When the Tar Heels visit Duke Saturday night, they will be playing one of only 44 major colleges that have never been placed on NCAA probation in football. It used to be 45 before UNC got hit with the three years in 2011.

Those who believe that college football is corrupt and teams have much better chances of winning if they cheat would be validated by looking at the list of schools that have finished No. 1 while either serving probation or committing violations that led to sanctions from the NCAA.
Southern Methodist can be called the worst cheaters in college football history in two ways. The Mustangs, who suffered the only so-called “death penalty” in the early 1980s, have been sanctioned seven times for a total of 17 seasons between 1957 and 2002. They had two great years long before their program was shut down, but never won a majority of the votes to be declared national champs in the polls (how they did it in those days). So SMuuu can be called bad cheaters.
Southern Cal, on the other hand, got far more from its cheating ways. The Trojans have served 6 separate probations for 15 seasons, but won two national championships (1972 and ’74) during a period when their violations occurred. Three times, USC investigations took so long that penalties weren’t handed down until at least three years after they (allegedly) stopped cheating, including their last title with Reggie Bush in 2004 for which they did not start serving time until 2010. That’s right, it was a six-year investigation before the Trojans were stripped, Bush gave back the Heisman Trophy and they endured a three-year bowl ban.
Since 1953, when the NCAA began handing out penalties and probations, SMU has spent 29 percent of its football seasons on probation and Southern Cal 25 percent.
But Miami – The U – got the most out of breaking the rules. The Hurricanes in their heyday won four national titles (1983, ‘87, ’89 and ’91) during an 11-year period while they were later deemed to have been cheating or while serving NCAA probations that did not include a bowl ban.  Miami never got nailed as a member of the ACC, but a major probation is on the way after the current probe into its program is completed.
Some of the other best cheaters are Alabama, which actually won the 2009 and 2011 BCS titles while serving a three-year probation that did not include post-season sanctions. In fact, last year’s championship game might have been called the “Probation Bowl” because Alabama’s opponent LSU was also in the last year of an NCAA probation.
Clemson and Florida State also won national championships while cheating, the Tigers in 1981 during a five-year period for which they went on probation from 1982-84 and the Seminoles served a one year probation in 1996 for rules they broke while being voted national champs in 1993.
Other schools that won it all while cheating or on probation for having cheated are Ohio State and UCLA (co-champs in 1954), Oklahoma (1955, ’56, ‘85), Auburn (1957) and Texas (1963).
In all, 27 schools have received multiple (more than one) football probations. The SEC is the most penalized conference with 35 probations and sanctions for 77 seasons. The Pac 12 is next with 31 probations that cover 64 seasons. The Big 12 is third (23 and 59), Conference USA fourth (23 and 56), the Big 10 next (23 and 55) followed by the ACC (18 and 38). All the other conferences and independents have not reached double figures in the number of NCAA probations received.
In all, 79 major colleges have spent some time on NCAA probation, more than half the schools playing at the BCS Division 1 (now called Football Bowl Subdivision) level. Notes of interest: 

  • Every school in the Big 12 has been placed on probation at some point.
  • Missouri and Vanderbilt are the only schools in the SEC to have never been on probation.
  • Stanford and Washington State are the only Pac 12 schools with clean histories.
  • Army, BYU and Iowa are the only schools to have won national championships when they were determined by the polls that have never been on probation. Penn State dropped off that list last year.

Besides Florida State (3), Miami (3 plus one coming) and Clemson (2), other ACC schools to serve football probations are N.C. State (4, although one was for basketball in 1954 that covered all sports), Georgia Tech (2), Virginia Tech (2), Carolina (1), Maryland (1) and Virginia (1).  Boston College, Duke and Wake Forest have never been nailed in football.