“Shock. Anger. Frustration. Determination.”
That was the tweet by Oklahoma State senior athletic director of communications Kevin Klintworth shortly after the department released its statement in response to the NCAA punishment that came down the pike Friday morning.
Klintworth’s tweet covered a small array of the emotions from OSU faithful after the penalties were released to the public. It also described the feeling inside the OSU athletic department, which were expressed early in the afternoon via a Zoom teleconference.
OSU men’s basketball coach Mike Boynton gave a quick opening statement before taking questions, along with OSU athletic director Mike Holder and Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA director of enforcement who assisted OSU with the process.
“I sit here extremely frustrated and really disappointed for this program, but most importantly for the players in our program, many of which weren’t a part of our program when this began and have absolutely very minimal knowledge of anything that even happened in this case,” Boynton said. “I feel badly for them, and I certainly hope that through the appeals process, we can understand more how terribly impactful this can be to their careers and their futures.”
On Friday morning, the NCAA released its punishment for OSU regarding violations by former associate head coach Lamont Evans, who was sentenced in June 2019 for bribes of around $20,000 with the intent to have players from OSU and South Carolina, previously, work with certain agents and financial advisers.
The Cowboy program was levied a one-year postseason ban for the 2020-21 season. Along with a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season, there will also be a three-year probation period and a reduction of three total scholarships for the program during the 2020-21 through 2022-23 academic years.
Boynton received an email Friday morning alerting him the news would be dropping, so he rushed to his office to read the penalties. Upon doing that, he called all of his players around 10 a.m.
“The first thing that came to my mind was our players, because I heard the news was going to be released around 11 Central Time,” Boynton said. “There was no way I was going to allow the media to tell our players what was going on with their lives, so I started calling them immediately.”
The NCAA also accepted, and in some cases added on, to self-impose penalties by the university. OSU was already going to prohibit unofficial visits for two weeks during the fall of the 2020 and 2021 school years, to which the NCAA added an additional three weeks during the fall of 2020, 2021 and/or 2022. The NCAA also added to OSU’s self-imposed reduction of recruiting person days by 12 during this past school year, to now include the reduction by five during the 2020-21 academic year.
The NCAA also issued a 10-year show-clause order for Evans. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must “restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows case why the restrictions should not apply.”
Other penalties include a $10,000 fine plus 1 percent of the men’s basketball program budget, a reduction of official visits to 25 during the 2018-19/2019-20 rolling two-year period and to 18 during the 2019-20/2020/21 rolling two-year period and a prohibition of staff from participating in off-campus evaluations for three consecutive days during the summer evaluation periods in 2020. Those penalties were already self-imposed by Oklahoma State.
Shortly after the penalties were released, Larry Parkinson, a member of the infractions committee that made the decision on Oklahoma State, answered questions from the media for about 30 minutes.
In his opening statement, Parkinson expressed that Evans’ actions were for his “own personal gain” with much of the 10-minute opening statement surrounding his actions.
Thus, the penalties didn’t sit well with Holder.
“I find it almost impossible to reconcile the severe penalties imposed by the NCAA for the violations detailed in today’s report,” Holder said in his opening statement of the teleconference. “The NCAA agreed that Lamont Evans acted alone and for his own benefit. The NCAA also agreed that OSU did not benefit in recruiting, commit a recruiting violation, did not play an ineligible player and did not not display a lack of institutional control. They said OSU cooperated throughout the entire process.
“In short, OSU did the right thing. On the other hand, Lamont Evans’ conduct damaged an OSU player, damaged the men’s basketball team and damaged the university. He acted selfishly and without regard for those student-athletes who trusted him or the university that employed him – all for personal gain. Given this context, how does the NCAA justify a postseason ban and the loss of the scholarships for violations that damaged the university and basketball program? Those are penalties normally reserved for those seeking out a substantial or extensive recruiting or competitive advantage.”
Holder continued, saying OSU will fight the decision and try to lessen the punishment.
“I’m shocked by the ruling today and determined to vigorously fight against this injustice,” Holder said. “OSU has strived to do the right thing during this process, and all we expected in return was for the NCAA to reciprocate. If this is what happens when there is no competitive advantage gained, then the NCAA has created an expectation of significantly harsher penalties when a competitive advantage is involved. All of us that are members of the NCAA will be watching to see if these standards and expectations are applied consistently.”
Within minutes of NCAA teleconference concluding, OSU released a statement saying it will file an immediate appeal of the penalties. The appeal deadline is June 20, and it will be heard by the infractions appeal committee – the final step in the infractions process.
Smrt said OSU contested the penalties, which were announced as a Level I-standard for the school and Level I-aggravated for Evans.
“The institution participated in this process and it contested several things along the way,” Smrt said. “The most important thing that was contested – in fact the sole purpose of going to the hearing – was to contest the enforcement’s staff contention that this was a Level I case. The institution contested some aspects of the allegation, and in fact, won most all of those aspects of contesting that part of the allegations. The whole purpose of the hearing, basically, was to contest that this was Level I.”
It was the level of punishment that frustrated Holder. He said the university argued its violations were Level II or the lowest Level I, which is called mitigation, not the standard level that it was classified.
“I don’t think that what happened at our school deserved standard classification,” Holder said. “I think it’s more mitigation. The options available if it’s mitigation is zero years for a postseason ban or up to one. … I think the facts – and I still believe this – support a Level 2 on the part of the institution. If it moves to Level 1 then at most it’s the mitigation level and we shouldn’t receive a postseason ban.
“I had a problem with the options back in February back when we had the hearing and I still have them today. I’m befuddled that the committee came to the conclusion that they did and the penalties they handed out for us. Now, it’s our responsibility to deal with this and we will appeal it. Then, depending on what happens at the appeal, our real challenge is how we deal with this today and going forward with our student-athletes and for university. That’s my number one concern now.”
Boynton said OSU didn’t have a range of expectations for punishment. He said they investigated the program after Evans was fired and found no wrongdoing, so they felt good about the program because there were no other problems.
“We felt like going in and expressing that would at least come out with the penalties that would align with those actions,” Boynton said. “We are clearly a long ways away from those two things being in line with one another. This activity started in 2015 from the FBI’s standpoint, at which time no one even from the university, period, was involved.
“My name isn’t mentioned one time in this report. At any given time in the last three years, my name has never come up in any of this stuff. I was thoroughly disappointed in the way the NCAA decided to hand out penalties that will certainly impact people’s lives who had absolutely nothing to do with this case. A postseason ban for a group of kids who were 15 or 16 years old when this stuff was going on is completely out of balance.”
News Press Sports Editor Jason Elmquist contributed to this story.