Sports Illustrated has the Oklahoma State football program in its crosshairs, releasing on Tuesday the first of a five-part investigative series called "The Dirty Game," which explores a pervasive network of alleged corruption in Stillwater.
The report delves deeply into how the Cowboys, long a Big 12 also-ran behind powerhouses like Texas and Oklahoma, became one of America's strongest programs, the measures they took to stay there, and who within the program knew what, when.
The broad-stroke allegations include some of the usual suspects: player payment, academic fraud, enabled drug use and recruiting hostesses.
But the specifics of what took place at OSU are supposed to be unique.
Per SI.com, here is a breakdown of what to expect from the report (and when):
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: 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.
The allegations stretch back more than a decade, concerning not just head coach Mike Gundy's regime, but also that of former boss (and current LSU coach) Les Miles. Depending on specifics, both coaches—especially Gundy—could stand to face some retroactive punishment.
But will they?
That's the million-dollar question. Folks in and around the program are acting like they might have reason to feel guilty, taking a preemptive (and tight-lipped) approach to addressing the allegations. But they haven't yet admitted to anything.
Gundy gave a brief statement on Monday, per NewsOK.com:
From the video, in Gundy's own words:
I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here, both on and off the field. Our goal has always been to take young people from where their parents have gotten them and to make them better over a four- or five-year period. We’re very proud of that in many ways. So, until further time—and obviously the university will make that decision—there’s not any comment that we would have on the Sports Illustrated article.
The first part of the series, "Money," came out on Tuesday morning and mentioned Gundy's name just four times. But he'll likely appear more in further installments, and some of the more damning allegations in Part 1—including star players making up to $25,000 per year in an illegal performance-based incentive system—still happened on his watch.
Plus, given some of the other leaked reports, like that of Gundy (and Miles) personally interviewing female hostesses for the school's "Orange Pride" program, it's hard to imagine he was in the dark on player payments.
If his hand was tied closely to one allegation, could his head be buried in the sand on another? If he knew about (and was directly involved in) one NCAA transgression, how many others was he privy to?
Monday's "Money" section also alludes to Gundy's famous rant from 2007, when he boldly declares his age—"I'm a man; I'm 40"—in defense of quarterback Bobby Reid:
The source of Gundy's ire was a scathing critique of Reid's maturity in the Oklahoman, which the coach felt was inappropriate given Reid's status as a young, non-professional athlete.
But according to Monday's report, "Reid was a professional athlete," technically, and had already received payments at the time of Gundy's tirade.
College sports—football in particular—have a nasty (albeit well-earned) reputation for being corrupt. It's something the NCAA works actively to combat, and that precedent colors how it might handle a case such as this.
Unless the Cowboys can prove, fairly convincingly, that certain allegations are false, the NCAA will join Sports Illustrated by putting them in its crosshairs. Firsthand reports like this make college sports look bad; and for creating that state of disrepute, somebody needs to take the fall.
Gundy might well be that someone.