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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma State: Tales from a Les Miles walkon

by Berry Tramel Modified: September 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm •  Published: September 11, 2013

I received an email today from Russ Cornelius, who was an OSU walkon from Dickson during the Les Miles era. Or at least tried to be. He had a fascinating take on the Sports Illustrated report, and I thought it was worth sharing. Great insight.

“Full disclosure about me: I walked on to the OSU football team as a wide receiver in the spring of 2002. I went through spring workouts and then spring football. At the end of the spring I had a meeting with Coach Miles during which he congratulated me for making the team. Two weeks before the season started, he cut me. No hard feelings, OSU was stacked at wide receiver and needed the roster spot. He told me to come back the following spring, which I did, and the exact same thing happened again. That was it. I was a practice dummy who never played a down. But I was present in the locker room and I knew who every player was. I was as much a member of the team as anyone during that time.

“That was boring. Now let’s talk dirt. Here is what you came for.

“The Fact: many college athletes get special treatment. Let that sink in. Give yourself as much time as you need to come to terms with that before you read further. If you cannot handle this first fact, you are going to have a hard time with the rest of this.  Now that you know that, and have given up arguing it, and don’t feel the need to deny it, let me tell you what I saw.”Now that we are comfortable with The Fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise that part of the special treatment involves money. Some players get money and some don’t. Some boosters like to hand out cash to players and some don’t. The important thing to note here is that very rarely does a coach ever go to a booster and ask them to start ponying up cash to players. I never knew of this happening at OSU, and I don’t think it happens now. In fact, I don’t think that happens at very many programs. Boosters do it on their own, and players accept it on their own. When I was at OSU, coaches warned players about this type of thing. They asked us to be smart and not do anything to put our eligibility in question. I heard, but didn’t see, that they also warned boosters not to break any rules. In my opinion, this is about all the coaching staff can do until they know about, and have evidence of, this type of thing actually happening. They warned us about it, told us what the consequences would be, and trusted us as adults to make the right decision. This is where about 90 percent of the team does the right thing and makes the smart decision, and 10 percent do drugs, take cash, lie, cheat, steal, have bad attitudes during practice, and get themselves booted from the team. I’m sure there were some athletes (not just football players) that mowed someone’s lawn and got paid $250 for it. I’m sure there were some $100 handshakes and phone calls asking for cash and all kinds of other things mentioned in the SI article. Sometimes a player gets a free meal or VIP service. That stuff absolutely happens.

“I’m sorry if this is the first time you’ve heard about this. If you don’t believe this, please sign me up for a tour of the cave you’ve been living in for the last two decades. I never saw an envelope of cash in anyone’s locker. Socks full of cash? Give me a break. I spent a lot of time with Joe DeForest on special teams and I never heard him or any other player mention pay for play. The coaches are smart. If the cash would have been there, the coaches wouldn’t have been so cavalier about it and the players would have absolutely blabbed about it.

“The accusations against John Talley are highly suspect and I don’t believe them. I knew John Talley, just like most athletes at OSU. Again, athletes, not just football players. If I had to describe John in one word, it would be ‘honest.’ He cared about the program, but he cared about the people more. He didn’t give jobs to players because he loved the football team so much and though it would make them better, he did it because he thought it would make the men (and women) better. He believed in the value of hard work. He did the same for non athletes. John was a guy who got joy out of helping people. Sometimes what a guy needs in his life is a father figure. I think its no secret that a lot of athletes don’t have strong family support, and John embraced that role. I don’t mean strong family financial support, either, I mean someone who guides you down the straight and narrow. Someone who sets an example. The example that John set was humility and hard work. No one got anything from John for free. Getting money for doing nothing was against his core principles. I actually did a job for John one summer. He told me that if I would come down and work his FCA camp in Kingston, he would reimburse me for gas and pay me for the days I was there. I was paid much less than I expected, much less than a fair amount. I basically walked away with minimum wage on that one. And you know what, I didn’t care. I had fun, and I did a favor for a guy to whom I owed much more. There were several other times when John would approach the group and say something like, ‘I need four guys to help me at the ranch on Saturday’ and list the chores that needed done, and he was never short for volunteers. That’s right, people volunteered their time and physical labor on his ranch because he’s that type of person that you wanted to do that for. I can’t explain it any other way than that. I went out there several times and never saw (or expected) a dime, and I never saw anyone else take any either.”I believe the guys on the SI video that say they took money. I believe them when they say they took jobs, didn’t work and collected payment. I don’t necessarily believe the amounts or the frequency, but I believe they got something. They are the type of guys that would do such a thing. Their character allowed them to continually cheat and be dishonest. What I don’t believe are the accusations they made against other players who have since denied taking money. I believe those players too. The truth lies somewhere in the middle and I think it’s very unfortunate that a lot of innocent players are being implicated in this.”So now you know. At every program, a few players with loose morals will get a few hundred bucks every now and then for nothing other than being an athlete. Most won’t. We are not talking about Cadillac Escalades and mansions. No recruit ever chose to come to Oklahoma State because they knew they could get a free meal, $50 per tackle, or a couple hundred bucks once a semester.

“Remember The Fact? Special treatment? Academics is probably the largest slice of the special treatment pie. Sometimes professors give athletes grades they don’t deserve because they care about the program. They want to see the players on the field or court. They want to win, just like any other fan. Athletes don’t have to ask for this special treatment. It’s rare, because most professors care more about academia than athletics, but it happens.

“Some athletes get pushed towards classes that are easier. They know what professors to take. They have access to free tutors, who sometimes overstep their bounds. They choose easier majors. They skip class and get away with it, people do their homework, and they get higher grades than they deserve. Some, not all. Some people are outraged to learn that some professors use the same test every semester, and those tests and their answers are available to athletes. Go to a fraternity house. Go to a dorm. Use the internet. Those things are available to anyone who wants them, athlete or not. I never used any of the tutors or even went to the academic center, but let me stand up for those who did: being an student athlete is harder than being just a student. I know, I was both. People don’t seem to realize that being on the football team is a tremendous time commitment every semester. Memorizing a playbook is difficult, even for the smart ones. You get worn out and tired. Balancing academics and sports is not impossible, plenty of people do it, but it is certainly more difficult. If you’re going to put tremendous pressure on your team to do well, if you’re going to fire coaches and boo players, don’t be surprised when academics take a back seat to their very publicly scrutinized athletic performance.

“Now let me stand up for Les Miles for a second. The Les Miles who led me on and cut me twice. In the team meeting room inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, we had a sign that had our goals for the year. No. 1: 100 percent graduation rate. No. 2: National Championship. No. 3: Big 12 Championship. In meetings, he would say things like ‘be sure you are going to class, some of you need to get your grades up and I know finals are this week, make sure you are making time to prepare for that.’ He also yelled at the whole team and gave a speech about setting an example when some players got in trouble with campus police for stealing bikes. I honestly believe he cared about our academics and our character.

“And let me fill you on another little secret: you want all of this to keep happening. You read that right. You want athletes to continue to get special treatment in academics because you are a sports fan and you want the best product on the field. This is America! Entertain me! You want your team to have the best players and let’s be honest, the best players aren’t always that smart. If you take away the academic special treatment from college sports, you get Princeton vs Harvard every Saturday. That might be fine for some, but it’s not Bedlam. You won’t get Alabama vs A&M or Michigan vs Ohio State. You get some superstar athletes that are fun to watch that never touch the field. Without academic special treatment, some college sports die. Again, I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you if the truth shocks you. Take all the time you need.

“Sex. This is one that really should be left alone, again because of The Fact. Athletes get special treatment from the opposite sex. This has nothing to do with the school. It’s life.

“Here’s what I know about Orange Pride. They give recruits a tour of campus and put bags of candy in lockers. That’s it. That’s not all they do, I’m sure, but that’s all I ever saw them do. The girls that I encountered were fans of sports, that’s why they joined the club. They weren’t hired by the coaching staff to have sex with recruits and players. Now, some of you may be familiar with Jersey Chasers and some may not, so I’ll fill you in. Jersey Chasers are girls that pride themselves on spending 1×1 time with athletes. It is entirely possible that a few Jersey Chasers used the Orange Pride program as a vehicle to gain access to players. That probably has happened. It’s entirely possible that some girl just developed a crush on a player and they had a relationship. It’s also entirely possible that we are talking about college kids having sex. Gasp. The program doesn’t enlist women to have sex with players because they don’t need to. That takes care of itself. Again, I’m so sorry. College kids have sex with each other and it’s probably easier for some athletes, if that’s what they want.

“At the end of the day, I question what we’ve really uncovered here. The answer: college kids acting like college kids. Most play by the rules and do the right thing, some don’t. Read the article again and replace OSU with any subset of students (ex: a fraternity) and it would be true. Replace football with almost any other sport and it would be true. Replace OSU with any other school and it would be true. I really hope that most people who read this learned absolutely nothing. ”

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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