More than 30 years after the death penalty, SMU is thriving in a new world of NIL and transportation gate

In April, the SMU football Twitter account sent out an infographic showing the new coaching staff with text reading “All Roads Lead to Dallas.” Below was a picture of a gold Pontiac Trans Am.

For those not starting out in the college football tradition, Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson allegedly received a Trans-Am Gold Award from Texas A&M for commitment before flipping to SMU before his freshman season in 1979. Less than a decade later, the Mustang received Infamous death “penalty” to pay players.

After more than 30 years, the transfer portal, along with name, image and likeness legislation, has taken the sport by storm. Rather than hold back, SMU is turning back on its colorful history and showing other Group of Five programs thriving in a world with NIL and Gateway transportation not only to be limited to the biggest fish.

“We kind of looked at it because everything in college comes more close to the NFL model in terms of roster management,” SMU coach Rhett Lashley told CBS Sports. “You build your team through high school and recruit just as you do through draft long-term, but you also complement your team through free agency, just as you do now through the transfer portal. We want to be great at both, and I think every year it gives you a chance to build The best possible team.”

In some ways, SMU was already inadvertently preparing for this future. The Mustang have risen to the top behind transfer midfielder Shane Boychel, winning 10 games in 2019 for the first time in 35 years. All four Mustangs captured in the last two NFL drafts were transfers, including Brandon Stevens’ running in 2021.

Few software has used brand development quite like SMU at this stretch. The university put up billboards around Dallas-Fort Worth featuring players Representing their hometown. SMU created the Dallas shirts and established relationships with the mayor’s office.

The program is also advanced on connecting players with internships and job opportunities, often sharing connections on social accounts as a marketing tool. Several NIL initiatives have also appeared, which have signed agreements with players and pledged to guide business one-on-one. SMU stars have been involved, from Dickerson to businessman Paul Lloyd.

Loyd said in Statement to the Dallas Morning News Announcing the PonyUp NIL Initiative. “Companies applying for SMU NILs is another indication that SMU Football continues the momentum and is ready to take another big step.”

For SMU, these results came quickly. Fifteen transfers have joined the Mustang, with 11 transfers coming from the Power Five establishments. Kamar Wheaton was a five-star recruit who chose Alabama since only one recruiting cycle. Now, he’s heading to SMU. Three Texas Longhorns make the 200-mile flight north: a Kelvontay Dixon wide receiver, David Abiara defensive end and Chris Adimora safety.

In fact, the Mustang prides itself on the No. 1 transmission category among a group of five teams and is No. 16 overall in the nation, According to 247Sports. The group is strong enough to beat big diversion classes in Arizona, Florida and Oregon, among others.

“We are all adapting to college football,” Lashley said. “We have taken the position here that we want to compete at the highest level, we want to compete for championships and we will do everything we can within the rules to do so.”

Of course, it pays to sell a Mustang for the first time in decades. Former coach Sonny Dykes led the program to a record 25-10 for the past three years before taking the position at TCU competition. Lashley, a former offensive coordinator for the Dykes, is back at Hilltop after a two-year stint as an OC in Miami. Simply put, it was set to keep the train running constantly.

SMU isn’t the only Group of Five program embracing the new world of college football. UCF has benefited from the relationships that coach Gus Malzahn and his crew have had to make in the top 20 transfer categories. Former quarterback McKenzie Milton has also led one of NIL’s many efforts to help brand athletes. Knights also noticeably Premium QR Codes On T-shirts during the Spring Match with links to social media accounts to help build the brand. USF and Buffalo competitors also have strong transportation classes in major metro areas.

Not every Group of Five program has the resources or attitudes to quickly shift toward the NIL or the transfer gate, but SMU is hopeful that the big bet on the future pays off in the long run. Lashley has yet to coach a game at SMU, and what happens in the fall will set the tone.

“We have to win for him to be a good, proven role model,” Lashley said. “There are more than 130 departments [FBS] Schools and everyone has a slightly different niche and the way they need to attack and recruit to succeed.

“What works here may not work elsewhere, and what works elsewhere may not work here. This is clearly something we think works well for us here.”