Boosters are some of the most-influential people in college sports, even if they only are well-known to the public at large if they do something wrong. For all the good they can do for programs with huge donations, they can also land big-time college programs in the headlines for the wrong reasons and in trouble with the NCAA. We examine the 12 most infamous college sports boosters whose names are synonymous with unsavory behavior or scandal – or both.
Editor’s Note: Memphis booster Fred Smith has been removed from this list due to a dispute over a report involving Smith.
11. Ed Hansen (Washington)
When boosters don’t get their way, they usually bring up the threat of turning off the financial faucet. Hansen reportedly took things a step further in an attempt to get head football coach Tyrone Willingham and athletic director Todd Turner fired in 2008. Hansen, a U-Dub booster, reportedly offered $200,000 in law school scholarships if the aforementioned duo were terminated.
Despite Hansen’s efforts, Willingham was retained for the upcoming 2008 season, which would be his last; Turner, for his part, resigned on December 11, 2007. Hansen? Well, his embarrassing behavior was uncovered thanks to numerous e-mails to then-U-Dub president Mark Emmert, now the head of the NCAA.
10. Robert G. Burton (Connecticut)
Often times, boosters believe their money has bought them power. That’s not always the case. The University of Connecticut certainly appreciated Burton’s $2.5 million that went to build an on-campus football facility that adorns his name.
But the Greenwich businessman also wanted say in the next head coach of the Huskies when Randy Edsall left for Maryland after the 2010 season. Burton felt slighted that UConn hired Paul Pasqualoni, essentially without his approval, and wrote a scathing letter to athletic director Jeff Hathaway. He reportedly asked for his $3 million back and for his name to be taken off the sparkling building that he helped build.
Unfortunately for Burton, UConn was not going to let the man with the biggest bank account make its football decisions. Sorry, Robert, but money doesn’t buy everything. Since the incident, though, the school and Burton have decided to remain affiliated and have resolved their differences.
If it makes Burton feel better, Hathaway “retired” last week.
9. Harold Simmons (Alabama)
What would this list be without boosters from the SEC?
The Gadsden, AL, businessman was such a fan of Alabama co-captain running back Gene Jelks that he reportedly started writing him checks during the 1980s and even co-signed on a loan during Jelks’ senior season. When Jelks went public with the claims in 1992, Simmons responded: “It just didn’t happen. Gene worked for me in the summer of 1989 and I wrote him checks for that.”
The NCAA didn’t buy it. For Simmons’ wrongdoing and other unrelated NCAA infractions involving Antonio Langham, the Tide was put on three years’ of probation that included a one-year postseason ban.
8. Bill “Corky” Frost (Auburn)
Everyone knows the way to the heart of a college student is his stomach.
“Eric … I’m going to send you enough steaks to last you about a month at a time, two months at a time.” That sounds like a wonderful deal for any student, except one that plays college football for Auburn. Because that most certainly is an NCAA violation. But that’s exactly what “Corky” Frost reportedly offered defensive back Eric Ramsey, according to Sports Illustrated in 1991. Ramsey liked the steaks and all, but where’s the money, Corky? “You’ll get your bonus from me … with the meat. But I don’t want to even hear about it. It would hurt Auburn.”
Well Ramsey eventually squealed on Auburn, which landed the school on massive probation that included a two-year TV ban. We imagine Frost enjoyed January’s BCS title win by the Tigers while devouring a nice, juicy steak.
7. Bill Lambert (Oklahoma)
Lambert spent four years in jail for possession of $300,000 in stolen stock certificates, but that’s not for what he’s most infamous. The NCAA determined that Lambert had reportedly given handouts to Oklahoma linebacker Kert Kaspar, including free use of his car and $6,400 for summer work that Kaspar never did, according to Sports Illustrated in 1989.
In December of 1988, the NCAA asked the Sooners to “disassociate” themselves from Lambert. Never a good sign for a booster’s credibility. An Oklahoma oil man, Lambert also told The Daily Oklahoman that he had employed 100 to 150 OU players and assistant coaches over the years.
A massive scandal was uncovered when Kasper went to the NCAA and, in the end, Oklahoma was banned from bowl play for two years, banned from live television games for one season and had limits placed on on-campus recruiting. And Barry Switzer resigned.
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