It's day 2 of Sports Illustrated's
pageview mongering staggered release of their investigation into the goings on at Oklahoma St between 2001 and 2007 and today's piece focuses on academic fraud committed by players.
Shortly after Les Miles took over as Oklahoma State's football coach in December 2000, he introduced an exhortation that he would use often at the end of team meetings during his four years in Stillwater. "Academics first," Miles would say. "Football second."
Miles's words encapsulated one of the central pillars in the mythos of major-college football: that nothing, not even wins and losses, takes precedence over educating young athletes. The reality is that when jobs and money are at stake, priorities quickly skew.
As Miles said, "Academics first," he would hold up two fingers. And as he said, "Football second," he would hold up one.
"You heard his words but you saw what he was doing," says Doug Bond, a Cowboys offensive lineman from 2002 to '04. "So the thought process was that you're going to school just so you can play football."
Miles, the coach at LSU since 2005, denies that he deemphasized academics while at Oklahoma State: "I always said, and I always meant, that academics was the most important thing." Of the one-finger, two-finger gesture, Miles says it happened just once in "a moment of humor."
The report goes on to talk at length about about how players were steered into courses and majors (which is such a common practice that even Stanford does it), how some players who were functionally illiterate had most of their work done for them, and how players were given passing grades in classes without showing up, doing work, or taking tests. The report only mentions names of about a dozen players since 2000 who received this sort of academic assistance, but obviously infers that this sort of things was rampant in the program.
Aside from Les Miles' bad joke (like that's the first time that's happened) there is a bit more to pin on him than yesterday's report. Academic fraud of this nature is a serious violation of NCAA rules. Again, the alleged violations appear to continue well after Miles came to LSU, so pinning it all on him is incorrect. Also, SI's claim that Miles "deemphasized academics" at OSU is a pretty hard sell when, in the same piece, they mention the infamous story of Dexter Manley, a former NFL defensive end and OSU player who admitted in 1989, after four seasons in the NFL, that he could not read.
Like yesterday's piece, the risk of any sanctions from the NCAA on Miles is still small at best. It's all still well beyond the NCAA's four year limit. As for the risk of this sort of thing following Miles to LSU, it's hard to say. LSU has had it's share of players get suspended for games and seasons due to not keeping their grades up in the Miles era, and the program having a higher graduation rate in the SEC than everyone but Vanderbilt is something Miles brings up a lot when talking about his program. But it's not as if the football program hasn't ever butted heads with professors. (Off the top of my head, I can remember the rumors surrounding Stevan Ridley's eligibility issues for the 2011 Cotton Bowl, that a professor claimed he cheated on a test, and his sudden reinstatement before the game) Like the paying players issue yesterday, LSU will undoubtedly conduct it's own investigation, then decide how to move forward.
Meanwhile, the reaction and questioning of SI's validity has been coming swiftly from just about every angle. For LSU's part, Retired athletic director Skip Bertman says the background checks and investigation of Les Miles' program that LSU conducted before hiring him showed no evidence of the accusations that have been brought forth. Oklahoma St. has put together it's own special web site that collects not only their official response, but comments from T Boone Pickens, reporters, and former players that are all in it's defense (with some of the comments being a bit more defiant than you would expect to see on a page the athletic dept. is running) Former players at OSU are also all coming out of the wood work to both defend the coaches and bring into question the character of the players who were interviewed, which gave us this slightly amusing nugget.
00-04 I never saw anything like this, and the characters that they chose to interview are shady at best. Miles was such a tight ass, no way— Ben Buie (@Blackbellybuie) September 10, 2013
That's all well and good, but in an incident like this, it's always the ones with an axe to grind that come forward and the ones who had a good time that will defend their coach to the end. If you don't think this is true, look back at how, despite overwhelming evidence, players continued to stick by Jim Tressell at Ohio St, or Joe Pa at Penn St. Players defending their coach is nice, but nearly irrelevant when it comes to issues like this.