College football's latest major scandal went nuclear Tuesday, as Sports Illustrated released the first in a five-part series detailing serious alleged infractions committed by Oklahoma State's football program. Part 1 was entitled "The Money," and as suggested, it laid out a -- if true -- widespread and expensive pay-for-play system that also included no-show offseason jobs. [Update: Part 2 is out.]
Compared to some of the other in-depth investigations that have spurred recent controversies, SI's report -- consisting of 10 months' worth of reporting, per the magazine -- features several on-the-record interviews and named sources. Numbers, such as the eight former players who admitted to receiving cash payments, the 29 other ex-players named among those who allegedly received money and the alleged dollar amounts paid out, ranging from a handful of cash to $25,000 annually, are plentiful. The quoted ex-players did not shy away from explaining precisely when, where and how they received their payouts.
The scope of the alleged misdeeds is also fascinating, considering one of college football's premier personalities, LSU head coach Les Miles, finds himself involved. Before taking the job in Louisiana in 2005, Miles was Oklahoma State's head coach from 2001 to 2004. SI's report alleges Miles put a player, running back Seymore Shaw (2002-04), in touch with someone who could supply a car. Miles also is said to have increased the access afforded to major boosters, reportedly the main providers of the cash bonuses and no-show jobs.
Miles' involvement alone would've been enough to keep this investigation atop the college football headlines weeks after SI's series wraps up. But then, not long into the post-report aftermath, Oklahoma State issued its own response -- strongly. An entire website hosted on the university's servers was set up and positioned as the central hub for the program's response. There, viewers can see statements from top-level OSU officials, former players, distinguished alumni, national reporters and several other notable sources.
Below is a tasting of reactions from the university's website, reputable former players, national media members and several other prominent sources.
Five quotes from response.okstate.edu:
1. OSU president Burns Hargis:
"Oklahoma State University is deeply troubled by these claims. We will investigate the accuracy of the allegations and take all appropriate action. We do not condone or tolerate improper conduct in our athletic programs. OSU requires everyone affiliated with the university to follow the rules and adhere to the highest ethical standards."
2. OSU athletic director Mike Holder:
"In Monday's news conference, I apologized to our fans and mentioned phone calls I had made to other Big 12 athletic directors prior to the release of the first article from Sports Illustrated. To clarify, my apology was in regards to the negative publicity that was coming our way. My apology was in no way an admission of wrong doing by OSU Athletics."
While Hargis' reaction was as standard as you can get in circumstances like this one, Holder came off kind of sloppy here. Of course that apology isn't an admission of guilt. But how'd he let that come out of his mouth in the first place? The last thing Oklahoma State needs is a string of apologies that needs clarification later on.
3. Renowned business magnate and OSU's most prominent booster, T. Boone Pickens:
A fair question, no doubt, and one absolutely worth asking as these reports are disseminated throughout the week. That link leads to a statement issued by Boone, one also read nearly verbatim* in a video released shortly thereafter. The most interesting parts, perhaps at the risk of reading too much into these thoroughly vetted PR statements, are the references to how Oklahoma State is "today," and how "there have been wholesale changes at the school in recent years in leadership and facilities."
Why not just state the line everyone's expecting, that the university never has, nor will be, condoning illegal benefits for student-athletes? And how would changes in facilities factor into this at all? Oh, that's right: 17 OSU players worked on the stadium site as renovations were ongoing in the summer of 2007, the university says. The stadium has also, naturally, been named "Boone Pickens Stadium" since 2003.
* I say "nearly" verbatim here because Pickens began the video with: "I'm Boone Pickens, a very, very..." You expect him to continue along the lines of "rich m*********," right?
4. Former OSU linebacker James Thomas:
"If he (DeForest) was actually paying people for making plays, heck, I would have been rich," said Thomas, who played linebacker at OSU from 2007-11 and earned the nickname "Johnny on the Spot" because of his uncanny ability to snag turnovers. "If you look at my stats, I made play after play after play and didn't get anything."
Joe DeForest is a former Oklahoma State assistant coach and the current special teams coordinator at West Virginia. He's alleged by SI to have managed the pay-for-place scale and told players how much they they were getting and for what. Two former players said DeForest was directly involved in the payments, between setting the rewards from $100 to $500, personally handing stacks of bills to players and arranging for some of the no-show jobs.
Thomas, for what it's worth, did indeed have a career full of nice stats. According to another former player, defensive tackle Brad Girtman (2003-04), the pay scale rewarded quarterback hurries with $50, tackles with $75 to $100 and sacks from $200 to $250.
According to Girtman's telling of the pay scale, Thomas would've earned at least $8,800 -- and that's not taking into account quarterback hurries or turnovers.
5. ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock:
"My God, this might be the journalistic crime of the century. Boomer Sooner got to write takedown of Okie State. Unreal. #plushesahack
I'm too jaded and cynical so you tell me. Is this 10-month SI investigation into Okie State as cliche/pointless as I think?
Long live Taylor Branch and original reporting/perspective. The "Dirty Game" is shamateurism, not $100 handshakes."
The link on OSU's response site under Whitlock's quote heads straight to his Twitter, rather than an individual tweet, which is fitting because he straight went off on SI. Another intrepid tweeter said Whitlock was up to 46 tweets on the story by approximately 7 p.m. ET. That's bold counting effort, as well as a remarkable Twitter effort by Whitlock. Going through though all 40-whatever tweets is a surefire stimulus for agita or something regardless of what you think of Whitlock, so here's a link to them all, if you'd like.
And somewhere in there, Whitlock took to Oklahoma City radio to slam Evans some more.
George Dohrmann's rebuttals to attacks on the report
Dohrmann is the senior writer at SI who wrote Part 1. He went on Doug Gottlieb's radio show Tuesday for an interview on the report and the inevitable backlash it spurred.
For clarity's sake, we'll precede Dohrmann's responses with the particular charges he's defending. SB Nation also has a lengthy list of reactions from former OSU players (there's more in the comments there, too).
Doug Gottlieb: Aso Pogi told (Sports Talk Network's The Rush): "That was nothing I said. It was misrepresented, misquoted. It was taken completely out of context." For Aso to come out now, and the other guys who have said they've been misquoted, how would you respond?
Dohrmann: All those people who say they've been misquoted, their conversations were recorded. I've heard them, editors here have heard them, lawyers here have heard them. We are absolutely comfortable that they were quoted accurately.
DG: How credible do you think the sources are?
Dohrmann: Very credible, or we wouldn't write these things. These are players who spoke to us on the record, who we found. They didn't come to us, they didn't come and say, ‘Oh, I got a story to tell.' We had to track them down and go to them and then hear their stories. This wasn't something where, I think there's a perception that, a lot of people who talk about their school is bitter because they got kicked off the team or they didn't start. But you played the game, a lot of guys aren't bitter at all, sometimes they are just years removed from this experience and you go and see them and they have time on their hands and you show them attention and you're curious about their experience and they share it with you. Sometimes it's not a guy sitting their spewing venom about a school he once attended.
Former NFL and Cowboys running back Tatum Bell:
Man this article is all the way false. Haha. Said Seymore sawe take money haha. From who? From we're ? He was scrub who not doing nothing— tatum bell (@tspeedtx) September 10, 2013
From Dohrmann's newsOK.com interview:
DG: Seymore Shaw, the running back, said he got $500 when he committed to Oklahoma State out of high school. He actually went to OU and they didn't have a partial scholarship. Is that a misrepresentation, an oversight, I'm just trying to figure out how that came to be?
Dohrmann: Well, he went to OU, he didn't qualify and then he had to choose another school. And so, when he chose Oklahoma State, he received this money.
Former Cowboys center Ben Buie:
00-04 I never saw anything like this, and the characters that they chose to interview are shady at best. Miles was such a tight ass, no way— Ben Buie (@Blackbellybuie) September 10, 2013
Dohrmann's only reference to Miles in his interview with Gottleib:
DG: What is your take on the response you have seen from Oklahoma State?
Dohrmann: When we met with Mike Holder and a bunch of the staff there, their general counsel and compliance folks. The narrative they put there after hearing our allegations, was this sounds like a Les Miles story. And they sort of came up with this idea that this stuff only stretched until 2007 and I don't know where they came up with that. I think that they're not wrong in that this culture that we say exists at Oklahoma State started with Les Miles. So if they're looking for the time frame when this began, then it was the Les Miles era. Do I think that Mike Gundy took over and suddenly cleaned up the program? Our evidence suggests that if he did do that, he was very slow to get it cleaned up. Maybe that's the case, maybe it takes a while to purge that sort of stuff from your program. But we have allegations that run to 2010, 2011, depends on what story we're talking about. That's not that long ago. At the very least, in the last few years, Oklahoma State has what I would say is an oversight problem in regards to a lot of these issues.
NewsOK.com's Berry Tramel also has an allegation-by-allegation breakdown that's worth checking out:
* 2002-07: Rodrick Johnson said Darrent Williams openly talked about getting paid, and tailback Seymore Shaw said Tatum Bell openly talked about getting paid.
If players were openly talking about the payments, the talk had to filter down to the rest of the team and/or coaches. So someone is lying. Either those who said they got paid, or those who say they never heard or saw anything untoward.
Les Miles' reaction
TheAdvertiser.com gathered the SI report's references of Miles and included his brief but strong reaction:
"I can tell you this, we've always done things right," Miles said after his LSU Tigers defeated UAB 56-17 Saturday night. "And I really enjoyed my time at Oklahoma State. I felt like I met a lot of wonderful people, and we made our football team better. We worked hard."
Former LSU athletic director Skip Bertman also chimed in, of course. Bertman hired Miles from Oklahoma State after the 2004 season, when previous head coach Nick Saban left for the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
"It stunned me," Bertman said Tuesday afternoon. "We checked Les with every background check there is off the field as well as with the NCAA and with the Oklahoma State athletic department. You can find out if a coach was ever just looked at for even a secondary violation, and he had a clean slate. I worked with Les for five years, and the guy is very, very anti anything close to a recruiting violation or drugs or cheating. He's always been a good recruiter."
"Les always worked very well and very closely with our NCAA compliance department," Bertman said. "I'm confident that when Les was coach at Oklahoma State that if Oklahoma State did anything against the rules, it was without his knowledge."
Neither Miles nor current LSU athletic director Joe Alleva commented on the situation Tuesday.
That the thing is procedurally well-done is nice. That's great: journalism needs to be done well. What bothers us most is this question: in whose service is this, and to what end? The common answer is "the reader," or "the public trust," and that may very well be true here. Oklahoma State is a public university, and the citizens of the state need to know if the academic integrity of that state school is being compromised in the name of making tax-free money through the football program. That part is potentially legitimate, and necessary.
SB Nation's Oklahoma State blog:
If this pay-for-play stuff was as rampant and overt as the piece clearly implies, then I find it hard to believe that SI couldn't get at least one of over a hundred major contributors who stayed with the program to completion to speak out. They would have nothing to lose. Not a sound way to start an expose by quoting sources of which all but a couple were kicked off the team, and now apparently one of your sources who wasn't kicked off the team recanted. Sloppy.
If you're a rival fan celebrating what you think is about to happen to Oklahoma State, LSU, Texas, or West Virginia, know that you're only celebrating a well-written, well-reported list of details. You are not celebrating the fact that your university couldn't be accused of the same things. Also, no one will get in any trouble whatsoever.