Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma State football: Analyzing the academic allegations

by Berry Tramel Modified: September 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm •  Published: September 11, 2013
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY / OSU / COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Oklahoma State's Eric Davis lines up during an OSU spring football practice in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY / OSU / COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Oklahoma State's Eric Davis lines up during an OSU spring football practice in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Sports Illustrated has released its second installment on OSU football, this one on academic fraud, and I’ve got to say. There wasn’t nearly as much meat on the bone as there was in the first installment. Not as many accusations, not as many sources, not as many reasons to be outraged.

Academic fraud is much more indicting than illicit cash payments, yet this didn’t strike me as a major scandal. Some violations, sure, if true. But mostly, an indictment of the culture of collegiate athletics.

Here are the Part II allegations, with my comments:

* Les Miles told his players “Academics first,” while holding up two fingers, and “Football second,” while holding up one finger.

Miles admitted to doing so once, as a joke. I’ve been told that such a practice really is an old joke, done by a lot of coaches. Stupid? Yes. But in case you haven’t noticed, successful college football coaches don’t have to be overly bright in all areas.

* Terry Henley, an academic adviser for football since 2000, conceded that academics weren’t a priority for Miles and that Miles just wanted players to play now, since he was planning to leave.

Can we forever put to bed this notion that Miles wanted to stay at OSU? That it was a hard decision to leave for LSU? That he only left because of friction with Boone Pickens or whoever? I like Les Miles. But he wanted to get to Michigan as fast as he could, and if not Michigan, somewhere higher up the food chain than OSU.

* Four players and two former assistant coaches said they had teammates who were functionally illiterate, harkening back to the Dexter Manley days.

That’s an outrage. But the truth is, NCAA admission policies make that possible. The standards are very low, while universities’ general admission requirements are rising. The system nationwide is doomed to fail. High schools inflate students’ academic acumen, then they arrive on campus completely unprepared. That’s not an OSU invention. It’s a college football convention.

* Dez Bryant was named second-team academic all-Big 12 in 2008, which former teammates laugh at.

I don’t blame them for laughing. Keeping Dez eligible was a constant effort at OSU. I have no idea how OSU got him into school or kept him eligible. But it goes to show what a joke all-academic teams are. In the early ‘90s, an OU basketball player made all-academic Big Eight. The next season, he was academically ineligible.

* Dez was escorted to class by staff members, and tutors did his work for him.

We’ll get to the tutors in a moment. But this escorting to class is common. My old friend  Bo Overton was an assistant basketball coach with the Louisiana Tech men before he became an assistant coach with the OU women. He told me part of his job at La Tech was to go get guys out of bed and get them to class. Part of his job at OU was to make the women put the books down, they studied so much, and have some fun.

* Artrell Woods says he didn’t write “a single paper” in three years at OSU. He just typed what tutors dictated to him.

Could have happened. But there’s a fine line between tutorial help and tutors doing the work. I would dismiss any witnesses on what people observed others doing. But if someone says a tutor wrote the paper for them, that’s serious.

* Andre McGill says if the assignment was to write a paper about your favorite Chinese place, the tutor would ask “what’s your favorite Chinese place?” and the tutor would do the rest.

Maybe. But McGill denies getting help, so he’s hearsay.

* Jonathan Cruz says tutors would rewrite papers for athletes.

I can see that. It’s not right. It’s wrong. Help someone rewrite a paper, that’s good. That’s educational. Help them learn to write the paper themselves. But rewriting and turning it in? That’s no good.

* Fath’ Carter said he and several players were helped by Ronald Keys, who had been in the athletic department but moved to the OSU library. Keys would do assignments for players.

These stories spring up from time to time. North Carolina. Minnesota. Other places. I have no idea why people migrate to helping athletes, especially unethically, but they do.

* Terry Henley was unqualified to manage the Cowboys’ academics for football. He had never worked in academics.

SI claims that other schools’ academic officials say Henley’s lack of experience in the field is a major problem. But those I talked to said Henley’s status as a former OSU player was a much bigger issue. Way too many ties, way too much conflict of interest. Yet, SI reports that six of the 65 major-conference schools have a former player from that school working as the team’s primary academic counselor. Six seems like a big number to me. Not small. And the lack of experience in the field, I don’t see that as a problem. Academic counseling is something easily learned. Many students (not athletes) counsel themselves academically.

* Henley is accused of pushing academically-challenged players into easier class tracks.

No freakin’ kidding. Let’s see. A guy shows up on campus, allowed by the NCAA, with no chance of keeping up in the classroom. And Terry Henley’s job is to keep guys on a graduation course or, at least, keep the guy eligible. What’s he supposed to do? Enroll him in bio-chemistry?

* Henley is accused of pushing players into easier majors, notably sociology.

Same deal. Neither Terry Henley nor OSU set up the structure by which athletes incapable of doing most college work are admitted to school anyway. Henley just has to clean up the mess. Now, OSU clearly can take some steps to help. Just because the NCAA has lax standards doesn’t mean OSU has to take anyone who gets in. And this scandal might prompt OSU to tighten up its admissions a little. But OSU can’t tighten up a lot. College football is a business.

* Henley is accused of shoveling players into online classes, which are considered easier.

Same deal, part II. If you ask me, online classes of most any kind are a scandal. I know people learn in different ways, and I know technology is changing society, but I’m skeptical of all online classes. Too much opportunity for impropriety.

* Players say certain professors gave passing grades for little or no work.

I don’t have any doubt about this. There are easy professors on every campus, and they are pushovers for all kinds of reasons. In love with the world. Mad at the world. Burned out. Football fans. All kinds of reasons. Heck, when I went to OU, I was already grown and working full-time. I had a professor or two that liked me and cut me a little slack, for no good reason. I didn’t even ask. But because of the spotlight, OSU football now should avoid those professors. However, it’s not OSU football’s job to eradicate them.

* Fath’ Carter said he took two courses from the same instructor; he got an A the first time despite never doing work. After his eligibility expired, Carter said, he took another class but this time received a failing grade.

That’s a clear case of academic fraud, which is the worst kind of scandal that can strike a university. OSU’s academic leadership should investigate and find out if professors are propping up the football team.

* Andre McGill said a tutor accompanied Tatum Bell to class, took the test along with Bell, and Bell turned in the tutor’s test.

Sudden thought. How prevalent is this outside football? There are some big classes in college. Could someone just go take a test for a student, whose name and face hadn’t been learned by the professor? I think the answer is yes. What we seem to have here is a structural problem.

After Artrell Woods suffered a serious back injury in 2007 that effectively ended his OSU career, he said a professor asked him grade he deserved. Woods said he admitted an “F.” The professor gave him a B.

Again, this is sort of counter to the previous point. Fath’ Carter said professors bailed on him when he was no longer a player. But Woods says they felt sorry for him after his career was over. Guess it depends on the prof.

William Cole said he emailed a professor, explained that he had an injury and needed credits from the course to transfer to a new school. The professor gave him an A, despite no work.

Again, puzzling. If professors are big football supporters, why would they help out a guy who was leaving? You want the truth. If everything in Part II is true, OSU football comes out looking better than OSU academia.

OSU’s Academic Progress Rate from 2008-09 to 2011-12 was 926, third-worst out of the 65 major-conference schools.

That’s not acceptable. OSU has got to get that up.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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