CNHI News Service
STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State University is asking a former NCAA official to look into allegations that its football players were paid, given no-show jobs, allowed to use and deal drugs, and passed through classes they barely attended.
Charles E. Smrt, former enforcement director for the NCAA, will investigate findings of a Sports Illustrated expose, "The Dirty Game," which was based on a 10-month investigation and interviews with more than five dozen former Oklahoma State players.
The five-part SI series focused on the team's rise to prominence, from 2001 through 2011, under former coach Les Miles and assistant coach Mike Gundy, who took the program when Miles left for Louisiana State in 2005.
The university announced its investigation as the final part of the report was posted online, describing a parade of players who had been cast aside by the football program once their best days were done.
The story describes how players, many of whom were at-risk when they arrived in Stillwater, were dismissed or forced to quit once they were injured or didn't live up to expectations. Many left school and are "damaged and downtrodden," according to the report - in prison, paroled, addicted, homeless or unemployed.
Between 2002 and 2010, SI reports, 43.5 percent of Oklahoma State players left school before using all five years of their playing eligibility - a turnover rate it calls "staggering" but that OSU disputes.
Previous installments of the report rocked Stillwater with allegations ranging from rampant drug abuse on the team to stories of recruits enticed to play for Oklahoma State by sex with hostesses in the "Orange Pride" hospitality program. The NCAA has said
“We must determine, based on credible sources and confirmed facts, whether the claims made in a series of Sports Illustrated articles have any truth to them,” said Tucker Link, chairman of the Oklahoma State Board of Regents. Link jointly announced Smrt's appointment with OSU President Burns Hargis.
At the NCAA, Smrt oversaw investigations of major infractions and attended more than 100 hearings before the organization's Committee on Infractions. He now consults with schools, conducting audits and reviews of potential violations.
The final part of Sports Illustrated's investigation detailed rocky paths of OSU Cowboys driven off the team, focusing on six former players who were dismissed between 2003 and 2011.
They included receiver Artrell Woods, who fractured two vertebrate during a training accident in July 2007. Though he rejoined the team after months of rehab, he'd lost physical ability and was later designated a "medical non-counter," meaning he could still attend school on scholarship even though he wouldn't play.
Woods ultimately transferred to a smaller school in Edmond, Okla. Today, SI reported, he works as a waiter in Texas, where he scrapes by with his mother and her foster children.
The magazine described some former players whose descent made them suicidal or near-suicidal.
"I lost value for life," Kevin White, a back-up linebacker and running back, told the magazine. "I had entrusted my life to Oklahoma State, and it crumbled."
Coaches had criticized White for being an introvert, SI reported, when he was was dropped for violating team rules in 2006. He had been riding in a car that was stopped by police, who searched and found marijuana, yet he was the only person in the car not charged.
The report also described the downfall of offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz, dropped for academic reasons. Cruz at one point attempted suicide with a revolver, fantasizing about coaches finding his body. He later found destruction in drugs, eventually becoming a trafficker.
Having cleaned up, he now teaches and coaches at a high school near Dallas.
"I was so miserable, and nobody understood because, in my opinion at the time, nobody cared to understand," he said.
Chris Day is associate editor of the Stillwater NewsPress.