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Oklahoma State football: Analyzing Sports Illustrated's final installment

by Berry Tramel Modified: September 17, 2013 at 10:10 am •  Published: September 16, 2013

It’s over. Sports Illustrated’s five-part expose’ on OSU football is finally over. Cowboy fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Part V, released Monday, shared personal stories of Cowboys who were dismissed from the program and have encountered dismal lives since.

This will be the most troubling segment for OSU in terms of recruiting. Mike Gundy and staff will have a lot of explaining to do when chatting with some recruits’ parents.

Here are the allegations, and my views of the allegations:

* SI says that “scattered across Oklahoma, Texas and neighboring states are young men … former Cowboys from the last dozen years now damaged and downtrodden.” SI says so many ex-Cowboys have encountered shame and despair, it raises the question: How much did the program really care?

A little overdramatic. Seems like someone tried to write their way to making this series a success. For one thing, no examples outside Oklahoma and Texas are given. You’d think after the last week, something that obvious of a detail would be caught.

* SI says that OSU failed many recruits because many of them were abysmal students in high school, some had committed crimes, and they were in need of extraordinary academic and psychological support.

This part I agree with. If you’re going to recruit marginal students and players of marginal character, you have to be prepared to work with them. We already touched on this in the drug segment. If you’re going to recruit guys who are attracted to drugs, you’ve got to have professionals to deal with it.

* SI says 43.5 percent of OSU recruits between 2002 and 2010 left school before exhausting their eligibility. SI compares that to TCU, which lost 23.4 percent of its players during that time.

OSU says the number is actually 34.5 percent; 31 percent under Gundy and 29 percent the last four years. That’s not a good number. OSU says that shouldn’t include players whose careers end prematurely for medical reasons, but that’s not a ton of players. By all means, the Cowboys must improve their retention rate. I’d like to see comparisons to other schools, like OU, Texas and A&M, but clearly, OSU needs to improve.

* SI says OSU usually offered vague explanations for premature exits, like violation of team rules.

You know, privacy rules are meant to protect players. But in some ways, they harm players. When a player is suspended – not just at OSU, but most anywhere – we naturally assume he failed a drug test. Might have been academics, might have tardiness, might have been something else. But our fallback position is drugs. And when a player is booted, same thing. What SI is saying is that in some ways, the privacy rules give the school an easy out. I don’t have the answer, but SI points out – quite accurately – that us local media ought to do a better job tracking down dismissed players and finding their side of the story.

* Former player Kevin White says Mike Gundy mocked White for his introverted personality and that an athletic department staffer suggested White see a therapist.

I can see Gundy making some crack about someone’s personality. He does it all the time. It’s not what I would call mocking. It’s locker-room humor. Gundy does the same thing to this day about Kendall Hunter. I have no idea about the therapist, but if so, the Cowboys would have been better served employing a professional drug counselor for all their many druggies rather than whatever kind of therapist White saw.

White says he was kicked off the team after peace officers discovered marijuana in a car in which he was a passenger, although White was not charged. White said a graduate assistant drove him to Oklahoma City, handed him a few dollars and put him on a bus home. SI paints White as a player run off because he might not have been good enough.

I have no idea if White was run off. But I know that running off players is an NCAA scandal. Coaches dismissing players because they’re not good enough, or coaches not renewing scholarships because they want it freed for someone else. It’s done all the time, and it’s not right. As for the bus story, I don’t know. Stillwater has Greyhound service. Was the grad assistant wanting to make sure White couldn’t get off the bus?

* SI says that in 2003, offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz’s scholarship was revoked because of academic troubles that more prominent players avoided by someone else doing their work. Cruz played Russian Roulette. He said he later became a Cocaine addict and a “major drug trafficker.” However, Cruz said he eventually cleaned up.

You know, the academic allegations don’t really add up. OSU. If OSU was so helpful in unscrupulous ways academically, why is the Cowboys’ Academic Progress Rating so poor?  And in the academic segment, here is a list of players who say they received below-board help – Artrell Woods, Fath’ Carter, William Cole. Any all-Big 12 players on that list? Any players who were difference-makers? Now, if Cruz was messed up that he 1) flunked out; 2) was so despondent that suicide seemed like a good idea; and 3) turned to drugs and crime, it would have been nice for someone at OSU to have noticed and tried to help. But Cruz, by his own admissions, was one screwed-up individual.

* Thomas Wright says that when Gundy kicked him off the team in 2005 for “violation of team rules,” Wright was distraught he took a bunch of pills, bought a 20-pack of beer and started driving. He pulled over, got a hotel room and went to sleep, believing he never would wake up. Wright says he’s been in and out of jail ever since, mostly on alcohol-related offenses.

I think we can make a good guess on what was the rule violation. You know, I think SI is trying to paint these guys as sympathetic figures. But for the most part, it didn’t work. Again, by his own admission, Wright is a knucklehead. Hard to fix some things.

* Kevin White says he was despondent for two years after going home to DeSoto, Texas. Then he considered enrolling at West Texas A&M and called for OSU for a transcript. He says he was told he owed hundreds of dollars for miscellaneous charges and couldn’t get his transcript until the debt was paid.

This story I can believe easy. Both ways. I can believe White incurred the charges, and I can believe that OSU put the charges on White, even if he wasn’t involved. That kind of thing happened to me years ago. The moral of the story. Get these things settled, OSU. If a guy leaves school, hand him his transcript when he goes. Don’t nickel and dime a guy. It’s not worth it.

* Artrell Woods says that after his near-tragic back injury in July 2007, OSU hyped his comeback story. And Woods did make it back, eventually playing five games in 2008, even catching a pass against Iowa State. But Woods said that in spring 2009, Gundy told Woods his attitude wasn’t what it needed to be and that he would be placed on medical scholarship. Woods stayed in Stillwater through the fall semester, then transferred to Central Oklahoma and played football there.

This is going to sound harsh. But after reading Woods’ comments and his Facebook page, I’m not too crazy about Woods’ attitude myself. Coaches are notorious for running off players, to create scholarship space. And that’s an outrage. Maybe that’s what happened here. But I don’t think so. Woods was hurt and hurt bad. Even today says how bad his back is. If there’s any outrage, it was that OSU let him play in 2008. Not that it grounded him in 2009.

* SI says that OSU failed to learn about the awful childhood of 2011 recruit Herschel Sims, whose stepfather was imprisoned for child abuse and mother was imprisoned for allowing it. SI says OSU should have provided counseling for Sims when he arrived on campus.

Maybe so on the counseling. Certainly Sims had a rough upbringing. But OSU absolutely knew about Sims’ past. Everyone knew. All of Abilene, Texas, knew about it. The Oklahoman knew about it; Jenni Carlson wrote a big story about Sims’ abuse two weeks before signing day. I don’t know to what degree OSU checks out recruits. But I know OSU knew about Sims. If you want to argue that OSU should have done more for him, OK. But OSU knew.

* William Bell says that when he enrolled in 2004, coaches didn’t know he was an habitual drug user. Soon enough, he was dealing drugs and was dismissed from the team in 2005. Marcus Richardson says that he joined a gang at age 12 and sold drugs and committed robberies while growing up in Florida. At OSU, Richardson said conflicts with coaches and lack of playing time prompted him to leave after a year. He’s now in prison in Texas, three years into a 15-year sentence for aggravated robbery.

You know what OSU should do? I would spend $100,000 a year and hire a retired FBI agent or some similar detective, to sift players. Bringing a drug addict or a gang member to campus in the first place is where the problems start. You can take some at-risk prospects. But some you can’t.

* SI says that Gundy mishandled Sims, who stole $700 from teammate Jeremiah Tshimanga. Sims says Gundy told the players to settle between themselves, but Sims didn’t have the money to repay Tshimanga, who eventually went to police. Sims was charged, eventually pled guilty to two felony counts of second-degree forgery and was dismissed from the team. SI asks if Sims would have been treated differently had he been a more prominent player and throws out the examples of Jamie Blatnick and Bo Bowling.

* This is a total crock. Bowling indeed was given a major break, when Gundy allowed him back on the team after a conviction for drug distribution. And Blatnick, too, who in summer 2010 cracked a beer bottle over the head of former teammate Stephen Denning. Bowling became a dependable receiver on the 2010 OSU team, and Blatnick became all-Big 12 in 2011, OSU’s conference title team. But neither was ever as highly-regarded as was Sims. Bowling’s ascension primarily was because of Dana Holgorsen’s hiring as offensive coordinator in January 2010. Had OSU not changed offenses, Bowling would not have made much of an impact. And while Blatnick was a solid player and projected to start in 2010, no one saw him as a future star. And that’s exactly the way OSU saw Sims. He was third-team as a true freshman in 2011, behind the great Joe Randle and the steady Jeremy Smith. There seems little doubt that coaches believed Sims would be a bellcow in 2013. Cutting Sims was in no way a football decision. What exactly was Gundy supposed to do? Stealing from a teammate? And if you believe SI, that OSU was handing out wads of cash to even marginal players, why didn’t someone slip Sims $700 to pay back Tshimanga? Sims transferred to Lamar, didn’t last there and now is back home at Abilene Christian. In April, he told the Abilene News Reporter, “It hurts. I never dreamed I’d come back to Abilene to play football. I feel like I’m a top-notch Division I player, and I should be up there with the rest of the guys. But it’s nobody’s fault but my own. I had my chance, but I messed it up.”

* Artrell Woods said that he became interested in animation while in high school but that OSU academic counselors steered him toward easier classes.

I’m sure that happened. And that’s something OSU is going to have to address. Does it continue bringing any players it knows are borderline (or worse) capable of doing college work. The answer, of course, is yes, because the Cowboys have to compete. But that leads to problems. Which is one of the few good things the Sports Illustrated actually pointed out.

 

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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