Questions about Oklahoma State from a Football Idiot

English: Oklahoma State University Athletics logo

English: Oklahoma State University Athletics logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week has me doing some strange things. I’m reading Sports Illustrated and trying to find out where I can watch a football game.

That’s because the now infamous Oklahoma State University, subject of the Sports Illustrated’s “The Dirty Game” investigation, is my alma mater.  Although I’m originally from Connecticut and live here now, I attended OSU as an undergrad from 1996-2000 and then as a graduate student from 2000-2002.  What’s exciting is now even people in Connecticut know where I went to school! Thanks Sports Illustrated! I’ll explain why the reading Sports Illustrated and interest in football is odd in a minute, but first let me explain what football is like where I went to college.

There is no Northeast equivalent to college football in Oklahoma and the states that surround Oklahoma.  We can try to argue about it, and you can tell me about your UCONN tailgate and Yale/Harvard. But, until you’ve walked through the sea of orange that is Oklahoma State on an average school day and then experienced the churning, moving, crowded, orange mass that is Stillwater on a game day (and bear in mind, I’m just recalling those years from’96-’02 when the teams were what SI calls “cellar-dwellers”), you have no idea what football is to the community there.  That’s why this Sports Illustrated investigation is such a hot topic.  Folks who are OSU fans are taking it very personally.  Whether you played football or just watched it, you felt like you were very much a part of the OSU football program.

**With the next few statements I’m about to make regarding my sports naiveté, I picture all of my college friends – the cowgirls and cowboys, sorority girls and fraternity boys, swanky urbanites, honors program graduates, former coworkers, etc. (almost everyone from every walk of life is THAT into football there) – in the same position. Their palms will be on their foreheads and they will be shaking their head in disappointment. Here we go anyway.**

My interest in this SI series and watching football is odd because I’ve never been a real football fan. I started going to OSU games because everyone else seemed to.  It may as well have been illegal to not attend Oklahoma State sporting events as a OSU student.  In college, I grew to LOVE football because it meant lots of fun stuff- like homecoming, tailgating, and making lots of money when I was a bartender.   But I never really paid attention, even when I was at a game.

For example:

I can name four OSU football players total- Barry Sanders, R.W. McQuarters, Josh Fields,  and Tony Martone, I think (Hamden, CT’s current football coach. It’s a weird coincidence.)  That’s it.

I actually had to Wiki stats from ’96-’00 because I don’t remember us sucking as badly as Sports Illustrated says we did.  I was at most of the home games and watched most and even attended a few of the away games, but really don’t have any idea how many we won or lost. In my defense, we did go to the Alamo Bowl in 1997. Also, if you were a hapless New Englander from the land of hockey dropped into the foreign land of OSU football, it would be easy to believe that football “Bedlam” meant Championship or something. Actually, Bedlam was just the game against our bitter rival, The University of Oklahoma’s Sooners. (By the way, historically, Sooners were people who cheated on the land run so it was easy to hate them.) OU always had a better football program, it seemed. And I thought our football team only had one goal – beat OU. Which we did, against all odds, 2/4 times while I was an undergrad.

(I’m sorry, really sorry to admit this stuff guys. Sports just isn’t my forte. I am so proud to be a graduate of OSU and I do bleed orange but it has nothing to do with sports.)

My point is, when I read this Sports Illustrated story, I am really not reading it because I give a rat’s ass about the football program. Truth be told, I’m just hoping to read something I can mention to co-workers when they all of a sudden are interested in where I went to college- “Oh yea, I did go to Oklahoma State,” I could say; “Let me tell you, I knew {Insert Real Person’s Name Here} while I was down there and {he or she} was a real {insert truthful noun.}” Alas, all I am finding are a bunch of ridiculous, unfounded assertions.  And no names except for football players despite an attempt to implicate many more organizations and departments at the school.  Can you imagine how disappointing this is for me?

So, as an outsider, I have a few questions I hope someone can help me with:

1.) Why is it so amazing that a football team went from zeroes to heroes in almost a decade? Sports Illustrated says they’re doing this investigation because the school got so good so fast. I’ve never said to an impatient person, “Wait a year, wouldja? Rome wasn’t built in a decade.” It just doesn’t have the same meaning because a decade is kind of a long time. Especially considering players can only play four years max.  Also, as far as Oklahoma State is concerned, until 1992 they were still under NCAA sanctions limiting scholarships resulting from the blunders during the Barry Sanders era (I got that straight from Wikipedia, who cites those sanctions as the reason the Cowboys lost so much from 1989-2001.)

Throw in an entirely new coaching staff, and Mr. Pickens’ generous $165 million, and for me, the mystery disappears. That is, until we get to Sports Illustrated’s 3rd part in the series, about drugs. I thought for sure this would be a steroid/ performance-enhancing claim. Nope, instead it’s all about how freaking stoned these players were while they STILL managed this level of success. That’s an investigation worth doing! What kind of bionic creatures were they?

2.) Did Stillwater get “clubs?” One player (already forgot his name, could go back and check but that seems out of the spirit of things here) said he used the money he got from selling drugs and random envelopes from anonymous boosters to go to the “clubs.” Stillwater had one “club” when I was there. It was the not-honky-tonk part of the Tumbleweed. Maybe there is one on “the strip” – that’s the area of mostly bars on Washington Street in Stillwater – now, I haven’t been there in a few years. But I was actually bartending on said “strip” in 2001, when some of the alleged misbehavior occurred, and if I remember correctly, there was no “club.” (oh, and hey, it’s hard to remember back that long ago even without the years of marijuana use these guys claim to have enjoyed.)

3.) How come no one I know is mentioned in Part 2- The Academics? In 2000-2002, as a Forestry Masters candidate, I was conducting a mail survey of forest landowners for my thesis. Of course I had to take a ton of graduate-level Sociology courses, so my interest in the SI article perked up when I read that most of the players were forced into Sociology as a major. I just knew Evans would mention one of my professors. Or even one of my classmates- they were all grad students, too, so it was feasible that as teaching assistants they’d be the ones handing out undeserved As and Bs. I was so disappointed when Evans didn’t mention ANY professors or TAs. Just one library staff member. Wait, I worked at the library from ’96-’97! A glimmer of gossipy hope! And I vaguely remember the name Ron Keyes. But, not the face. And I don’t remember any library staff members doing anyone’s homework. So, nothing cool to mention to my coworkers in that one. And, no responsible journalism. Bummer.

4.) Is it now okay to cite the behavior of dead people to support your story? Again, I recognize almost no names in this article because of my own sheer ignorance. I could hardly believe, after reading all of the bad things they did, I got to the end of Part I only to find out that Williams and Grant are dead. I was shocked. Maybe other folks reading that article already knew they were dead. To me, it was appalling to find out. Is that normal in sports writing?

5.) How is Part 4, about hostesses sleeping with recruits, even news? If there was an organization on campus that had girls helping to recruit football players, is it really that surprising that “a small number” of those girls might be so into athletes they’d sleep with them right when they first met them?

I do remember that there was an interview process for Orange Pride. I don’t remember how I know that or who it was I knew that was part of Orange Pride. Gosh, I sound like one of those football players Evans interviewed, don’t I?

I have a couple other comments on this part of the series.

Sports Illustrated also makes a point of saying the athletic department had “attractive” females as part of Orange Pride.  In case you haven’t been there, let me tell you that you would be hard-pressed to find an unattractive girl at Oklahoma State University. Those are some of the best-looking people in the world.  Both the men and the women. I don’t know if that can ever objectively be established as fact, but it is. I consider myself pretty average in the looks department. We’ll call me a Connecticut 5. If I visit a female-sparse state like Colorado or Vermont, I jump up to a 7 or 8. When I get to Stillwater, I’m a 3 at best.

Finally, the best quote from Part 4: “None of the more than 30 former players or the 14 former Orange Pride members who spoke to SI had any direct knowledge of a coach or athletic department staff member instructing a hostess to have sex with a recruit.” I guess it’s obvious why they didn’t lead with that gem, huh?

6.) How much do Sports Illustrated reporters make? I studied journalism at OSU for exactly one year. This Sports Illustrated series violates everything about verification, impact, sensationalism and ethics that I learned in those short two semesters.  In case you don’t believe me, you can visit the archives online and read my articles published in OSU’s newspaper- The Daily O’Collegian. But why bother, right?  I went to OSU, it was only a little over a decade ago, I wouldn’t say anything or remember anything different from the facts, right? (Unfortunately, there were no envelopes of cash from newspaper boosters, otherwise I might be a journalist today.)  These two short, boring articles do demonstrate that I’m overqualified if the Sports Illustrated writer still has his job.  Plus, as a stay-at-home-mom, I have two kids who could help me.  I could just Google unsuccessful athletes who started out with full rides in college but wound up nowhere.  Then I could have my 3-year-old call and ask them if they remember anything evil about the athletic program at the school where they failed.  A little typing and submitted by the deadline without any problems.

I know that I should probably stop reading and mentioning the Sports Illustrated stories.  But I can’t.  It’s pure gossip and who doesn’t like that?  Besides, let’s face it, there’s a whole new renewed interest in OSU now.  And Sports Illustrated gets lots of new readers, like me.  Everyone wins, except the truth and the current athletic department at OSU.

Can’t wait to read part 5, “The Fallout,” next week.  Will it be accurate enough to include disgruntled players who were so mad they participated in an attempt by a sports writer to destroy a Big 12 football program?  We shall see…

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