Did We Learn Anything from SI's Investigative Report on Oklahoma State?
Sports Illustrated spent the first four parts of its series on Oklahoma State football examining how the program allegedly allowed multiple infractions to occur without repercussions—or, at least, consistent repercussions—for the sake of building a successful football program.
(Whether or not SI fully and logically made that connection is debatable, but more on that later.)
It then spent the final part, titled "The Fallout," highlighting those who were actually kicked out of the program.
In other words, the ones who allegedly didn't skate by with the help of academic misconduct or liberal drug policies.
There are some tragic stories in "The Fallout," that's for sure. Former reserve offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz and defensive back Thomas Wright told SI they contemplated—and nearly successfully attempted—suicide after being dismissed from the Cowboys program.
The reported willingness of coaches across the country to toss players to the wayside is a topic worth examining further, but perhaps as its own separate investigation and not one tailing on a series where the central narrative is that success on the field is directly tied to letting players run amok off of it.
In that regard, "The Fallout" feels awkwardly placed like a piece that doesn't quite fit in the rest of the puzzle.
The troubling background of former OSU running back Herschel Sims or the current life of ex-wide receiver Artrell Woods are compelling stories that deserve to be told in greater, more complete detail.
In fact, a well-done, comprehensive investigation on the subject of the players dismissed, cast aside and/or otherwise forgotten would do a better service of raising questions about the factory that is college football. It would certainly be more interesting than reading about another player receiving a $100 money handshake.
And that's ultimately where SI's series fell short: it wasn't interesting. Rip Thayer Evans or SI's editors for fact-checking or some super-secret agenda that may or may not exist if you must, but those criticisms still miss the point. Besides, they did the work. I'm not interested as much in questioning whether they did it correctly.
Rather, my criticism is this: "The Dirty Game" is a story that's been told before ad nauseam. It's just been packaged differently and sold over five days. (That, in our ADHD society, was an interesting choice by itself.) What readers want is something different, something they haven't heard before.
Money handshakes? Whatever, man. Get paid. Drugs? Not my thing, but it bothers me little if someone else does them. Cheating? Pretty sure that's how I got through Finance in college.
Give me real consequences. That's where "The Fallout" becomes more fascinating, albeit only slightly, than all other parts of the investigative report combined.
But SI was determined to pull back the curtain on what happens behind the scenes of a major college football program. And that's fine. In a follow-up piece explaining their motive behind the series, SI said:
But as the need for reform in college sports becomes increasingly urgent, we thought it was essential to ground the discussion in detail by taking a deeper, longitudinal look at a BCS program. How does it all go down? How do the corrupt practices -- which many fans accept with fatigued indifference -- play out? What are the incentives not to cheat? And after they're done running through the tunnel and onto the field on fall Saturdays, what toll has the system taken on the players?
Thing is, the entire investigative report has been published and it doesn't feel like those questions were fully answered. The fact that the series all but completely ignored the role of booster T. Boone Pickens while attributing on-the-field success to a small number of recruits reportedly having sex with a small number of hostesses is bizarre.
Oklahoma State may or may not have looked the other way on some shady practices over the past 11 years. But if we're going to say what happened in "The Dirty Game" is responsible for the rise of a program, every Division I school in the country would be on an unstoppable dynasty the likes of which we've never seen.
Is what allegedly happened at Oklahoma State right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable? That is, of course, for you to decide. But if we're really committed to changing the landscape of the sport of college football, shouldn't the focus be on the complexity of the people who violently hurl themselves at one another for our entertainment?
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