Welcome to the era of plausible deniability in college football.
Sports Illustrated published the first part in a five-part, expose series examining allegations of widespread scandal in Oklahoma State football entitled “Dirty Game.” Each chapter features an attention-grabbing headline of the sordid variety, guaranteed to attract eyeballs: THE MONEY; THE DRUGS; THE ACADEMICS; THE SEX.
Of course, that’s the entire purpose of a headline. Reading beyond the bold introductory line reveals accusations that should be taken rather seriously. The first installment, “The Money,” outlines an exchange of impermissible benefits between boosters and players so brazen, it seems better suited to a fictional movie like The Program. Boosters would have to know better, right? After all that happened at places like SMU, Auburn, Alabama, Miami throughout the 1980s and 1990s?
The other details drop throughout the week, but the headlines invoke memories of recent problems at TCU (THE DRUGS), Colorado (THE SEX) and North Carolina (THE ACADEMICS). It’s a hodgepodge of NCAA violations all rolled into one, conveniently coinciding with the Oklahoma State football program’s meteoric rise from dregs of the Big 12 to BCS championship contender.
Such charges should be taken seriously, which Oklahoma State has done. The university has gone into immediate damage control, and in doing so taken on the role of the aggressor.
The university launched a complete rebuttal site
Because the NCAA has negated its own power in recent years through inconsistent punishments and bungled investigations, there are two courses of action. The first is to deny, deny, deny. Oklahoma State has taken an aggressive approach — and realistically, could be considered the proverbial “shouting from the rooftops.”
Another recent inquiries into wrongdoing have prompted responses more akin to Sgt. Schultz.
Either way, the NCAA’s hapless investigations render bombshell reports, such as SI‘s, into hearsay. To that end, the second course of action against violations of wrongdoing is to attack the messenger.
George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans collaborated on the Oklahoma State report. You may recognize their names — Dohrmann blew the lid off the memorabilia scandal at Ohio State, which cost Jim Tressel his job and Terrelle Pryor his collegiate eligibility.
Evans falling on the wrong side of the Auburn decision made him a target, which some have chosen to exploit. It’s a bit like political attack ads. It’s difficult to present concrete refutation to the charges made, but discrediting the message is easier once you’ve discredited the messenger.
Such was the case recently at Texas A&M, when chancellor John Sharp attacked ESPN’s Darren Rovell as his counter to allegations of Johnny Manziel accepting payment for autographs.
Manziel was cleared, in the same spirit of habeas corpus that exonerated Auburn.
The problem isn’t necessarily individual athletic departments (allegedly) run amok. The problem is an NCAA that lacks clear direction, either for its future or its present, which in turn has diminished its standing both among the public and its member institutions.
It’s difficult to have a serious discussion on the inconsistent (at its best), sometimes malicious and oftentimes incompetent when folks are using their mic time to lob personal attacks, though. There are those with an agenda against the NCAA’s convoluted mission, but take up the cause of attacking those who report possible rule-breaking rather than the governing body’s faults.