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?

Jim McElwain hints at playing three quarterbacks vs. Michigan

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Considering his opponent won’t so much as release a simple roster, there’s no reason whatsoever for Florida head coach Jim McElwain to say anything of consequence.

Still, it sounds as if No. 17 Florida may play all three of its quarterbacks next Saturday against No. 11 Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

“You’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing. The three guys have done a really good job. Not naming a starter right now,” McElwain said. “I think that there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions that play to their strengths.

“Will all of them play? I don’t know yet. Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position. This is not — don’t read into this that we’re not happy where they’re at. It’s really more so the competition has really brought out some good things. It’s going to be … ultimately the guy the team moves with the best, the guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone [that we go with].”

The three of them, by the way, are graduate transfer Malik Zaire, junior Luke Del Rio and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. In a world governed by the truism of “If you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any,” it’s not exactly a good sign that none of Zaire, Del Rio or Franks have separated themselves from the others.

Zaire showed flashes but was eventually benched at Notre Dame and just arrived on campus this summer. Del Rio, a 2-time transfer before arriving at Florida, was the Gators’ starter coming out of training camp last season but fought through injuries throughout the season. And Franks is a 6-foot-5 former 5-star recruit that many thought would have grabbed the job by the horns by now.

While every team turns over from one season to the next, Florida finished 105th nationally in yards per play last season while Michigan’s defense placed second. With top playmaker Antonio Callaway serving a suspension, Florida will look to put the ball in the hands of whomever can move it, even if three of them happen to play quarterback.

Tracy Claeys discusses protests that led to his firing from Minnesota

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Chances are you haven’t heard Tracy Claeys‘s name mentioned in a while. The former Minnesota interim-turned-full time head coach was let go in January and has not been picked up by a new staff in the months since.

But Minnesota released an outside report last week that defended the school’s decision to suspend 10 players amid a sexual assault investigation and pinned the subsequent team-wide threatened boycott of the Holiday Bowl on “weak leadership” of the coaching staff. The Gophers played and won that Holiday Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to save Claeys’s job.

On Wednesday, Claeys penned an essay in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that both defended his tenure as the Golden Gophers’ head coach and admitted mistakes in a saga that would have swallowed many a head coach’s career.

Last September, I suspended five players for a reported sexual assault. When law enforcement authorities the following month declined to file any charges, the university reinstated those players. At the time, I was congratulated by our athletic director for my handling of this issue and promised that I would remain the head football coach in 2017.

But university officials soon conducted their own inquiry and in December resuspended the five players and suspended five more — again, even though prosecutors had determined there was no basis for formal charges.

Members of our Football Leadership Group and others on the team felt strongly that administration officials had overstepped their authority and that the accused players were treated unfairly and denied protection under due process. To amplify their argument and shine light on what players felt was a flawed and unjust process by the university, the team voted to boycott the Holiday Bowl.

It was a decision that moved us directly into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, some misunderstood or misinterpreted the players’ decision to boycott the Holiday Bowl. They felt that our team and coaches were condoning or downplaying sexual misconduct or assault. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In light of this new report, are there things I would have done differently? Certainly. First and foremost, I would have remained on campus with my team and coaches rather than attend a Holiday Bowl news conference in San Diego. I’m confident that my presence would have better directed the conversation with our players and that I could have steered them toward something other than a decision to boycott the game.

 I also would have refrained from using social media to state my support of the team’s decision. This was too complex and important an issue to address in a 140-character message. It generated more questions than it answered and likely created more problems than it solved.
Claeys was 11-8 in his one and a half seasons as Minnesota’s head coach, his first head coaching job. Assuming he does not get hired in the next week and a half, the 2017 season will be Claeys’s first out of the game since launching his career as a student trainer at Kansas in the early ’90’s.

Kirk Ferentz and wife donate $1 million to Iowa children’s hospital

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Kirk Ferentz may be the but of a bunch of contract-related jokes, but no one jokes about the man’s character.

And for good reason.

The University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital announced Wednesday that Kirk and his wife Mary have donated $1 million to create the Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research, which will aim to improve the survival rate for premature babies. The Ferentzes made the donation in honor of their granddaughter Savvy, who was born in 2014 at 22 weeks gestation.

“We knew Savvy was born too early,” Mary said in a statement. “We also knew they do extraordinary things at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that would give her a fighting chance. We were thankful we had that.”

The Stead Family Children’s Hospital claims higher survival rates for infants born at 24- and 25-weeks than the average U.S. hospital, and the Ferentzes hope their donation will further increase those rates.

“The University of Iowa has long been a leader in neonatal research and in providing high-level patient care, particularly to this most vulnerable population,” Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Jeffrey L. Segar said. “This gift from the Ferentzes will help us capitalize on our strengths, advance our research, and, most important, make an impact on the lives of many Iowa children and their families, now and far into the future. We are deeply grateful for their support.”

Kirk Ferentz will begin his 19th season as Iowa’s head coach next Saturday against Wyoming (noon ET, BTN).

Texas TE Andrew Beck now out for entire 2017 season

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As it turns out, it’s much worse than originally thought for one playing member of the Texas football program.

Nearly a week ago, Andrew Beck went down during practice with what was later diagnosed to be a broken foot.  At the time, it was thought that the tight end would miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks, which would’ve put him back, at the latest, early October.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, however, and the Longhorns announced that Beck will be sidelined for the entire 2017 season because of the injury.  The senior will undergo surgery at some point this week to repair the damage.  He’s already undergone two previous foot surgeries and sat out the spring because of issues in that area.

The good news is that Beck has yet to use his redshirt season, which means he could return in 2018 as a fifth-year senior.

Beck started 13 games the past two seasons, including three in 2016.  Last season, he caught four passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  Entering summer camp, he had been expected to be the Longhorns’ starter.

With Beck out, that onus will likely fall on Kendall Moore, a graduate transfer from Syracuse.