Knee-jerk review: ESPN's 30 for 30 "Pony Excess"

1. The Cheese Fry was a geeky freshman at Southern Methodist University for the fall 1990 football season, the second season back from SMU's infamous "death penalty" punishment for repeated NCAA recruiting violations. For all four years of our college attendance, we witnessed first-hand the severity of that punishment. If we could muster a handful of wins, it was a miracle (Texas Tech beat the hell out of SMU one cold Saturday afternoon without throwing the ball a single time).
2. To this date, we harbor a deep, burning hatred for the University of Houston for its 95-21 shellacking of SMU in 1989. Andre Ware (one of those Heisman winner flameouts; poetic justice, if you ask us) was throwing the ball as time expired, hoping to crack triple-digits. Jackasses, each and every one of them. The funny part? We weren't even an SMU student at the time. We hate them anyway.
3. No college program will ever again get the "death penalty." The NCAA sees now that it's not just suspending a single season, but gutting an entire program for 20 years.
4. As one of the players describes the 1989 comeback season: "We weren't big, but we were slow."
5. Personal note: the Cheese Fry went to SMU with the filmmaker's older brother.
6. An impressive array of talking heads. Just about every local Dallas sportscaster and sportwriter is on hand to offer opinion and overviews, including the incomparable Dale Hansen of WFAA whose on-air expose signaled the beginning of the end.
7. They even dug up the old KXAS sports guy Scott Murray, surely the nerdiest, most uncool sportscaster ever.
8. Not sure if it's amusing or chilling that Eric Dickerson still won't say why he chose to come to SMU.
9. Great sound bites, as expected, from Skip Bayless and Norm Hitzges. We are big fans.
10. Little did we know that the Coach-Getting-Out-While-the-Getting-Is-Good move, recently executed by USC's Pete Carroll just prior to the Reggie Bush scandal breaking open, was undertaken by SMU coach Ron Meyer. Why stick around when you can let the next coach suffer the fallout?
11. Some very interesting theories are put forth here about how and why the scandal came to be. Most intriguing: the newspaper war between the Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald led to the kind of intense competition that demanded big stories, like prying into the dirty secrets at SMU.
12. How stupid do you have to be to mail illegal cash payments to players' families using university envelopes?
13. We wonder whatever happened to Eric Dickerson's gold Trans-Am.
14. A football scandal that involved the governor of Texas. You can't make this stuff up, people. And one look at Bill Clements, with his squinty smile and down-home accent, and you know the guy is as crooked as they come.
15. SMU was so greedy and arrogant that it seems like they were recruiting and paying players they didn't even really need or want.
16. What might have been if SMU hadn't tied Arkansas in 1982 and instead posted an undefeated season.
17. An interesting theory that the absence of SMU on the Southwest Conference football schedules was the opening that Texas, A&M, and Texas Tech needed to justify leaving the conference.
18. The Cheese Fry had always figured that the "death penalty" was unjustified, but the documentary makes a pretty convincing case for its use. SMU was put on probation and warned many times. They even promised to clean house... and yet still continued to pay its players. With the knowledge of the school's board of directors and administrators. As one of the talking heads points out, this wasn't just some renegade, overzealous booster.
19. We recommend David Whitford's book A Payroll to Meet.
20. Another interesting theory, one may also explain the NCAA trouble the University of Miami faced in the 1980s: upstart programs who suddenly have success upset the apple cart. The traditional powers don't like newcomers to the party, such as when SMU upset Texas on national TV in 1982.
21. We wonder how compelling all of this would be to someone not so invested in Dallas and SMU.
22. Those are some pretty amazing option runs, Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
23. Perfect ending to the documentary - a montage of post-"death penalty" NCAA investigations and sanctions. Big schools cheat. That's just a fact of college football life. The trick is not getting caught.

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