By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Innocent until proven guilty.
It’s a phrase that has been tumbling around in my brain of late, in the wake of recent allegations of misconduct and malversation levied against the Oklahoma State football program.
Before I begin I must admit I am totally biased in this case. Oklahoma State has been important to my family for decades. It took my father the better part of 10 years to complete his degree at Oklahoma A&M, since he would attend school for a semester, then take two or three semesters off to work to earn enough money to return to his studies.
When he was in school he worked as a dorm head resident, and when he wasn’t in the dorm he was sharing the basement of a house with some other guys, fruit from the apple tree in the home’s back yard often his only daily nourishment.
It only took me four and a half years to go through OSU, primarily because I was a lazy, immature, spoiled screw-up, not because of any financial hardships.
Oklahoma State gave my father the opportunity to provide for his family, the same opportunity it gave me.
I have been a football season-ticket holder for decades and belong to both the alumni association and Posse Club.
When I arise in the morning, the first face I see on my way to the bathroom (besides that of my bride) is that of Pistol Pete, staring back at me from a large latchhook wall hanging she completed years ago. My wardrobe contains more orange than that of a prison lifer.
So it is no surprise this week’s reporting on Oklahoma State’s football program is extremely disturbing to me.
Many things have been written, many more have been said. There have been charges levied, and counter-charges, accusations and denials.
Is any of it true, all of it? I don’t know. I only know one thing. OSU should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But that is not the case.
Oklahoma State has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. The damage has been done, the football program’s reputation has already been irreparably sullied. And the team itself will suffer. Don’t think coaches at other schools haven’t begun calling recruits on OSU’s commitment list for 2014, telling them they are making a mistake because of what could happen once the smoke clears.
Moreover, and most important, the national reputation of the university has been soiled.
Oklahoma State? Oh, yeah, that’s that school that pays players, changes grades, allows stars to smoke dope and recruits players by using sex. That will be the national perception of OSU for years to come.
Unfair? Certainly. Accurate? Who knows?
Sports Illustrated is a well-respected national publication, but it certainly appears the magazine is conducting a witch hunt in this case.
It has been death by a thousand cuts for Oklahoma State, with allegations coming out not all at once, but in dribs and drabs, a new scandal every day.
That smacks of vindictiveness, particularly given the fact one of the reporters working on the series is known to have something against OSU.
In a court of law, proof is required before a conviction can be obtained. Players say they received cash? Where’s the proof? They say other players received cash? The accused players say no.
Who’s lying? Sports Illustrated’s evidence seems largely, if not entirely, circumstantial.
But the NCAA is not a court of law. Its system of justice resembles that of some petty third-world dictatorship — it is random, arbitrary and capricious.
The school says it will hire an independent investigator, and the NCAA will investigate.
If any present athletic department officials are found to have been involved in any wrongdoing, they should be fired immediately.
Former head coach Les Miles, of course, will continue to make millions coaching at LSU, and ex-assistant Joe DeForest moved on to West Virginia.
If any of the allegations are proven to the NCAA’s satisfaction (which fall far short of the burden of proof required by the courts), OSU likely will be slammed with probation, loss of scholarships and a bowl game ban, if not something more. And once again the punishment will fall on the innocent, not the guilty.
I am not naive. There are likely parts of the Sports Illustrated report that are true, that constitute NCAA violations.
But I wonder if any big-time college football program could undergo scrutiny similar to that leveled against OSU in recent months?
Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State are the latest schools to find themselves in the cross-hairs since current and former players have been accused of receiving improper benefits.
But what constitutes improper benefits? Most major universities have academic centers devoted to helping athletes with their school work. Those centers are not open to normal students.
When teams qualify for bowl games, players all receive swag from the game’s sponsors, including iPad minis, gift cards, watches and flat-screen TVs. Some games have gift suites in which players are allowed to “shop,” selecting whatever they want for free.
Others give players shopping trips to department stores or hundreds of dollars in gift cards to sponsoring merchants.
This orgy of altruism is sanctioned by the NCAA.
A double standard? It would seem so.
In the meantime, Oklahoma State needs to be open and honest with the public and the NCAA during the course of the investigation.
Either that or it needs to hire the same law firm that earned Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel a one-half suspension after he was accused of being paid to sign multiple autographs, and that kept Auburn from forfeiting a national championship after Cam Newton’s father was accused of asking for money for his son’s services.
Both were, of course, innocent until proven guilty.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.