Stillwater, Okla. — The Oklahoma State football program escaped its "day of reckoning" nearly unscathed.
The NCAA and the school announced Tuesday that allegations of widespread misconduct outlined in a Sports Illustrated expose last year were "fundamentally unfounded."
A joint inquiry by the NCAA and an independent investigator retained by the school, former NCAA enforcement official Chuck Smrt, reviewed approximately 50,000 emails and documents, and included nearly 100 interviews of current and former administrators, coaches, staff, athletes, students and prospects as well as alumni and donors.
Smrt said the number of emails and documents reviewed was unusually high for such a case, and the result of the search terms and large number of people involved.
"If we had done something wrong or were doing something wrong, we wanted to know," Oklahoma State President V. Burns Hargis said. "Based on that review, we learned that the Sports Illustrated claims of monetary payments for athletic achievements, improper academic assistance provided by our academic services staff, rampant drug use and inappropriate interaction with football players during recruiting trips were fundamentally unfounded."
Athletic director Mike Holder told the Associated Press last month that he wasn't sure what the investigation would find, but the "day of reckoning" was coming, and he had hoped the school would come out of it looking "like true Cowboys."
Hargis said three potential infractions were discovered and reported to the NCAA. He said "it appears we may have misapplied our drug testing policy and on-campus recruiting practices" and the policies have been modified.
Now that the investigation has concluded with mostly good results for the school, the stigma no longer hangs over football coach Mike Gundy's program.
"It's a big relief," Hargis said. "I'm gratified and I'm relieved, but I must say I'm not terribly surprised. It didn't come as a shock to me what happened. Even going back to when I first read the articles, what they were claiming was so opposite to my experience with this program and with coach Holder and coach Gundy, and it made no sense to me."
SI said it interviewed more than 60 former players and found evidence of potential NCAA violations under coaches Les Miles and current coach Gundy dating back to 2001. The series of stories included numerous former Oklahoma State players making allegations of cash payments to players, academic misconduct, inconsistent enforcement of drug policies and some of the school's recruiting hostesses having sex with prospects from 2001-10. Miles is now the coach at LSU.
The magazine issued a statement Tuesday defending its reporting.
"Sports Illustrated firmly stands behind its comprehensive series on the Oklahoma State program. The investigation by the NCAA and an outside consultant hired by Oklahoma State was limited in scope but nonetheless revealed multiple NCAA violations including a 'failure to monitor,'" the magazine said. "Nowhere does the report say our work is fundamentally unfounded and in fact it points to its own limitations in its ability to corroborate SI's findings."
After the allegations, Hargis endorsed both Gundy, who has been leading the program since 2005, and Holder, who also took over his current role in 2005. None of the accusations directly implicated Gundy of inappropriate conduct.
According to the series, three former players told SI that they dealt marijuana while members of the 2001, '04 and '06 teams. Defensive end William Bell told SI he made between $300 and $400 each week selling marijuana. Thomas Wright said there was cocaine use at times.
The magazine named 13 former players who said they had work done for them or received other improper academic assistance. One of them, former receiver Artrell Woods, said he didn't write "a single paper" during his three years at Oklahoma State and simply typed what tutors dictated to him.
Some players described a weekly counseling session during the 2003 season for those who had tested positive for marijuana. SI reported that the sessions were allegedly reserved for top players who could attend and still continue to use marijuana without penalty.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2007 and 2008, and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2005-07, were among several people with previous affiliations with the program who disputed the allegations.
T. Boone Pickens, who has given more than $500 million to Oklahoma State for athletics and academics, said when the report was initially released that he was disappointed in Sports Illustrated, and the articles don't indicate what the program has become.
"You'd think people were running wild here, just breaking the rules," Hargis said. "It was so extreme, I think most people kind of read it and said this doesn't make sense."