STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State University’s biggest financial contributor has criticized the Sports Illustrated investigation into the school’s football program for focusing on corruption that happened a decade ago.
Oil mogul T. Boone Pickens, an alum who has donated more than $500 million to the school and whose name adorns its 60,000-seat stadium, said many of the improprieties cited by the magazine are “not reflective of OSU today.”
Pickens welcomed the scrutiny the SI series has aroused, including investigations by the NCAA, the Big 12 and OSU itself of the football program. He said it was an opportunity for the school to show it is “a different university today. It is a better university” than described by SI.
His statement – notable for its defense only of the current OSU football program – was featured on a website (response.okstate.edu) created by the school to respond to the SI series. The report has detailed illicit cash payments to players, academic dishonesty, toothless drug policies and the use of sex to induce recruits from 2001 to 2011.
The SI investigation was based on interviews with 64 former players and some 40 football staff, many of whom commented on the record and even allowed their statements to be videotaped for use on the magazine’s website.
Wednesday’s installment of the series dealt with academic misconduct, including players receiving passing grades for work they didn’t do or classes they didn’t attend in order to keep them eligible for game day.
It also included comments from a former OSU defensive back, Victor Johnson, that football players were humorously surprised when receiver Dez Bryant, now a star with the Dallas Cowboys, was named second-team academic All-Big 12 in 2008 for his scholarship achievement.
“You didn’t have no choice but to laugh at it,” Johnson is quoted as telling SI. Johnson said it was well known that tutors did a majority of Bryant’s course work, and that when he went to class, he was always accompanied by a member of the football staff.
Bryant denied to SI that others did his course work, but he refused additional comment.
Former players interviewed by SI also claimed the football program’s academic counselor scheduled them in classes with lax professors and assigned them into easy majors without consulting them.
Artrell Woods, a wide receiver from 2006 to 2008, said he stopped attending classes in 2007 because of a back injury while weightlifting. A professor asked to meet him to ask what grade he thought he deserved.
“An F,” Woods told SI he replied. “I’m not going to lie.”
Woods said the professor responded, “I’m going to give you a B.”
Woods said the professor “felt bad (for me).”
In another anecdote, SI said Les Miles, head coach at OSU from 2001 to 2005, once told his assembled team that academics came first and football second, but when he said “academics” he held up two fingers and when he said “football” he held up one finger.
The magazine said the result of sham education standards was that Oklahoma State had one of the worst academic records in the country for graduating football players.
“The philosophy, the main focus (of the program), was to keep (the best players) eligible through any means necessary,” said former defensive safety Fath’ Carter. “The goal was not to education but to get them the passing grades they needed to keep playing. That’s the only thing it was about.”