Brent Clark says there are two things that can’t be controlled concerning college athletes. Booster payments and sex.
Clark should know. He’s now a Norman attorney but in a previous life was an NCAA investigator.
For the NCAA, Clark worked the SMU scandal of 1976 – one of five Mustang probations between 1974 and 1985, before the 1987 death penalty – and called me to point out the similarities between the Mustangs back in the day and the Sports Illustrated allegations about OSU that were reported Tuesday.
Two big differences, of course: 1) the OSU allegations, at least concerning cash payments, are quite a bit in the past. SI detailed no specific examples since 2007, though it inferred payments had continued until 2011; 2) What eventually took down SMU was not the transgressions, it was the coverup, going all the way to the board of regents. OSU, best we can tell, has been out in front of the allegations, calling the NCAA on Wednesday after being confronted with SI’s findings.
But Clark said the essentials of the SMU violations were cash to players for performance, which is part of what Sports Illustrated detailed Tuesday.
Ironically, the SMU coach in 1976 was Dave Smith, who resigned OSU after one season, 1972, to take the Mustang job.
“My interviews with players, they said oftentimes, because they were being paid by the tackle or the pass reception or the touchdown, there was disagreements among the players about who really got that tackle.”
Think about that. Team dissension over who was getting paid what.
The NCAA put SMU on two years probation, “which really was the predicate for the big one that came later.”
What came later was a “garden variety serious case,” Clark said, but “the reason the death penalty was assessed was because of the coverup. The facts were pretty terrible. When you’ve got Bill Clements, the former governor, participating in the coverup…”
Clark is a long-time football fan – written two books on OU football history – and we’ve been friends for years. He has a natural bent toward the sociological aspects of college football.
“The reason SMU went down this terrible, terrible path is because they had men in their 60s in the twilight of their business careers, wanting something spectacular, and they were willing to pay for it,” Clark said.
Boone Pickens isn’t in his 60s. He was in his late 70s when he gave $165 million to OSU athletics, and now his gifts are approaching $500 million.
Pickens hasn’t been accused of illicit payments to players, but those mega-donations put OSU on the quick path to success. Pickens now is 85 and freely admits he’s in a hurry to win.
“Boone Pickens and others of that ilk, he doesn’t have time to wait,” Clark said. “That attitude permeates down through the program to the smaller fish. It was true at SMU, and it could have possibly happened up at Stillwater.”
Sports Illustrated offered up no big names on big payouts. Two boosters – John Talley and the late Kay Norris – were named as over-paying players or paying them for work not performed, but neither was the kind of big-moneyed booster who handed out wads of cash.
Clark said OSU shouldn’t get too comfortable with the statute of limitations – four years, unless violations can be traced back.
“My feeling is if these allegations turn out to stand up, based on the pretty lame standards the NCAA uses, if they can get some collaboration, I think OSU’s in real trouble,” Clark said. “The NCAA will find a way to get you, if there’s a pattern of behavior.”
On the other hand, Clark said, if OSU exhibits the proper attitude of admitting to and addressing problems, that will go a long way toward placating the NCAA.
“There used to be a time, schools got no real consideration for having done the right thing,” Clark said. That has changed. Now, if a school can show hard-nosed compliance officers and mitigating circumstances (change in personnel, for example), it has a chance to earn some leniency.