talking about some semipopular athlete being caught up in a slightly juicy scandal that ends up on page 21 of the National Enquirer. We're talking about, arguably, the best and most well-known athlete on the planet getting caught up in a sex scandal that included strippers and porn stars and came to light possibly because he was attacked by his jilted wife with a 2-iron after Thanksgiving turkey in 2009. Really, this scandal was so incredibly shocking given Woods' previously pristine reputation that it continues to be a major sports, gossip and news story nearly two years later.
Most people can still recall where they were when O.J. Simpson — NFL Hall of Famer, Heisman Trophy winner and actor — became a fugitive of the law after the death of his estranged wife and her friend. Most people can still recall watching, arguably, the most sensational legal trial of all time. Most people can still recall where they were when Simpson was found not guilty of murder. Yet isn't it hard to believe how that whole thing played out back in 1994 and 1995?
SMU's death penalty
Talk all you want about how out of control things appear to be with Miami's football program, that is nothing compared to the shenanigans that went on at Southern Methodist in the early 1980s. A slush fund paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to players in the most infamous pay-for-play scandal in college sports history. Even the governor of Texas found himself answering questions. For the first time, the NCAA handed out the "death penalty," shutting down the 1987 season. The 1988 season ended up being canceled as well, and it took 21 years before the Mustangs played in a bowl game. While we've seen countless scandals across all sports and programs at the collegiate level, the SMU death penalty remains the most infamous.
Younger generations have no idea of a scandal that rocked the sports world and nearly tore down college basketball. The point-shaving scandal involved more than 30 players from seven schools as well as figures from organized crime. At the center of the scandal were some of the best players in the country, including those from the 1950 NCAA and NIT champion City College of New York and Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats. As a result, Kentucky's program was shut down for the 1952-53 season, and the Final Four would not return to the New York area for 46 years. Several schools, including Long Island University and CCNY, essentially fell off the national college basketball map.
Pete Rose bets on baseball
If there is one person in the history of the world who epitomizes baseball, it might be Pete Rose. He was a rookie of the year and league MVP. He appeared in 17 All-Star Games and won two Gold Gloves. He could play any position, and he won three World Series. But he's really known for two things: his dogged effort and collecting more hits than anyone who ever lived. Yet in 1989, he was banned from baseball for life because he bet on games while managing the Reds. For 15 years, he denied it. But finally, in his 2004 autobiography, he admitted that, yes, he wagered on games. Now there's a split among fans: those who believe he has served his time and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and those who believe his actions should never be forgiven. Regardless of where you stand, you have to admit this might be the most tragic scandal in sports history.