After days spent dreading word of an upcoming unflattering expose on its football program, Oklahoma State and its fans finally felt the weight of Sports Illustrated's initial blow Tuesday.
And it was heavy.
The first story — titled “The Money” — in its five-part series “The Dirty Game” details allegations of cash payments to players from various people associated with the program, ranging from boosters to assistant coaches dating back to the Les Miles era.
Players were paid in ways that included performance bonuses and no-show jobs according to the report, which was released on its website Tuesday morning and will serve as the cover story for this week's magazine.
The series will continue on the website through the end of the week. A synopsis of what's to come:
• Part 2: Academics (Wednesday morning): Widespread academic misconduct, which included tutors and other OSU personnel completing coursework for players, and professors giving passing grades for little or no work, all in the interest of keeping top players eligible.
• Part 3: Drugs (Thursday morning): OSU tolerated and at times enabled recreational drug use, primarily through a specious counseling program that allowed some players to continue to use drugs while avoiding penalties. The school's drug policy was selectively enforced, with some stars going unpunished despite repeated positive tests.
• Part 4: Sex (Friday morning): OSU's hostess program, Orange Pride, figured so prominently in the recruitment of prospects that the group more than tripled in size under previous head coach Les Miles. Both Miles and Mike Gundy, then an assistant coach, took the unusual step of personally interviewing candidates. Multiple former players and Orange Pride members say that a small subset of the group had sex with recruits, a violation of NCAA rules.
• Part 5: The Fallout (next Tuesday morning): SI found that many players who were no longer useful to the football program were cast aside, returning to worlds they had hoped to escape. Some have been incarcerated, others live on the streets, many have battled drug abuse and a few have attempted suicide. This is the finale, scheduled as the cover story of the Sept. 16 magazine.
“In separate interviews seven other former Cowboys told SI they received cash payments,” the magazine claims. “29 other OSU players were named by teammates as having also taken money.”
The report alleges that Joe DeForest, an assistant at OSU from 2001 to 2011 and now the special teams coordinator at West Virginia, ran much of the pay-for-play system. DeForest denied these charges to The Oklahoman and Sports Illustrated.
Former running backs coach Larry Porter, now at Texas, was also implicated for paying players.
SI reports that those interviewed tell of some players receiving $2,000 annually and others $10,000, with a few stars receiving as much as $25,000 or more.
Countering the claims, many other former players rallied during the day to defend the program, pointing out that most of the players quoted in the story either left the team or were kicked off and are disgruntled that their careers went awry.
“Honestly, I'm disgusted,” said Corey Curtis, an offensive lineman at OSU from 2002 to 2004. “When I read the article today and I found out who the sources were, it's unbelievable that somebody from Sports Illustrated could count these as credible witnesses.”
Among the players said to have received money are former quarterback Josh Fields, running back Tatum Bell and defensive backs Darrent Williams and Vernon Grant.
Fields and Bell denied the allegations Tuesday. Williams and Grant are deceased.
“You know what?” said former OSU offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, “there may be some tangible proof out there and I could be made to look dumb right now, but I would be hard-pressed to find it, because the people that they mentioned — Josh Fields, Darrent Williams, Vernon Grant — I'll go to bat for those guys and their character all day long.”
OSU has yet to respond to the allegations, yet athletic director Mike Holder did offer a clarification of his Monday remarks, when he said he had apologized to the other athletic directors in the Big 12.
“To clarify, my apology was in regards to the negative publicity that was coming our way,” Holder said in a statement. “My apology was in no way an admission of wrongdoing by OSU athletics.”
OSU alum and mega-booster T. Boone Pickens weighed in on the report via a statement.
“There's one word I have for the Sports Illustrated reporting on Oklahoma State University: Disappointing. This series is not reflective of Oklahoma State University today. Many of their sensational allegations go back a decade ago.
“There have been wholesale changes at the school in recent years in leadership and facilities. During that time, I have given more than $500 million to OSU, for athletics and academics. Have I gotten my money's worth? You bet. We have a football program that has a commitment to principled sportsmanship. They understand the expectations we, as fans and supporters, have for the program. We have an incredible and growing fan base, and a loyal group of alums that believe in the character of our players, coaches and administrators.
“But I do welcome this scrutiny. If people take the time, it's an opportunity to better understand where Oklahoma State is today, not a decade ago. It's a different university today. It's a better university. If there are areas where we need to improve, we'll do it. Which leads me back to my disappointment with Sports Illustrated, and their failure to ask the most important question of all: What's happening at OSU today?”
For many of those implicated in the story, including Fields, who said he was stunned to see his name in the report, they're still fighting for the past. Fields did various radio shows Tuesday and an interview with The Oklahoman, strongly refuting the magazine's report.
“I don't necessarily need to lead the troops or anything for any kind of truth,” Fields said. “Already, some guys who made quotes in the article are coming out saying it's untrue, saying they were misquoted.
“If that's already happening, I think the truth is eventually going to come out on its own. But I know myself and a lot of guys I played with, who were significant parts of the OSU program, are more than willing to step up and say, ‘Hey, this was not any part of our experience at Oklahoma State.'”