A little over a month ago the University of Oklahoma athletic department, for the seventh time was found guilty of ignoring the NCAA rulebook. A book that is very much like the Nascar Rulebook in that it contains some very vague rules and interpretations. But I regress.
Just over 50 years ago the football program was cited for it’s first infraction of "improper transportation; extra benefits; improper recruiting inducements". This most recent infraction was for "impermissible extra benefits – payment for work not performed and failure to monitor”.
On the surface, one could look at OU as the ‘Rick Hendrick Motorsports of college football’ and after all the school’s nickname, ‘Sooners’ actually honors people who jumped the gun and ‘stole’ their claims back in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run.
But what one might expect didn’t actually happen.
So what really did happen in Norman?
Yes, two starters and non-scholarship walk-on did indeed receive money for work they didn’t do at a local and well-known car dealership in Norman. It was no secret that Oklahoma athletes were (by NCAA rules) legally employed by this dealership, and in fact, many of the athletic department staff leased or purchased cars from this dealership as well. OU was ultimately guilty of breaking NCAA rules by failing to completely monitor athlete’s employment and maybe more could have been done on the front end, but that is up to much conjecture.
However, it is what took place on the back end that makes me proud to be a Sooner and especially how head coach bob Stoops conducted a real investigation, made a quick (and tough) self-punishing decision and showed the rest of the college football nation that there is a right way to handle things when those things go horribly wrong.
"You have to step up. I have a program built here for the long haul and this didn't change that." Bob Stoops
Some readers may simply call me a ‘Homer’ and just turning a blind eye to ‘my team’, a team that is a repeat offender after all, there should not have been this scandal in the first place. Furthermore, they should have had plenty of practice and it is about time OU did right in the first place?
In reality, OU handled this even by NCAA standards in a manner that maybe considered unprecedented in college football history. Lets look at the time line of events.
On March 3, 2006, the school received an anonymous email claiming some football players were being paid for essentially a no show job.
There is not a university in Division 1A that has not had to deal with an allegation like this, but the nature of even sending this allegation anonymously would tend to be ignored, deleted or simple delayed before being sent to the proper authorities.
OU did not hesitate to investigate immediately and conducted interviews, retained facts and narrowed down the potential list to just a few suspects. The coaching staff and Stoops not only didn’t resist but also actively aided to this investigation, even if that meant the possibility of losing the starting Quarterback, and a starting offensive lineman.
There was one huge stumbling block in this investigation and that was to legally access the players in question private tax records, the players would have to sign a waiver voluntarily. The players didn’t have to turn these records over, and their refusal would have delayed this investigation perhaps years. Unlike another school that has won recent multiple National Championships and an Upper Mid-West School as well, Stoops refused to ‘throw up his hands’ and fall back on the ‘let the investigation take its course’ (and stall) Stoops told the players they could either sign a waver to release the records or never play another down for him.
"Those players didn't have to sign their waivers to get all of their tax information. But I knew for me, they are not going to play for me unless they did because if they are not going to give us all of the information, then something isn't right." Bob Stoops
The guys turned over the incriminating info and on August 1, he and department officials interviewed the players. The next day they were dismissed from the team, even as it seemed to crush OU's chances of winning the Big Twelve championship.
"It was the right thing to do regardless of the consequences." Bob Stoops
On August 21, less than three weeks after completing the investigation and less than six months after that first tip, the school sent the NCAA an initial report. The NCAA came and did its own investigation and in July, the major infractions punishment came down – some minor scholarship losses, probation through 2010 and the forfeiture of eight victories back in 2005.
For years schools have ignored, denied and covered up original charges and then resisted when NCAA investigators tried to do their job.
Many schools prefer to launch an investigation that is as much eternal as internal. The goal is to drag things out, keep stars eligible and eventually come to a determination years later. After wasting vast sums of money with an NCAA-connected law firm, the school will then complain that any possible sanctions aren't fair since the kids currently playing had nothing to do with the long ago crime and will be unfairly punished.
This time, OU did it right.