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Craig James: SMU Gifts Were Insignificant

Before joining in a debate among Republican candidates for the Senate Thursday night in Austin, Craig James again stated that he accepted "an insignificant amount" of gifts from SMU boosters while playing for the Ponies.

James, along with Eric Dickerson formed the "Pony Express" from 1979-82. The duo ran into the record books and then watched their college football program be shut down by the NCAA several years later.

SMU had been placed on probation in 1985 for several violations, including payments to players. Then an internal investigation revealed that the payments continued after the NCAA probation was announced.

SMU Board of Governors Chairman (and former Texas Gov.) Bill Clements was told that payments to players had begun in the mid 1970's and were still going on in 1983. The payments continued until late 1986 in what Clements said was a "winding down" of payments to athletes already on campus. Eventually, the NCAA investigation revealed that from 1985 to 1986, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster.

The NCAA handed down the "Death Penalty," cancelling the Mustangs 1987 season -- the school voluntarily cancelled the 1988 season as well.

James maintains that the infractions he was involved in were of the nickel and dime variety.

"I said in my book that if someone came up and shook my hand and there were a $20 bill in it, I didn't have the maturity at that time to turn it away," says James.

Also at the press conference, James stated that he had nothing to do with the infractions that caused SMU's football program to be shut down for two years.

"Everything that went down on SMU happened five years after I was gone, and I had nothing to do with it," said James.

James also said that he watched the 2010 ESPN documentary Pony Excess," which chronicled the SMU scandal.

"I learned a lot from that," James said.

I bet you did, Craig, I just bet you did.