Running back Eric Dickerson of the Rams has admitted he accepted money while attending Southern Methodist University and said he was once offered $50,000 in cash by a recruiter for another college.
Dickerson made the comments Thursday night at a Boys Town Boosters' athletic banquet in Omaha, where he was making a stop on his anti-drug program tour.
"Just like anyone else, I got it," Dickerson said of receiving money from SMU. "If I asked for $50, if I needed some spending money, they would give it to me. I never got thousands of dollars or condominiums and all that kind of stuff."
Dickerson, who until Thursday had refused to comment on the SMU scandal, attended the university from 1979 through 1982.
Last February, SMU was given the so-called "death penalty" for rules violations that occurred while the university was already on probation. The NCAA infractions committee ordered that SMU cancel its 1987 season and limit the 1988 season schedule to road games. The university has since decided to discontinue its football program until 1989.
Dickerson, of Sealy, Tex., went to SMU as one of the most highly recruited backs in the nation. He was part of the NCAA's "Operation Intercept," a program designed to scrutinize the recruiting of the country's top 100 high school football players.
But Dickerson said Thursday that a man from one school showed up at his house with a briefcase containing $50,000. Dickerson said he didn't accept the offer because he didn't like the school. He did not name the man or the school. He also chose not to report the incident to the NCAA.
"I've got to play against those guys," Dickerson reasoned. "They're going to hate me. What's the sense?"
Dickerson was recruited heavily by SMU, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, among others.
"I got offered a lot of stuff from a lot of schools," said Dickerson, though he wouldn't say what schools. "The things they offered, you're just amazed they could offer."
Charlie Lee, a top recruiter for Texas at the time, said recently that he cried on the day he lost Dickerson to SMU. But he also said that the school had offered Dickerson nothing illegal.
"I put a lot of pressure on him, I'm not going to lie," said Lee, now director of player and community relations for the Denver Broncos. "I told him if we recruited him, we'd win three national titles in four years. But when a (recruiter) beats me, he beats me."
Dickerson actually had his heart set on attending Oklahoma but was persuaded to attend SMU by his great-aunt, Viola Dickerson, who was responsible for Dickerson's upbringing and wanted him closer to home. SMU is in Dallas.
At SMU, Dickerson teamed with Craig James in the famous Pony Express backfield. But there was nearly as much excitement off the field as on.
In June of 1981, before the start of Dickerson's junior season, the NCAA put SMU's football program on two years' probation for 29 recruiting violations.
Dickerson's name was mentioned in that investigation but he was not implicated.
David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, said, however, that Dickerson was uncooperative when questioned.
"He was not involved in any of the findings of our violations," Berst said in a recent interview. "But I don't know what actually was involved. He would respond to some questions, but we don't think we got candid answers."
Berst said that he was bothered by some of Dickerson's public comments.
"Dickerson had been quoted widely as saying that everybody does the same thing," Berst said. "That, in fact, the NCAA is not interested in other schools (besides SMU). Yet he has consistently refused to help us, to explain what he's talking about."
Dickerson said Thursday that he was saddened by the sanctions against his school but that SMU is hardly alone when it comes to the illegal recruiting of players and making cash payments to players.
"The things that have happened since I left are unfortunate," Dickerson said. "But let's face the facts. Schools can sit there and say, 'We don't do it.' All of them can say, 'We don't do it.' But they're not telling the truth.
"Nebraska can say it. Oklahoma can say it. SMU can say it. All of them can say it. But I'm sure someone has. If it's only $5, if it's only $2, they're giving a guy something. Even if it's a pair of shorts, that's illegal to the NCAA. I guess you could say my school got caught, and they really came down hard on us."
Dickerson's great-aunt insists that neither she nor Eric was offered cash.
"I hear that now, but there was none of that," Viola Dickerson said. "I wouldn't have accepted it."
Eric Dickerson, though, said that the temptation was there for poor families like his own.
"It's real hard for any (college) athlete to live on the little money they give us," he said. "I'm not from a rich family. A lot of us guys were real poor. How are we supposed to make it? Go out and steal at night?"
Dickerson, who set the National Football League's single-season rushing record in 1984 with 2,104 yards, has been actively involved in the NFL's anti-drug program. He is the league's spokesman for Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No to Drugs" program.
Viola Dickerson said she now wishes that Eric would have just said no to SMU.
"I didn't really know it would get that bad," she said. "I still get letters from SMU every day. I put them in the garbage."