According to a Sports Illustrated investigative project released Tuesday, cheating at Oklahoma State University comes in pretty much every way imaginable: under the table payments, no-show jobs, academic fraud, drugs, and sex. The first of the five-part series, up on SI.com now and featured in this week’s magazine, deals with money, which was sometimes stuffed in envelopes and distributed in locker rooms and on airplanes by boosters. Some stars allegedly received $25,000 or more. The misconduct started in the early 2000s, when Les Miles, now the coach at LSU, took over at Oklahoma State — he left after the 2004 season for LSU. Before Miles arrived, Oklahoma State had been to one bowl game since 1988. Now, Oklahoma State has had winning records 10 of the last 11 seasons.
“To hear we have some shortcomings or could have … in a way I should say thank you,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder told Sports Illustrated in response to the findings. “Because our intent is to take this information and to investigate and do something about it.” These allegations are yet another embarrassment to the NCAA’s beleaguered enforcement operation. How did the NCAA miss a decade of misconduct?
The illicit payments took place from 2001 to at least 2011, report SI writers George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans, who spent 10 months on the project. Oklahoma State started a pay-for-performance system: former Oklahoma State defensive tackle Brad Girtman said quarterback hurries paid out $50, a tackle between $75 and $100, and a sack from $200 to $250. “It was just like in life when you work,” says Thomas Wright, a defensive back from 2002 to 2004. “The better job you do, the more money you make.” Assistants Joe DeForest, now the associate head coach and special teams coordinator at West Virginia, and Larry Porter, the running backs coach at Texas, made direct payments to players, according to several former players. Both coaches denied the allegations. Other players were compensated through bogus work at a booster’s horse ranch, and on the renovation of T. Boone Pickens Stadium in 2007.
A key point comes at the end of SI’s first installment of the series. “At Oklahoma State the bonus system, the booster and coach payments, and the bogus jobs provided players with money that was seldom spent on extravagances,” Dohrmann and Evans write. “One or two standouts bought a new car or expensive jewelry, team members say, but the vast majority of the players used this extra cash to purchase everyday items — food, clothing, tickets to a movie. ‘There were some athletes who were almost starving ,’ says former Oklahoma State safety Fath’ Carter. ‘Wherever the money came from, they were like, Yeah, I’ll take that.” If college sports had a fair payment scheme to help players who generate millions cover basic expenses, there may less incentive for such black market activity.
It appears that paying players will be the least of Oklahoma State’s problems. Part 2, out on SI.com tomorrow, will detail academic fraud, including tutors and other Oklahoma State personnel doing work for players, and professors giving out sham grades to keep players eligible. Part 3, for Thursday, is drugs: Oklahoma State tolerated and enabled recreational use, and did not punish starts for positive tests. And Part 4, on Friday, is Sex: Oklahoma States hostess group, Orange Pride, more than tripled in size under Miles, and both he and current coach Mike Gundy took the rare step of interviewing candidates personally. A small group of hostesses had sex with recruits.
The final report will appear on SI.com next Tuesday, and in next week’s magazine: it will detail the lives of players cast aside by Oklahoma State, who failed to graduate and in some cases, went to prison, struggled with drugs, and even contemplated suicide. This piece will also explain the fallout from the reporting, which should be severe. As long as the desire to win trumps everything in the multi-billion dollar college sports business, the seedy underbelly is going nowhere.