Sports Illustrated's in-depth investigations into college athletics have been hit or miss. In fact, their reporting on Ohio State, Tyrann Mathieu and others have drawn criticism. The most recent SI expose may be their most impactful and their most involved - a five part series on the Oklahoma State football program. The first in the series was published today and detailed players receiving money from boosters in the locker room and being paid for work that wasn't done.
Here's more from SI on what you'll see in the coming days in the rest of the series:
After 11 losing seasons in 12 years, OSU turned itself into one of the top programs in the nation. Since 2002, OSU has had 10 winnings seasons, earned its first Big 12 title and went to its first BCS Bowl. The report reveals that OSU went to extreme measures to build a winning program, with an increased willingness to cut corners and bend rules. The transgressions began under former coach Les Miles, who was the head coach in Stillwater from 2001 to ’04 and is now the head coach at LSU, and continued under current head coach Mike Gundy, who was promoted from offensive coordinator in 2005.
SI executive editor Jon Wertheim, SI assistant managing editor Hank Hersch and SI.com executive editor B.J. Schecter oversaw the investigative report, which was written and reported by senior writers George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans.
“We wanted to take a comprehensive look at a big-time program, particularly one that made a rapid ascent,” says Wertheim. “There's obviously a steady drumbeat of scandal in college sports – improper benefits here; a recruiting violation there – and plenty of rumor and hearsay about the unseemly underbelly. For this piece, we were more about venturing inside the factory and seeing how the sausage is made.”
Parts 2 — 4 of the report continue on SI.com this week and the series culminates in next week’s SI issue and on SI.com. In addition, SI.com will feature videos of former Cowboys talking about their experiences in Stillwater. SI Now will have live coverage and reaction throughout the week. The series will run as follows:
· Part 1: Money (On SI.com Tuesday, 9/10 and in the 9/16/13 SI issue): SI finds that OSU used a bonus system orchestrated by an assistant coach whereby players were paid for their performance on the field, with some stars collecting $500 or more per game. In addition, the report finds that OSU boosters and at least two assistant coaches funneled money to players via direct payments and a system of no-show and sham jobs. Some players say they collected more than $10,000 annually in under-the-table payouts.
· Part 2: Academics (On SI.com Wednesday, 9/11): Widespread academic misconduct, which included tutors and other OSU personnel completing coursework for players, and professors giving passing grades for little or no work, all in the interest of keeping top players eligible.
· Part 3: Drugs (On SI.com Thursday, 9/12): OSU tolerated and at times enabled recreational drug use, primarily through a specious counseling program that allowed some players to continue to use drugs while avoiding penalties. The school’s drug policy was selectively enforced, with some stars going unpunished despite repeated positive tests.
· Part 4: Sex (On SI.com Friday, 9/13): OSU’s hostess program, Orange Pride, figured so prominently in the recruitment of prospects that the group more than tripled in size under Miles. Both Miles and Gundy took the unusual step of personally interviewing candidates. Multiple former players and Orange Pride members say that a small subset of the group had sex with recruits, a violation of NCAA rules.
· Part 5: The Fallout (On SI.com Tuesday, 9/17, and in the 9/23/13 SI issue): SI finds that many players who were no longer useful to the football program were cast aside, returning to worlds they had hoped to escape. Some have been incarcerated, others live on the streets, many have battled drug abuse and a few have attempted suicide.
Unlike past stories that were rather flimsy on hard evidence, the key to this SI series is getting numerous individuals surrounding the program to go on the record with their allegations. That's key to adding legitimacy and weight to any investigative piece.
The reaction to this SI piece is going to split a few different ways and folks across the interwebz are already manning their battle stations. In general, there's three lanes of reaction to the Oklahoma State investigation emerging already:
Shock and awe: This is the ugliest scandal in the history of college football.
Who cares: Sex, drugs, and money are great! This is all an overreaction.
This happens everywhere: Why single out Oklahoma State?
You can have all the hot takes in the world about Oklahoma State, whatever. The true significance of the SI piece is it being just another example of a toothless NCAA depending on media outlets to do their enforcement work for them. It's further evidence of the broken system that is big time college athletics.
The Oklahoma State investigation by SI is going to create tons of headlines and debates, talking points and columns (like this one too I suppose). Maybe that defines success for Sports Illustrated in this day and age of media.
In truth, the whole NCAA debate is approaching steroid fatigue territory. These investigations are going to continue to be published because nobody is really interested in getting to the root cause of the issue. These massive exposes, and much of the conversation around them, continue to shovel water out of a sinking ship while not plugging the leak. Has anyone thought it's time to stop talking about the scandals and start talking about the solution?