Big time college sports have always had their murky underbelly; lightweight classes, cash-filled handshakes from boosters, part-time jobs that pay for little or no work. It goes on with a wink and a nod as institutional leaders either look the other way or become frustrated with their inability to reign in overzealous fans and even some coaches.
A five-part series in Sports Illustrated provides a detailed look as football at Oklahoma State University between 2001 and 2011 became a dirty game; players getting illegal cash payments, academic fraud, sexual favors provided to OSU players and recruits and drug problems among the athletes.
Current WVU assistant coach Joe DeForest figured prominently in the first installment. According to SI, Deforest, who was an assistant for the Cowboys from 2001 through 2011, participated in a bonus cash payment system for players.
“(Defensive tackle Brad) Girtman says the rates were told to him by assistant Joe DeForest,” SI wrote. “When players met with their position coaches after the games, according to Girtman, DeForest would go from group to group and discuss what the players had done. ‘Your stats definitely dictated how much you were getting,’ Gertman says.”
The report says on defense those amounts ranged from $50 for a quarterback hurry to $200 to $250 for a sack. But the amounts could grow. “Linebacker-defensive end Rodrick Johnson (2004 to ’07) told SI it was openly discussed among teammates that DeForest set rewards of between $100 to $500 for a big play on special teams.”
The article also alleges that DeForest once handed a player a debit card with $5,000 on it and periodically refilled it, and that the coach made cash payments to players for jobs they didn’t do.
DeForest denies the allegations. “I have never paid a player for on-field performance,” he told SI. I have been coaching football for almost 24 years, and I have built a reputation of being one of the best special teams coordinators and college recruiters in the country based on hard work and integrity.”
Appropriately, WVU is conducting its own investigation to determine if the allegations against DeForest are true, and if he continued the practice when Dana Holgorsen hired him as WVU’s defensive coordinator in January, 2012. He was demoted after last season’s disappointing defensive performance. WVU also paid $305,000 to Oklahoma State to buy out the remainder of his contract.
Meanwhile, the SI piece is drawing its share of critics. Some of the former players interviewed for the series now say they were misquoted. Others have questioned the integrity of the reporting. The senior writer, George Dohrmann, is a Pulitizer Prize winning sports journalist.
“All those people who say they’ve been misquoted, their conversations were recorded. I’ve heard them, editors here have heard them, lawyers here have heard them. “We are absolutely comfortable that they were quoted correctly,” Dohrmann told ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb.
Sports Illustrated says it spent 10 months on the investigation, interviewing more than 60 former players. Although the interviews were done separately, the details given by the players are remarkably similar.
It’s also worth noting that, when told of the allegations, OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder did not take a defensive posture. “I know enough to be very concerned,” Holder said. “Sports Illustrated sent two very capable people in here to talk to us last week.”
Meanwhile, West Virginia University has a decision to make. If it determines that WVU has followed all the NCAA rules and regulations since DeForest’s arrival, the question still remains whether the University believes DeForest or Sports Illustrated concerning the alleged misdeeds at Oklahoma State.