College Sports

Controversial Stardom: College Athletes Who Overcame Scandals In the Pros

Darren - April 7, 2023
College Sports

Controversial Stardom: College Athletes Who Overcame Scandals In the Pros

Darren - April 7, 2023

It’s hardly a secret that many of the best college athletes become superstars in their respective sports. But some of them carry the controversial scandals to the highest levels. They get involved with crazy incidents or do stupid things that transform them into figures of notoriety. So today, we’ll look at some of the most controversial college sports stars ever.

There’s no questioning their talent because they wouldn’t have won scholarships or found great success without it. Some of them overcame adversity and achieved greatness. Others arguably didn’t reach their full potential because of their dumb antics. There’s everything from booster payments to domestic violence cases on this list of polarizing athletes, so check them out right here.


Brandon Miller

Miller is one of the most controversial college athletes ever because of his links to a 2022 killing. He became one of the most exciting basketball talents in the country in Alabama. It appeared that he would become a guaranteed first-round pick. Then it emerged that he allegedly provided the gun for the shooting of James Jonae Harris (via Patch).

Fox News

Teammate Darius Miles fired the weapon and faces capital murder charges. He allegedly called Miller and asked him to bring Miles’s gun. Then, reportedly two minutes later, Miles fired into Harris’s vehicle and killed her. Miller instantly became a figure of infamy but isn’t facing any legal consequences. The Tide didn’t punish him and he’s still set to enjoy a pro career.


Tim Tebow

Perhaps it’s wrong to call Tebow one of the most controversial college stars ever. But there’s no denying that he was a polarizing figure. He became a college athlete after he played for Nease High School. But his ultra-religious mother home-schooled him so he could choose the high school he wanted to play for.


Tebow became a national figure when he played for the Gators. Conservative Christians loved him because he was vocal about his faith. The quarterback was loud and proud of his virginity. He also famously knelt after every touchdown and pointed to the heavens. This annoyed some football fans but he carried the trademark into the NFL (via Saturday Down South).

Mile High Report

Marvin Austin

Most NFL players only survive for about four seasons in the league. Austin was no exception because he flamed out after about three years and barely played. He played ball in North Carolina but became one of the most controversial college stars of 2011. This came after reports that Austin accepted benefits during his time with the Tar Heels (via Bleacher Report).

New York Post

Austin was one of three North Carolina players who allegedly broke the rules. The tackle allegedly attended a party in Miami and made two trips to California on an agent’s invitation. Meanwhile, Greg Little received about $5,000 in material items, including diamond earrings. They received a one-year NCAA suspension but in the end, Austin became a second-round NFL pick.


Eli Manning

Manning was one of the most in-demand young quarterbacks ever in 2004. After a great college career with Ole Miss, the NFL awaited with open arms. However, there was one serious problem because San Diego had the number one pick. Manning refused to play for the Chargers and vowed to continue his college career if they selected him (via CBS Sports).


The Manning family had concerns about how the Chargers treated Ryan Leaf. He notoriously succumbed to personal issues after San Diego failed to support him. In the end, San Diego reached a deal with the Giants and traded Manning for Philip Rivers. It was a deal that suited both parties because Manning put the Chargers in an untenable position.


Matthew Araiza

The Bills rose eyebrows when they chose Araiza as their punter in 2022. Yes, the rookie had a decent career with the Aztecs but there was one major problem. A lawsuit implicated the San Diego State star as part of a gang rape the previous year. It was a shocking story and unbelievable that the organization supported him.

San Diego Union-Tribune

This made him one of the most controversial college stars of the year. The Bills said that they didn’t know about the allegations when they made him a sixth-round pick. But this is unacceptable in the modern era because they have access to so much information. In the end, they released him because it was a bad look and a stain on the franchise (via KGET).


Reggie Bush

Bush had a stunning college career but didn’t reach the same heights in the NFL. He did win a Super Bowl ring but he wasn’t the same explosive force. He’s also a fascinating figure because he’s the only athlete to return a Heisman Trophy. This came after a scandal that made him one of the most controversial college stars.


The NCAA discovered that Bush received massive benefits during his time at USC under Pete Carroll. The two-time national champion received almost $300,000 in gifts during his time with the program. The young superstar vacated his Heisman Trophy but wants it back, a stance that many fans share with Bush (via Sports Illustrated).

Sports Illustrated

Chris Mills

Mills was another player who found himself on the wrong end of a booster scandal. This one came while he played for the Kentucky Wildcats. He was one of the most exciting young players in the nation but then the news broke. A package broke open at Emery Worldwide. Then the employees said that it spilled a video cassette and fifty-dollar bill notes.


The Wildcats sent Mills on his way and he moved to Arizona where he became an All-American. He also played in the NBA for 10 years after the Cavaliers drafted him. Assistant Coach Dwane Casey found himself under fire and moved to Japan to revive his career. In the end, this was the right thing to do because he found his way to the NBA (via Fansided).

Peter Power

Adrian McPherson

Incredibly, McPherson had any kind of professional career after a tumultuous college career. He became a breakout star at Florida State but then scandals arose. Law enforcement arrested the quarterback after he stole and cashed a blank check. Then he paid for goods with the proceeds and committed grand theft.

Radio Canada

Meanwhile, they also implicated him as part of a gambling scheme. Allegedly, McPherson bet on all of the games he played for the Seminoles. A court released him on probation so he never spent time behind bars. McPherson had a season with the Saints before he became a Canadian football star. He won two Grey Cups with the Alouettes during his time in the CFL (via The Intelligencer).


Adam Jones

‘Pacman’ is the type of man who can find trouble on a Tuesday night when everybody else is in bed. He infamously has more arrests than any other NFL player of the modern era. But at least he was consistent because he started his controversial antics when he was in college. This was before he started his later habit of punching strippers.

Bleacher Report

West Virginia has a history of accepting polarizing athletes and misfits so it was the perfect setting for Jones. Police arrested him for his role in a bar fight in 2003. He played while he was on probation for two years before he reached the NFL. But the best was yet to come because he went crazy during his pro career (via ESPN).

Bleacher Report

Marcus Vick

The Vick family produces controversial stars like an assembly line. Every NFL fan knows about Michael’s dogfighting scandal and the ensuing drama. But the former Atlanta star’s younger brother was also a polarizing quarterback. However, he only played in a single NFL game for Miami because of his poor attitude and wild antics.


Vick infamously stomped on an opponent’s leg in a notorious on-field incident. But he also allegedly had sexual involvement with an underage girl. Virginia Tech suspended it for a season after a court ruled that he contributed to her ‘delinquency.’ After he went undrafted, the Dolphins signed him but he didn’t last at the pro level (via Sportscasting).

Detroit Free Press

Chris Webber

Michigan assembled one of the most exciting college basketball rosters ever in the early ’90s. Webber was the only member of the Fab Five to have an equally successful NBA career. But he became one of the most controversial college stars ever because of a booster scandal. The players received hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal booster payments.

The Ringer

Eddie Martin laundered cash to pay the athletes in one of the most shocking cases ever. Multiple agencies, including the FBI, collaborated to bring them down. In the end, Webber received community service and a $100,000 fine. It didn’t matter much to him in the end, because he became an NBA millionaire (via ESPN).

John Williams

Schools rarely disband entire programs but that’s exactly what Tulane did after its notorious points-shaving scandal. This was one of the craziest events in college basketball history and Williams was a major player. The future NBA star accepted close to $9,000 to influence scores in games. Incredibly, he risked the chance to earn millions in the NBA for less than 10 grand.


Investigators arrested him and charged him with multiple charges of conspiracy. But he escaped without serious punishments and made it to the pro game. He even became the second-highest-paid athlete in the sport at one point. It took over 20 years for the Green Wave to relaunch its basketball program (via Crescent City Sports).

AP News

Luke Heimlich

Heimlich had a talented college baseball career in Oregon and it appeared that the MLB awaited. But then the world discovered that he molested a six-year-old when he was 15. The 2018 National Pitcher of the Year winner immediately left the Beavers. He hoped to enter the Draft immediately but no franchise wanted a convicted child molester.

New York Times

Then he flirted with a Chinese baseball team but his criminal record prevented them from signing him. Finally, he became a professional when he moved to Mexico and joined the Tecoletes. It only lasted for a couple of seasons before he became a free agent. Heimlich had all of the talent in the world but his past caught up with him (via Sports Illustrated).

New York Times

Brittney Griner

Everybody knows Griner after her crazy time in a Russian jail. However, the WNBA star has courted controversy ever since she became a public figure. Even before she had public fights with her wife, she was running wild in college. Griner went to Baylor where she won a national title but it wasn’t always smooth sailing (via The Guardian).


The world discovered Griner’s volatile personality when she faced Texas Tech in 2010. Griner went head-to-head with Jordan Barncastle before punching her rival in the nose and breaking it. The referee instantly threw her out of the game and Baylor hit her with an extra suspension. But she carried the notoriety she still carries today into the WNBA when she finally joined it.


Maurice Clarett

There are plenty of controversial college stars on this list but Clarett brings this label to the next level. He infamously challenged the NFL after OSU dismissed him in 2003. First, there was controversy around his academic record and then he abused drugs. In the end, Ohio State kicked him out of the door (via Toledo Blade).


Clarett wanted to enter the Draft but the NFL rules mandate that athletes must wait for three years after high school. He took them to court but lost the case. In the end, he wound up at Kent State and never had the career he wanted. The Broncos invited him to off-season practice but didn’t sign him. Finally, he had a couple of seasons in Canada before retirement.

Fox Sports

Praise Martin-Oguike

Martin-Oguike was a promising young defensive end for Temple and he dreamed of playing in the NFL. However, the Nigerian athlete unwittingly became one of the most controversial college stars in the nation. A young woman accused him of rape but Martin-Oguike maintained his innocence (via The Morning Call).


Temple reacted quickly and kicked him out of the school. He lost two years of his college career before the investigation came to an end. Finally, prosecutors determined that evidence supported his innocence and cleared his name. He returned to Temple before joining the Dolphins and playing in the CFL.

Bleacher Report

Rhett Bomar

Everybody dreams of doing as little as possible for as much money as possible. Unfortunately, most of us grind our way through our lives because we need to put food on the table. Bomar played for the Oklahoma Sooners and became one of the nation’s leading college quarterbacks. Meanwhile, he earned money from a car dealership as he showed his entrepreneurial instincts.


But there was a serious catch because he didn’t do any work for the company. Furthermore, a major Oklahoma donor owned the business and this triggered the NCAA’s suspicions. It was a ludicrous violation and the Sooners booted him off the team. He moved to Sam Houston before finding his way to the NFL (via The Oklahoman).

CBS Sports

LeGarrette Blount

Blount had one of the most successful professional careers on this list with three Super Bowl rings. But the running back almost didn’t make it to college because his academic results didn’t hold up. After impressing at community college he joined the Oregon Ducks. But the talented athlete became a polarizing figure because of his indiscipline.

New York Times

The Ducks suspended him briefly because he failed to meet team obligations. It’s believed that he arrived late and didn’t take it seriously. But the worst moment came during a game against Boise State. Blount knocked Boise’s Byron Hout down before hitting an Oregon teammate. Chip Kelly suspended Blount and he became one of the most controversial college stars (via Fox Sports).

Dallas Morning News

Dez Bryant

Future NFL star Bryant made a dumb mistake in 2009 when he lied to NCAA officials. He spent a day with Deion Sanders and visited the wideout’s house. However, the powers that be had concerns about who else was there. They pushed Bryant but the OSU star thought that it was a violation and lied to them.

Tulsa World

However, Sanders knew that there was nothing wrong and revealed the truth. Unfortunately, this put Bryant in an awkward position and he suffered a lengthy suspension for misleading investigators. Nonetheless, the NCAA received a lot of criticism for pressuring the young man and putting him in this position (via The Oklahoman).


Jeremiah Masoli

The Oregon Ducks have seen some talented quarterbacks over the years but Masoli was the most polarizing. There’s no questioning his talent but he invited chaos and became one of the most controversial college stars. He had a couple of high-profile scandals that affected his reputation and damaged his career prospects (via CTV News).

Red Deer Advocate

First, he robbed a frat house at the university with one of his teammates. The Ducks hit him with a one-year suspension and he was lucky to avoid jail. Finally, the school kicked him off the team permanently after he committed drug offenses. He joined Ole Miss before making the Niners’ practice squad. Masoli spent the bulk of his professional career in Canada.

Sports Illustrated

Cam Newton

Newton took the long road to the Heisman Trophy after he allegedly stole a laptop in Florida. He left the Gators because he was already flirting with expulsion. Then he went to Blinn College where he stabilized his life before joining Auburn. However, another controversy rose its head because of his greedy father (via The Atlantic).

Sporting News

Allegedly, Newton Sr. demanded that teams pay his son to play for them. The media heavily linked Mississippi State to a potential $150,000 payment for the athlete. In the end, he didn’t join them and an NCAA investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. But it stained his Heisman win and he carried the weight of the scandal forward.

N.Y. Post

Derrick Rose

Memphis lost an entire season of program history because of the Rose scandal. He never took an aptitude test but got a friend to do it for him instead. This guaranteed him a spot in the school and allowed his career to progress. It kick-started the Tigers’ basketball program and they appeared in the national title game.

The Ringer

Rose instantly became one of the most controversial college stars because he didn’t feature any consequences. The NCAA wiped out Memphis’s 38 wins but Rose declared for the NBA Draft. The school indeed broke the rules by allowing Rose’s brothers to travel to games for free. But the NCAA gave them a disproportionate punishment because Rose was the problem (via The Ringer).

Bleacher Report

Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu became one of the most popular college players in the nation with LSU. The safety had an aggressive and tenacious tackling style that earned him ‘The Honey Badger’ nickname. But he also became one of the most controversial college stars because he invited trouble. He violated drug rules multiple times because he apparently loved marijuana more than his football career.


LSU threw him off the program after repeated violations and he went to rehab. Then he declared for the Draft and embarked on a successful NFL career. However, there were real fears that he would continue down the wrong path and waste his talent. He also had a racy photo scandal but this wasn’t as big of a deal (via USA Today Sports).


Jameis Winston

Winston was another of the most controversial college stars because of his sexual assault record. Erica Kinsman accused the Florida State quarterback of rape after he allegedly forced himself on her in his room. However, a lack of evidence meant that the Tallahassee court cleared him of wrongdoing (via Bleacher Report).

CBS Sports

However, it attracted national attention and FSU received criticism for failing to support the investigation. Winston became a polarizing figure because many people think when there’s smoke, there’s fire. This was the first of two sexual assault cases with the second coming in 2016. He allegedly grabbed a female Uber driver’s crotch and she filed against him.

Sky Sports

Tyreek Hill

Many fans think of Hill as one of the best wide receivers of his era. He was Patrick Mahomes’ most important weapon en route to the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl win in 50 years. But he became one of the most controversial college stars after a horrible domestic abuse scandal. He choked his pregnant girlfriend and punched her in the stomach.

Larry Brown Sports

OSU kicked him off their athletic programs but West Virginia took a chance on him. He spent a single season with the Tigers before he entered the Draft and became a fourth-round pick. Predictably, many Kansas City fans didn’t want their team to select him because of his history. But many of them forgot about his record when they began winning (via Sporting News).