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?

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.