Former Oklahoma State players tell of cash from boosters, pay for big plays from an assistant coach
A culture where boosters easily accessed players to provide cash payouts and members of the coaching staff oversaw a bonus system for on-field performances flourished during LSU coach Les Miles’ tenure at Oklahoma State, according to the first portion of a five-part series published Tuesday by Sports Illustrated.
The report, which was posted on the magazine’s website Tuesday morning, portrays a struggling program reviving its fortunes by funneling money to players through assistant coaches and boosters from 1999 until 2011, a period overlapping Miles’ stint from 2001 until 2004 in Stillwater and under current coach Mike Gundy.
The ramifications for LSU and Miles, who has denied knowledge of improprieties at his last job, if a pattern of misconduct existed at Oklahoma State remain questionable, though.
The portion of the report released Tuesday did not cite whether Miles had specific knowledge of “cash handshakes” with boosters but implies he fostered an environment where supporters “were permitted in the locker room; they were often on team flights and bus trips (and) they turned up at the training table.”
Eight former Oklahoma State players told the magazine they received money, while another 29 told Sports Illustrated reporters they witnessed teammates taking money through a bonus system for playing well, direct payments from boosters, and money for no-show jobs involving an assistant coach and several boosters.
The magazine reported some players received $2,000 annually, while others were paid closer to $10,000. In some instances, star players allegedly pocketed upwards of $25,000, according to the story.
On Saturday, when reports broke that the Sports Illustrated report would be released this week, Miles was asked after a 56-17 victory over UAB about the report and any improprieties that took place during his time coaching the Cowboys and strongly denied any direct knowledge.
“I can 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.”
Michael Bonnette, an LSU Athletic Department spokesman, said Tuesday the program will have no further comment related to the Sports Illustrated series until after the final installment is published Friday.
“We haven’t seen all the reports. There’s nothing to say at this point,” Bonnette said.
Miles will continue to fulfill his media obligations, which includes a 10-minute session on the Southeastern Conference’s weekly teleconference Wednesday, a session with reporters at 6 p.m. and followed by his weekly radio show at 7 p.m. at T.J. Ribs on South Acadian Thruway, Bonnette said.
“I don’t expect him to say anything different than he said (Saturday) night,” Bonnette said.
The report indicated players were paid for stellar in-game performances via cash in envelopes containing per diem money, which were delivered by low-level football staffers, or in their lockers the day after a game. For example, a player told Sports Illustrated that if a player found a new pair of socks, it likely indicated money was stashed inside.
“It was crazy,” former cornerback Darrent Williams, who played at OSU from 2001 until 2004, said. “They were getting money like out of control. It was as clear as day.”
Cash amounts paid to players varied, such as $50 for a quarterback hurry and up to $250 for a sack.
The magazine reported Joe DeForest, a former UL-Lafayette football and baseball player as well as a former New Orleans Saints player who ran the special teams and secondary during Miles tenure and stuck around until 2011 on Gundy’s staff, orchestrated the system and delivered some payments.
Larry Porter, who served as running backs coach for Miles at Oklahoma State and LSU until he left in 2009 for a failed stint as head coach at Memphis, is also implicated in delivering money. He is currently the running backs coach at Texas.
DeForest, who is now the special teams and associate head coach at West Virginia, told Sports Illustrated he has “never paid a player for on-field performance.
“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,” he said.
Players also told the magazine it was common for boosters to patrol the aisles of the Oklahoma State 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.
“We are talking about $500 handshakes,” former Oklahoma State safety Fath Carter told the magazine.
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, running back Seymore Shaw visited Miles and said he needed a car to get to classes. According to the Sports Illustrated 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 Oklahoma State 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, Sports Illustrated 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 Sports Illustrated as ample payouts for what appear to be phantom jobs.
The magazine’s reporters did not contact LSU in regards to its investigation into Oklahoma State, with Bonnette adding that LSU’s ninth-year coach was contacted via George Bass, his Dallas-based agent.
“There has been nothing through LSU,” Bonnette said.
Additionally, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva declined to comment about the matter when reached by telephone Tuesday.
If the NCAA were to find Oklahoma State players received illicit payouts, it would violate the organization’s bylaw 13.2.1, and, potentially, expose the athletic department to more severe charges such as a lack of institutional control.
The question is whether any potential misconduct that took place during Miles’ time at the Big 12 Conference school would be subject to penalties. Typically, the NCAA imposes a statute of limitations where “violations occurring not earlier than four years” are subject to an NCAA inquiry and penalties handed down by its infractions panel.
Yet there is another stipulation where information proving a “pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution or individual involved” before the four-year period began and indicate a “blatant disregard” for recruiting, extra-benefit or academic misconduct allegations can be investigated.
Miles’ contract could allow LSU to terminate him if there is a finding by the NCAA of “significant or repetitive violations” while the coach at another school.
Mark Conrad, director of the sports business specialization at the Gabelli School of Business at Fordam University, said the clause of Miles’ contract could apply to his prior employment at Oklahoma State, but a determination could be drawn out “up to two years” as the NCAA potentially looks into matter.
“These are carefully negotiated clauses,” Conrad said. “The key is going to be: Does the NCAA make a finding? Right now, the answer is no. If you read that, basically they can’t take action yet with cause.”
In February, Miles renegotiated his contract, which runs until 2019, to pick up a $549,000 raise to his annual salary. Miles makes $4.3 million per year.
On Friday, the magazine will release a portion reporting that Oklahoma State’s hostess program, known as Orange Pride, nearly tripled under Miles’ watch, and that Miles and current Cowboys 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.
Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.