Rabalais: Allegations of misdeeds may take awhile to wash off

For now, think of Sports Illustrated’s seamy, multipart expose into alleged improprieties during and after the time Les Miles was football coach at Oklahoma State as mud splashed on The Hat’s shiny Cadillac Escalade.

It won’t make his LSU courtesy car any harder to drive, but it won’t look as good. And it may take quite a bit of effort to wash off.

It’s early in this ballgame, only the first installment of the series of articles delving into what may have gone on at OSU having been released Tuesday on SI.com. It’s a series that will continue throughout the week, in this week’s print edition and apparently into next week as well as accusations of academic improprieties, a skewed drug policy and even sex between some recruiting prospects and their coed hostesses are dragged into harsh relief.

From a marketing perspective, it’s a masterstroke for SI. For Miles, LSU and OSU, and the handful of other venues where former fingered assistants like Joe DeForest (West Virginia) and Larry Porter (Texas) landed, it’s going to be like waiting for death by a thousand cuts — or mouse clicks.

“What LSU has,” said Mark Conrad, a professor of sports business at Fordham University, “is a public relations problem.”

That’s’ nothing new for Miles. The Hat has been skewered, mocked, lambasted and vilified for years. And yet he blithely sails on even when the waters get choppy, winning at what is currently an .806 clip at LSU that ranks as the best winning percentage in school history and the fifth-best mark in Southeastern Conference annals.

Soon, however, the waves could swamp the boat. Miles was mentioned directly in only one allegation in Tuesday’s story — directing an OSU player who said he needed a car to a booster who supposedly gave him money — but only SI’s reporters and editors know for sure what is to come. The magazine has not provided LSU with advance copies of the story or its installments, so each day for Miles will start with the sound of something ominously ticking.

There is virtually no chance of NCAA reprisal for LSU as the SI investigation currently stands. The risk for Miles is that even though the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations has run out on what SI has allegedly uncovered at Oklahoma State, the NCAA can still pursue sanctions if a pattern of abuse or the dreaded lack of institutional control is found. If that’s the case, it could trigger what is basically a morals clause in Miles’ LSU contract that could result in his termination.

These, it must be said, are all long-range what-ifs, like a planned moonshot that is currently stuck somewhere outside Mansura. For now the concern is what the SI investigation means to Miles’ image and his ability to coach and recruit, and what by association it means for LSU.

Miles, it must be said, firmly denied knowledge of any wrongdoing while he was at OSU after Saturday’s UAB game. If personal syntax means anything, when Miles doesn’t want to talk about something, he usually ties his sentences into a knot. This time he took the issue head on and was frank and definitive.

Is it possible there was wrongdoing at OSU that Miles didn’t know about? Certainly. In a general sense, though, it’s naïve to suggest football coaches, who insist on controlling virtually every aspect of their programs, wouldn’t know a serious pattern of NCAA violations were happening under their roof.

That said, from here in Louisiana we can’t vouch for the veracity of Sports Illustrated’s reporting, or its sources, from 700 miles away. The story produced predictable barrages of denials Tuesday from every point on the compass. Who is telling the truth, who has an ax to grind, who is working an agenda is impossible to tell. The same for answering questions like what took so long for this situation to come to light, or why isn’t a deep-pocketed super booster like T.Boone Pickens mentioned, or the unlikelihood that an organization like Sports Illustrated would trot out work like this without knowing it could back it up.

For now, though, each day will bring a few more questions. And a little more mud. Clarity, much less resolution, will likely have to wait.