Candid Coaches: Revealing how many teams cheat, commit major violations

Following in the footsteps of our college basketball brethren here at CBS Sports, college football writers Dennis Dodd, Chip Patterson and Barrett Sallee spoke with one-fifth of the 130 active coaches leading FBS teams entering the 2017 season. They asked for honest opinions on everything from NCAA rules to social issues to their peers in the profession. We will be sharing their candid thoughts over a two-week period leading into the season.


Whether your favorite team loses out on a prized recruit or is suddenly more successful on the field than they have been in decades, those following college football always wonder whether the sport is as clean as the NCAA portends it to be or if it just might be dirtier than coaches let on. Granted the condition of anonymity, we asked coaches ...

How many college football programs do you believe knowingly break NCAA rules beyond minor secondary violations?

Teams who knowingly cheat Responses

0-10 percent (0-13 teams)

57 percent

11-20 percent (14-26 teams)

17 percent

21-30 percent (27-39 teams)

22 percent

30 percent or more (40-130 teams)

4 percent

Explain yourselves

  • "Players are smart. When the game is over, they walk through the parking lot. When the tailgate is over, they may have $400-$500 before they get out of there. Players are smart. They may have scored a big touchdown or won a big game. There ain't no question they're getting something on the way. [A booster] is going to go downtown and say, 'I just gave so and so $50 for dinner.' ... I guarantee [that sort of thing] is going to happen at Ole Miss and Alabama and Mississippi State and Tennessee and Texas probably and Oklahoma -- for sure."
  • "I think it's way, way, way, way less than people think. There is that deal in the SEC and the ACC where they're funneling money through ... churches. [But] as soon as you pay some kids, they're in charge of something. Think of some 18-year-old in charge of something. Call me too arrogant to pay some kid. I'm not paying some kid. Think of some kid saying, 'I'm not getting the ball enough.' Let me tell you something, pal ..."
  • "Less than 10 percent [of schools cheat]. In today's world, I want to believe it's a minimum number. I always tell our coaches, 'Sometimes today's friend can be your worst enemy.' I'm not going to put my job in jeopardy to let you meet with a kid an hour longer than we're supposed to. All of the sudden he wants to transfer and he says, 'They did this.' Because of that, there are more teams closer to the book."
  • "Out of the 130 FBS schools in FBS, I would say, in the SEC, 80 percent [knowingly cheat]. Everywhere else, about 20 percent."
  • "[A coach will say to a student], 'I'll pay your law school if you spend your first five years working in the [NCAA] infractions department.' … I know it happens. I know the guy. He's a good guy, but it's 30 years ago, 25 years ago. You want to know everything that goes on. Bear Bryant used to say, 'I want to know everything that goes on.'"

candid-coaches-cheating.jpg
Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

Breaking it down

It seems like coaches are either naive or don't know want to know the level of cheating going on around them. Either way, they are insulated from reality. Most coaches in this survey said they thought intentional cheating -- major violations -- go on at no more than 10 percent of schools. And maybe that's true. There aren't the resources or the will in leagues like Conference USA or the Sun Belt for the $100 handshake.

More likely, the coaches' assessment is probably naive and short-sighted. You have to think creatively. Cheaters do. Check out that quote from a coach who has maintained for years that a law student had his school paid for in exchange for the promise he'd try to be hired by the NCAA enforcement division.

The "mole" then would report back to his school about goings on in enforcement. To believe this -- and the coach swears it's true -- you first have to assume the school in question is a serial cheater. Why go to the lengths of placing a spy in the NCAA? That's next level, double-agent stuff. I suggest you read Nelson DeMille's "The Charm School" for context.

You also have to assume that sort of conduct is the extreme. But it is believable. A few years ago, I did a story on the creative ways schools cheat. NCAA enforcement chief Jon Duncan told me that "tractors, farm implements" can be used as extra benefits. So yeah, it's a bit nuts out there.

In college football, any coach worth his whistle has insulated himself from the knowledge of impropriety. The unspoken directive is, "Just get it done." There's a reason just under half of all coaches surveyed believe there is rampant cheating going on, with one going so far as to say 80 percent of the SEC cheats. Another indicated at least 50 percent of all teams nationally cheat.

The figure I keep hearing from a certain conference is $80,000 to land a top player. That money, as you can see from one coach, can be filtered through local churches. Usually, they are non-profits whose records can't be reached by media or the NCAA. Anyone remember Cam Newton?

There's a lot of SEC references in these quotes. Seems reasonable. That's where football matters the most. Check out the detailed description of players walking through the postgame tailgate getting "$400-$500" just by putting their hands out after a big win.

You don't have to be told the SEC is where the biggest scandals exist. That's why Ole Miss' top 2013 top-10 recruiting class drew so much attention. The NCAA is still sniffing around. Hugh Freeze lost his job during the investigation. By getting so good so fast, a middle-of-the-road program like Ole Miss also got sloppy.

I like the line from a coach who suggested the cheating culture goes back decades. "Bear Bryant used to say, 'I want to know everything that goes on.'" Could that have included one school paying for a double-agent to infiltrate the NCAA? The coach I spoke swears it's true. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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