Pony Excess – (ESPN 30 for 30)

*** Winner: 2010 Peabody Award

The debut of “Pony Excess” on ESPN was the highest rated of the 30 for 30 series. In fact, it was the highest rated documentary in the history of ESPN. As the final installment in the first season of the prestigious series, the film went on to be recognized with a Peabody Award for “commendable depth, breadth and insight” of sports coverage.


From 1981-1984, a small private school in Dallas owned the best record in college football. The Mustangs of Southern Methodist University (SMU) were riding high on the backs of the vaunted “Pony Express” backfield. But as the middle of the decade approached, the program was coming apart at the seams. Wins became the only thing that mattered as the University increasingly ceded power of the football program to the city’s oil barons and real estate tycoons and flagrant and frequent NCAA violations became the norm. On February 25, 1987, the school and the sport were rocked, as the NCAA meted out “the death penalty” on a college football program for the first and only time in its history. SMU would be without football for two years, and the fan base would be without an identity for 20 more until the Mustangs’ win in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl. This is the story of Dallas in the 1980’s and the greed, power, and corruption that spilled from the oil fields onto the football field and all the way to the Governor’s Mansion. John Dorsey and Andrew Stephan, alumni of SMU themselves, help chronicle the rise, fall, and rebirth of this once mighty team.

Selected Scenes

This scene from the ESPN documentary “Pony Excess” is a stylized ramp up to the centerpiece of the film. The local media in Dallas had final found the smoking gun — a disgruntled former college football player who would provide detailed evidence that SMU was paying student athletes. The resulting news story was the beginning of the end for the SMU football dynasty.

After years of cheating in the recruitment of college football players, the floodgates finally opened on SMU. The national media descended upon Dallas, and the resulting frenzy extended the story well beyond the scope of regional sports journalism. This scene from the ESPN documentary “Pony Excess” uses archival news coverage, newspaper headlines, and contemporary interviews to virtually recreate the media blitz surrounding the scandal.