Eric Dickerson Shares His Thoughts On NIL After His Role In SMU’s Infamous Death Penalty Punishment

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Name, Image and Likeness has changed everything about college football, especially in recruiting. While the way things operate are not all too dissimilar, programs can no longer be punished if their players receiving financial compensation, assuming that the deals are done by the book.

Players have always been paid. But now it’s legal.

SMU is the perfect example of how the landscape of college football is different with NIL.

On February 25, 1987, the NCAA suspended Southern Methodist University football for the entire 1987 season for repeated rule violations. The sanctions were the most severe ever levied by the NCAA against a major college football program.

Of the many violations, the most severe had to do with money. It stemmed from the maintenance of a slush fund that was used for ‘under-the-table’ payments to players from the mid-1970s through 1986.

Former Mustang Eric Dickerson, who went on to be elected into the NFL Hall of Fame, played at SMU from 1979 to 1982. He is the best running back in school history and won a co-national championship in 1981.

Dickerson was also famously compensated through payments and a car while in Dallas.

Though he was never willing to speak publicly about what he received from boosters while in school before, Dickerson first and finally revealed that information in a book titled ‘Watch My Smoke.’ He said that he received $1,000 cash (which was a smaller offer than other schools) in an envelope at SMU each month and more cash and a corvette from a different booster.

In addition, Dickerson famously drove a gold Trans Am. The car was purchased by his grandmother. However, she was reimbursed by a Texas A&M booster.

Dickerson ultimately kept the car even though he did not play for the Aggies.

All of this goes to say that Eric Dickerson received money during and after the recruiting process from schools he did not attend and SMU.

At the time, it was illegal. It was against NCAA rules.

But it isn’t illegal anymore, so long as it is done through a deal for Name, Image and Likeness.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is driving a new luxury vehicle every few months. Texas running back Bijan Robinson is driving a Lamborghini. His quarterback, Quinn Ewers, is driving a custom Aston Martin that would make a lot of NFL players jealous.

In addition, there are five-star recruits who signed NIL deals worth up to as much as $8 million over the course of four years.

It’s legal. Players can get paid.

In today’s era, Dickerson could have signed an NIL deal with a local dealership and driven his famous gold Trans Am without violating NCAA rules. He could sign an NIL deal with one of SMU’s collectives and be paid millions of dollars a year.

SMU even used the Trans Am in a recent recruiting graphic. What once led the program to receive the ‘death penalty’ from the NCAA is now being used as a promotional asset.

So how does Eric Dickerson feel about Name, Image and Likeness?

In a new, very well-written and extremely illuminating article by Chris Vannini of The Athletic, former players, NCAA staffers, and coaches spoke about the SMU punishment in context to today’s NIL era. Dickerson is among them and he thinks that the ruling, which went into place on July 1, 2021, was overdue.

He also thinks that he could have been paid even more than he was while at SMU. The money that Dickerson received in the late 70s / early 80s only covered the necessities.

Money today allows for lavish lifestyle on top of day-to-day financial needs.

“I always thought it was fair for players to get whatever they could get,” Dickerson said to The Athletic. “Everybody was doing it. … I’m really happy it’s finally playing out like it always should have. A couple hundred bucks and a car, it wasn’t life-changing. It was just to survive.”

As for how we should look back on the punishment SMU received in 1987, Dickerson told The Athletic that it never should have been a problem. And now he is part of a group of donors giving to a program that will contribute more than $1 million annually to be used only for NIL within the SMU football program.

Times change and it took long enough.

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