Academic fraud the focus of latest SI installment on OSU

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As we wade our way into Day 2 of the Sports Illustrated expose’ on the Oklahoma State football program, the focus has shifted from alleged illicit payments to players to the seedy side of the college classroom.

The tone for the latest installment from SI was set in the fifth paragraph — following what was a very Les Miles-like anecdote involving Les Miles — and was presented thusly:

…it is not surprising that 13 Cowboys who played between 2000 and ’11 told SI that they participated in some form of academic misconduct, and 16 others were named by teammates as also having had schoolwork done for them. Players said that they routinely had their coursework completed by tutors or university staff members, that they were provided with answers to exams before taking them, and that they received passing grades despite doing little or no work. Players also allege that the academic counselor for football scheduled them in classes with exceptionally lax professors and pigeonholed them into majors without consulting them. “The philosophy, the main focus [of the program], was to keep [the best players] eligible through any means necessary,” says Fath’ Carter, a safety from 2000 to ’03. “The goal was not to educate but to get them the passing grades they needed to keep playing. That’s the only thing it was about.”

Here are a handful of the accusations made and takeaways from the portion of the expose’ released Wednesday morning:

  • The 13 players who, on the record, alleged academic work was done for them or received grades they didn’t deserve are: defensive back Fath’ Carter (2000 to ’03), wide receiver William Cole (2007 to ’08), defensive back Calvin Mickens (2005 to ’07), defensive tackle Larry Brown (2005 and ’06), offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz (2002), linebacker LeRon Furr (2009 to ’10), defensive tackle Brad Girtman (2003 and ’04), safety Chris Massey (1999 to 2002) defensive end T.J. Minor (2005 and ’06), linebacker Marcus Richardson (2007), running back Herschel Sims (2011), wide receiver Artrell Woods (2006 to ’08) and defensive back Thomas Wright (2002 to ’04).
  • Tutors assigned to the players would not just assist, but would actually write an entire paper.  Woods claimed that he never wrote a single paper during his three years at OSU. “If your teacher told you to write a paper about your favorite Chinese place, all [the tutor] would ask is, ‘What’s your favorite Chinese place? That’s it. They’d do the rest,” quarterback Andre McGill (2000-01) said.  McGill denies ever receiving improper academic assistance.
  • Multiple players claimed that many of their teammates were functionally illiterate yet remained eligible.  Famously, former NFL star Dexter Manley came out in 1989 and revealed that he was functionally illiterate, never able to read above the second-grade level for most of his life.  Manley was also an ex-Oklahoma State defensive lineman, playing at the school in the late seventies.
  • Several former teammates and two former assistant coaches alleged that All-American wide receiver Dez Bryant had the majority of his classwork done for him by tutors.  Those were obviously intelligent tutors as the current Dallas Cowboys receiver was named second-team All-Academic Big 12 following the 2008 season. “You didn’t have no choice but to laugh at it,” former OSU safety Victor Johnson said of Bryant’s academic honor.  SI.com also wrote that “Bryant would not go to class unless shepherded, often by a football staff member.”
  • An assistant professor assigned to the library, who was also an academic advisor to athletes for a three-year period a decade ago, would do assignments for players after they were dropped off, with the players picking up the completed work a few days later.  The professor, Ronald Keys, “told SI that he never did work for athletes but sometimes helped them with reference questions.”
  • Carter claimed that he and another teammate took two classes together, taught by the same instructor, and received A’s despite neither doing any classwork nor actually attending the class.  The teammate, Tatum Bell, denied Carter’s claims and stated to SI that he received C’s and D’s for those classes.
  • Terry Henley, an academic adviser for football since 2000 and a central focus of the latest installment. denied there was any widespread or rampant academic fraud, saying “there was never any pressure [to cheat].” He did allow, though, that “no, he didn’t promote academics.”  The “he” to whom Henley referred is former OSU and current LSU head coach Les Miles.

With that segue to Miles, it brings us to what will likely be one of the most talked-about items ripped from the latest release.  While we mentioned how SI set the academic tenor in the fifth paragraph, here’s what, in part, preceded it:

Shortly after Les Miles took over as Oklahoma State’s football coach in December 2000, he introduced an exhortation that he would use often at the end of team meetings during his four years in Stillwater. “Academics first,” Miles would say. “Football second.”

Miles’s words encapsulated one of the central pillars in the mythos of major-college football: that nothing, not even wins and losses, takes precedence over educating young athletes. The reality is that when jobs and money are at stake, priorities quickly skew.

As Miles said, “Academics first,” he would hold up two fingers. And as he said, “Football second,” he would hold up one.

Oh, Les.  The madcap Mad Hatter strikes again.

For his part, Miles claimed the gesture was a “moment of humor,” reiterating that “I always said, and I always meant, that academics was the most important thing.”

One final takeaway from the academic portion of the program: OSU football has seen just over 50 percent of its players graduate since 2003.  If there was such rampant academic fraud, shouldn’t that number be appreciably higher?

BYU wearing special patch in honor of LaVell Edwards

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BYU got the summer media day fun started on Friday with their football media day. BYU tends to pull out all the stops on its media day with coach and player interviews, alumni returning, and a handful of announcements about the future of the program. In addition to news about their relationship with ESPN, BYU also announced the football team will be sporting a patch this season in honor of the late LaVell Edwards.

In addition to players wearing the patch on their jerseys, BYU coaches will also wear the patch on their sleeves.

Edwards passed away in December at the age of 86. The BYU coaching legend spent 29 seasons on the sidelines in Provo and accumulated 257 wins along the way. Among those was a national championship season in 1984, which remains the most recent national championship to be claimed by a program not currently in a power conference. Edwards took 22 BYU teams to a bowl game.

Now if we can just keep getting BYU to stick to that lighter shade of blue as their main home uniform, we’ll be in great shape.

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.