By Chris Day
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis renewed his promise for a thorough investigation of issues raised in Sports Illustrated’s exposé of its football program Friday, and expressed confidence in the university’s athletic department, including coach Mike Gundy.
Tuesday, Sports Illustrated launched a five-part examination of the university’s football program’s rise from Big 12 cellar dweller to Big 12 champion in a little more than 10 years.
The 10-month investigation led to four stories detailing illegal payments to players, academic misconduct, rampant drug use and sexual misconduct by Orange Pride, the football program’s ambassador’s group.
Sports Illustrated is scheduled to conclude the series Tuesday with a story on the players OSU cast aside in its rise to prominence.
“The past few days have been very difficult for the OSU family. The recent series of stories alleging rules violations by the OSU football program beginning 12 years ago are certainly disturbing,” Hargis said.
The OSU president said he was heartened by the fact the SI claims didn’t involve any current players or coaches.
Sports Illustrated interviewed 64 former Oklahoma State University football player as well as former and current football program staff members for the series, “The Dirty Game.” It also interviewed 14 former members of the football ambassador’s program called Orange Pride.
Allegations made by former players will be investigated quickly but thoroughly, Hargis said.
“Whether the reporting was fair and credible is not the issue. The issue is the substance of the accusations and it is my responsibility as OSU president to assure the review is fair, comprehensive and thorough and it will be,” Hargis said.
The university will hire an experienced expert in NCAA issues to conduct the review, Hargis said. The university also would accept the NCAA’s help in conducting it.
If problems are uncovered, Hargis said, the university will move swiftly to correct them.
Hargis said he had faith in the athletic department, Vice President of Athletics Mike Holder, Gundy and the assistant coaches.
“I am confident in coach Gundy and our coaching staff,” Hargis said.
The credibility of Sports Illustrated’s reporting was called into question by former OSU safety Fath’ Carter, who was a primary source in SI’s article on academic misconduct.
In an e-mail to the Stillwater NewsPress on Friday, Carter, who played at OSU from 2000 to 2003, the Sports Illustrated reporter mislead him about the intent of the article.
“I was led to believe the article was about something else when I agreed to sit down with SI, when it was indeed a bashing campaign,” Carter wrote in the e-mail. “I had no idea it was a five-part series trying to take down the program, and it was supposed to be about how OSU turned the program around.”
Once he realized SI’s intentions, Carter said he declined to be interviewed on video.
“I was naive and should of (sic) been smarter,” he said. “I, first, want to apologize to the OSU community on my behalf on what the SI article has caused.”
Carter admitted he made mistakes as a student athlete. “Any transgressions and misconduct I did were my own,” he wrote. “I am not disgruntled in anyway.”
Friday’s SI article reviewed the university’s hostess program, Orange Pride, which became an integral part of the football program’s recruiting efforts under former coach Les Miles and Gundy.
The number of females in the OSU’s hostess program climbed from approximately 15 when Bob Simmons coached OSU 1995 to 2000 to more than 50 under Miles. Approximately 40 women are members of the Orange Pride program this year, according to an OSU official.
Friday’s SI story involved interviews with 30 former OSU players and 14 former Orange Pride hostesses.
SI’s article starts with an unidentified recruit arriving for his official recruiting trip to Stillwater. Two Orange Pride members greeted the recruit. They told him they had a stop to make before taking him to dinner. The magazine reports the stop turned into a sexual liaison between the recruit and hostesses.
SI reported the recruit spoke on the record, but was not named to protect the women’s identities.
The magazine loosely linked OSU’s decadelong rise from Big 12 cellar dweller to conference champion to the hostess program. The story state Rivals.com ranked OSU’s recruiting class No. 25 in the nation in 2002. The next year, OSU had the No. 15 recruiting class in the nation.
“To be sure, Orange Pride wasn’t solely responsible for that success. Miles was a deft pitchman and assembled a competent staff,” SI writes.
Miles and Gundy took a more active role in selecting Orange Pride members, according to the SI report. The coaches were included in interviewing the applicants during the process. Three other Big 12 schools have hostess programs, but coaches aren’t involved in selecting applicants.
Miles told SI he stressed the importance of the hostess program and the duties and responsibilities that accompanied it. The current Louisiana State University coach said neither he nor any of his staff members were aware of recruits sleeping with Orange Pride hostesses.
University spokesman Gary Shutt said Orange Pride members agree to work approximately five hours a semester with the university’s undergraduate admissions office. They help with campus tours, serving as ambassadors for students and families visiting campus.
The undergraduate admissions office staff makes sure the Orange Pride hostesses understand their various assignments, Shutt said.
Orange Pride members host recruits during their official visits to OSU. During game days, they greet recruits and direct them to various recruiting functions. They also help with high school football camps, the Football 101 Camp and Junior Days.
Orange Pride members serve as ambassadors for the university.
Many former Oklahoma State University players have taken on an ambassador’s role this week. Former Stillwater High and Oklahoma State University multi-sport athlete Josh Field, Super Bowl champion Billy Bajema were among the players defending the university.
The SI report became a rallying point for OSU alums, Hargis said. Neither the university nor the football program has a win at any cost mentality.
“Sure, at OSU we want to win, but we want to win the right way,” Hargis said.
– Chris Day is associate editor for the Stillwater NewsPress