The first portion of a five-part Sports Illustrated investigative series into Oklahoma State football portrays a culture where boosters had easy access to players to provide cash payments during a period that overlaps the tenure of Les Miles, which lasted from 2001 until 2004, and current coach Mike Gundy.
The excerpt, which published on the magazine’s website Tuesday morning, claims boosters provided cash to players, while former Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeForest oversaw a pay-for-performance program. Former running backs coach Larry Porter, who was on Miles’ staff at OSU and LSU until 2009, is also implicated in the payout system.
The report does not specifically cite whether Miles had knowledge of the payout system of “cash handshakes” provided by boosters. Yet the report does imply the head coach fostered an environment where “boosters were permitted in the locker room; they were often on team flights and bus trips; they turned up at the training table” after his arrival from the Dallas Cowboys.
According to a Tulsa World story, “the statute of limitations on NCAA violations is four years.” Therefore, there may be no NCAA ramifications for Miles and/or LSU.
The magazine spoke with 64 former OSU players, with eight admitting they received sums of money and another 29 saying they witnessed such payouts taking place from 1999 until 2011.
“We are talking about $500 handshakes,” former OSU safety Fath Carter told the magazine.
OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder told the Tulsa World on Monday he didn’t know specifics of SI reporting, but he was “very concerned.”
“As the athletic director at Oklahoma State and an alumnus of Oklahoma State University, I don’t want to believe that it’s true,” Holder said. “We take this personally. We’re all committed to playing by the rules and doing things the right way around here, and for people to say that’s not what’s happening is very disturbing.”
On Saturday, Miles was asked after a 56-17 victory over UAB about the report and any improprieties that took place during his tenure in Stillwater. The ninth-year LSU coach strongly denied any direct knowledge.
“Let me tell you this, we have always done things right,” Miles said. “I really enjoyed my time at Oklahoma State. I felt like I met a lot of wonderful people and made our football team better. We worked hard. It has never been a place you have to cheat to have success.”
Miles also said he gave the same strain of the answer to SI reporters when they contacted him for comment on the series.
“They did,” Miles said of SI reaching out to him. “(I told them) that, virtually.”
Players also told the magazine it was common for boosters to patrol the aisles of the OSU team bus and dispense cash-filled envelopes and that they were handed cash as they walked from the student union to the stadium on game days.
The story contains one direct instance where Miles might be tied to the clandestine payment program.
According to the story, early in the 2002 season, Shaw visited Miles and said he needed a car to get to classes. According to the SI report, Miles told him, “I can get you a lead to where you can get some help.” After that, Shaw was introduced to Kay Norris, an OSU alum who oversaw the school’s athletic museum. Whenever Shaw needed funds, he’d call Norris, who gave him large sums of money for minimal work.
For example, SI reported Shaw was paid $700 for cleaning floorboards at rental homes, which only required about an hour of labor.
It is just one example cited by SI as ample payouts for what appear to be phantom jobs.
In relation to payouts for on-field performances, the “bonuses” were delivered a variety of ways, according to the SI report. Sometimes it came in per diem envelopes, which were distributed by low-lever football staffers. Other times, they were waiting in a player’s locker the day after the game.
The amount paid for a specific play was not always the same, the magazine reported. For example, quarterback hurries were worth $50, a tackle between $75 to $100 and a sack from $200 to $250. SI reported the rates were told to a player by DeForest, who ran the special teams and secondary under Miles and served as the associate head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach under current coach Mike Gundy from 2005 until 2011.
An official press release from the magazine provided hints at what details await in the other four parts of its series.
On Friday, the magazine will release a portion reporting that OSU’s hostess program, known as Orange Pride, nearly tripled under Miles’ watch, and that Miles and current OSU coach Mike Gundy “took the unusual step of personally interviewing candidates.” Players told the magazine a small subset of the group had sex with recruits, a potential NCAA violation.