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September 11, 2013

VIDEO: OSU president: Independent investigator will look into all claims of misconduct in SI expose

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State University will hire an independent investigator to review claims of payments to players, academic improprieties and recruiting violations, University President Burns Hargis said in an interview Wednesday with KOSU, the university’s public radio station.

The investigator will review claims made in a Sports Illustrated expose on the university’s football team. The five-part series started Tuesday on the magazine’s website, SI.com.

Tuesday’s story focused on illegal payments to players. Wednesday’s looked at academic improprieties. Wednesday’s web story on SI.com looked into football players’ academic progress and cheating. Recreational drug use will be featured in Thursday’s SI.com report. Friday, the SI.com story looks at sex between football recruits and members of OSU’s “Orange Pride” hostesses. Tuesday’s payment story is in Wednesday’s issue of Sports Illustrated. A story wrapping up the expose will be on SI.com Tuesday. It also will appear in the Sept. 23 issue of the magazine.

OSU’s Office of Athletic Compliance is located in Gallagher-Iba Arena, but reports directly to Hargis. Kevin Fite is the Associate Athletics Director of Compliance. Six people work with Fite to ensure OSU operates within NCAA regulations.

The compliance office will examine the SI allegations, but OSU will hire an independent investigator, Hargis said.

“The NCAA will come in. Whether they focus on the entire period or not, it’s up to them, but we are going to look at everything,” Hargis said in the KOSU interview. “We are going to investigate it thoroughly.”

Oklahoma State University is committed to playing by NCAA rules, Hargis said.

“We do everything we can to make sure that happens,” he told KOSU. “If for some reason it doesn’t, then we have to take swift and sure action.”

Louisiana State University coach Les Miles served as OSU’s coach from 2001 to 2004. The SI expose looks at OSU’s rise to prominence that started with Miles and continues under coach Mike Gundy.

During Wednesday’s SEC media teleconference, Miles said OSU ran a clean program when he was coach.

“I revered my time at Stillwater,” Miles said. “The idea that somebody would characterize the program that was run there as anything but right is incorrect.”

Competition for starting positions was fierce. Some players lost their starting jobs.

“Every guy was encouraged to get his degree, stay the course and to fight the fight,” Miles said.

The people commenting about the program didn’t stay with the program long enough to understand, Miles said.

“They heard me tell them attend class and do the right things and heard me routinely,” Miles said. “Staff, families, friends and anybody who sat in our meeting rooms knew that this thing was done right.”

Wednesday’s SI story quoted former OSU offensive lineman Doug Bond as saying Miles would hold up two fingers as he said “academics first” and one finger as he said “football second.”

“You heard his words but you saw what he was doing. So the thought process was that you’re going to school just so you can play football,” Bond, a lineman from 2002 to 2004, told SI.

SI reported 13 Pokes who played between 2001 and 2011 told magazine reporters they participated in some form of academic misconduct. Sixteen others were named by teammates as having had schoolwork done for them.

The magazine reported:

• Tutors or university staff completed coursework for players.

• Professors gave athletes who didn’t attend class grades they didn’t earn.

• Oklahoma State’s Academic Progress Rate, a measure used by the NCAA to determine a program’s success in educating athletes, from 2003-2004 to 2011-12 is 933, which equates to a graduation rate of a little higher than 50 percent.

The SI report once again pointed to former Stillwater High School athlete and former two-sport star for OSU Josh Fields.

In Tuesday’s article, Fields was accused of accepting performance payments. Wednesday, former players said Fields was one of six players identified by former teammates as participating in academic misconduct. Thirteen players admitted they received academic assistance.

Fields called the accusation’s ludicrous. The football program had mandatory study hours, Fields said. He spent hours and hours studying. When he completed his daily assignments, he worked ahead on his coursework.

OSU Associate Athletic Director/Academic Affairs Marilyn Middlebrook said she was surprised by SI’s article on academics. Middlebrook joined the athletic department in 1997.

“I was completely shocked by what I read in Sports Illustrated this morning,” she said. “It’s not what we do. It’s not what we condone,” Middlebrook said.

The academic staff is dedicated to helping student athletes learn and advance toward their degrees, she said.

“They will not do anything dishonest, but they will work their days, hours to get these kids through school,” she said, adding they also help student athletes develop life skills.

The Joe and Connie Mitchell Academic Enhancement Center is located on the first floor of Gallagher Iba Arena. The center features a huge glass facade. Visitors to Gallagher-Iba Arena can look inside and watch student athletes as they are tutored.

“It is very open. It has lots of glass. It has a full-time staff member in every room,” Middlebrook said. “They are constantly watched. They are individually supervised. I don’t think we could set up a better unit than we have to watch for anything that could go wrong.”

The enhancement center, its staff and Middlebrook live by one word — integrity.

“Since I began this job, I have worked diligently and so has our staff to maintain integrity, to keep things honest, to do the right thing, to follow the rules. We have dedicated our lives to integrity,” Middlebrook said.

Hargis’ commitment to investigate all allegations in the SI expose is important to Middlebrook because the SI story calls into question OSU’s integrity.

“I am very proud of the president that he is going to pursue this and get to the truth,” she said.

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