By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Former Oklahoma State and Stillwater High quarterback Josh Fields said he never received money during his playing days for the Cowboys.
Fields was one of approximately a half-dozen former players accused by former teammates of accepting cash rewards for their on-field play in the first of a five-part Sports Illustrated report that appeared on the magazine’s website, SI.com, Tuesday.
Fields was a multisport athlete at Stillwater High. He played football and baseball for Oklahoma State from 2001 to 2003.
“I received no money during my time there. I didn’t witness anyone receiving money or any kind of benefits,” Fields said.
Sports Illustrated never interviewed Fields. The magazine sought a comment through Fields’ agent, but didn’t include Fields’ denial in Tuesday’s story. Fields is a professional baseball player.
“It’s disappointing when your name is in it and you don’t get to say your side — tell the truth basically,” Fields said.
Sports Illustrated interviewed 64 football players who were on the Oklahoma State roster from 1999 to 2011.
Four — Calvin Mickens, Brad Girtman, William Bell and Rodrick Johnson — provided details of locker room payouts. Girtman, Mickens and Johnson told SI they received payments.
The SI article said the bonuses were delivered several ways. They were included in players per-diem envelopes or cash-filled envelopes were found in their lockers the day after a game.
During Les Miles’ tenure as coach (2001-2004), football boosters handed out cash in the locker room and during plane trips home from away games, according to the SI story.
The locker room was a secure area, Fields said. Neither the media nor OSU alums were allowed in the locker room.
Former OSU stars Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas gave pre-game motivational speeches. Those were the only times Fields said he could recall seeing any alums in the locker room.
Coaches, players and university officials were on the jets. Fields said he didn’t see how any money could have changed hands on a plane.
“It’s just a lot of wild accusations,” he said.
The Sports Illustrated report flabbergasted Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who served as OSU’s defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008.
“I was totally shocked to be honest with you. During my time at Oklahoma State University, I had never experienced or knew of anything that was going on, I was shocked at the allegations,” he said.
Oklahoma State University mega-booster T. Boone Pickens called the first installment of the magazine’s report “disappointing.”
The magazine’s story specifically says Pickens was not implicated in any of the improprieties.
Changes in leadership and facilities at OSU are responsible for the football program’s success, Pickens said.
Pickens has donated more than $500 million to OSU for athletics and academics. His donations largely were responsible for renovations at OSU’s football stadium that now bears his name.
“Have I gotten my money’s worth? You bet,” Pickens said.
Pickens’ major complaint with the SI report was its focus on the past.
“It’s a different university today,” Pickens said. “It’s a better university. If there are areas where we need to improve, we’ll do it.”
Oklahoma State University’s coaching staff and players were unavailable to the media Tuesday. The football program usually makes selected coaches and players available to the media on Tuesdays to discuss Saturday’s upcoming football game. The session was canceled Tuesday.
The magazine’s 10-month investigation outlined these NCAA rules violations:
• Allowing cash payments to players from boosters and coaches, with some stars earning as much as $10,000 per year from bonuses for big plays and sham jobs.
• Keeping players academically eligible by having tutors do their course work, and professors giving passing grades for little or no work.
• Ignoring drug use and abuse by top players, including the smoking of marijuana before games and the dealing of drugs.
• Inducing prospective players with the help of a hostess program known as “Orange Pride” that included “a small subset” of the group having sex with the recruits. SI said former Miles and current head coach Mike Gundy “took the unusual step of personally interviewing candidates” for the hostess program.
Sports Illustrated said most of the violations fall outside of the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations, but Oklahoma State officials said they will rigorously investigate the magazine’s claims of improper conduct. The NCAA has said it will also investigate the accusations of rules violations.
Oklahoma State University has contacted the NCAA about allegations made in the series. The NCAA has assigned an investigator to review the incidents, Vice President of Athletics Mike Holder said.
The university will cooperate with the NCAA, he said.
Several players and football staff named in the magazine’s series denied accusations made against them by former players. Prominent among them was Joe DeForest, an associate head coach at OSU during the decade investigated by SI. DeForest left OSU two years ago for a similar position at West Virginia University.
Girtman, a defensive tackle for OSU during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, told SI that DeForest would discuss cash payments with players and that “your stats definitely dictated how much you were getting.”
Chris Wright, a defensive back from 2001 to 2003, said he saw DeForest hand stacks of bills to certain players. “It depends on who the player was, how many yards they ran for, how many catches they made, how many touchdowns they scored, how many tackles,’ Wright told the magazine. He also said he did not take money.
SI quoted DeForest as denying the accusations by Girtman, Wright and other former OSU players.
“I have never paid a player for on-field performance,” DeForest told the magazine. “I have been coaching college 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.”
Sports Illustrated said a culture of winning at any cost permeated the Oklahoma State football program during the Miles era of 2001-2004, and continued under his successor, Gundy. Miles is now the head coach at Louisiana State University; Gundy, an assistant under Miles, remains in charge of the OSU football program.
The magazine said paying players, academic dishonesty, tolerating drug abuse and recruiting players with sex plays into the behavior often suspected by cynics of big-time college sports.
But, it added, more troubling was the human cost of the improprieties at Oklahoma State. SI said its investigation developed a portrait of a school exploiting ill-prepared student athletes who had big-time football skills, and then discarding them if those skills didn’t produce a winning result.
“Over the past decade an astonishingly large cohort of OSU players never earned a college degree, lasting only a season or two, their scholarships revoked after they were injured, arrested or simply deemed unable to contribute,” the magazine said.
“Once the perks ended and they were discarded, some former Cowboys turned to drugs and crime, and a few attempted or contemplated suicide. As one former OSU assistant says of the players, ‘The sad part is when (the coaches were) done, they threw them away.’”