STILLWATER — Sports Illustrated never interviewed Oklahoma State Associate Athletic Director/Academics Marilyn Middlebrook for the second installment of its five-part investigative series on the Cowboy program that alleges multiple examples of academic misconduct, from tutors completing coursework for athletes to professors awarding grades that were not deserved.
Never even contacted her to request an interview.
But Wednesday, Middlebrook became the first OSU official to speak publicly since the release of the series, spending more than an hour in a sit-down interview with The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents Middlebrook from using specific names or debunking specific allegations. But she strongly defended the academic branch of the athletic department, and denies it is simply part of the “football factory” that SI portrays.
“Can I say with absolute 100 percent certainty that a tutor didn’t do something? No. Absolutely not,” Middlebrook said. “That doesn’t take rocket science to understand that can happen. I can’t control you. I can’t control your behavior.
“I can tell you that, in this unit, every day we teach choices, choices, choices. We teach them about better lifestyles, better decisions, making better decisions. It’s constant in this unit. From everybody that is employed here. Everybody ...
“That’s why this is so irritating, because it is so against what we stand for in this unit.”
In the story released online Wednesday, 13 former OSU players say they were part of some form of academic misconduct, while 16 others were named by teammates as participating in wrongdoing. Many of the notable names mentioned, such as Josh Fields, Tatum Bell, Darrent Williams and Vernon Grant, are similar to the ones that popped up on Tuesday’s installment called “The Money.”
Middlebrook stands by what she’s helped build since she took over her current post in 1997.
She said she would never bash former coach Les Miles, but admitted current coach Mike Gundy pays more attention to academics and works “exceptionally well” with her staff.
She highlighted the openness of the academic center inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, which posts a full-time staff member in every room, as a reason why it would be difficult for tutors to write papers for athletes.
She admitted to course clustering to help guide athletes — particularly ones who may not have been adequately prepared for college — but stressed her staff does not force them to take specific classes or choose a specific major.
And she tells professors that if an athlete in any sport deserves to fail, then fail them.
“You could probably find 100 instructors or faculty on this campus today that would be willing to stand up and say, ‘We have heard Marilyn say if they earn an ‘F,’ give it to them,’” she said. “That’s the way it is.
“We will have kids that will go to a professor (and) say, ‘Man, this is gonna make me ineligible,’ and the professor will call me. And I say, ‘Well, then that’s too bad. Then they’re just gonna be ineligible. Give them the grade that they deserve.’”
One current professor, Stephanie Wheatley, and one former professor, John H. Curry, contacted The Oklahoman via email Wednesday to echo Middlebrook’s stance.