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NCAA Football: Comparing And Contrasting The Blockbusters Of Sports Illustrated And Yahoo! Sports

Both Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports released NCAA violation blockbusters this week. Here's why one is superior to the other.

Former Alabama player D.J. Fluker is accused of major NCAA wrongdoing.
Former Alabama player D.J. Fluker is accused of major NCAA wrongdoing.
Al Bello

Two consecutive days. Two consecutive blockbusters. Both of them are accusations by investigative sports journalists of major NCAA violations. Both involve money, and one involves academic fraud, drugs and even sex.

But money is virtually all they have in common.

Sports Illustrated's Oklahoma State Series

This series, of which so far only the first two parts have been published, alleges serious wrongdoing by Oklahoma State University on multiple levels, including:

  • Under-the-table cash payments to players, and sham jobs designed to hide payments to players as work;

  • Academic fraud;

  • Drug use and drug dealing;

  • Sexual favors as a recruiting inducement.

This seems pretty bad on its face, but three issues are raised which matter to this particular smarmy tale:

  • The NCAA statute of limitations has run for the alleged conduct;

  • So far, Sports Illustrated has produced absolutely zero documentary evidence for any of the alleged behavior;

  • One of the main investigators (Thayer Evans) is a fan and graduate of Oklahoma University, and is accused of mocking Oklahoma St. despite his position as a reporter of fact in this story.

I am not defending the Cowboys here, if this happened as reported, it's really bad and should be universally condemned. But I am seriously troubled by the credibility problems of one of the main authors of this story, and also with the fact that absolutely no documentary or objective proof has been offered so far to a single one of the allegations.

Now, while claims by people in a position to know have weight, I find that simple claims in the form of unsworn testimony offered without any hard physical evidence to substantiate them very dubious. You have to ask, "Who's ox is being gored here, and why?" That's a question that should be asked every time a pure "They said it was so!" case comes before us. Why are they saying it, and who benefits from the revelations?

When you have no consequences for not telling the truth, credibility becomes an issue. When you have no evidence other than accusations from people in a position to know, you have to question their motivations first and foremost. When you have a writer with a possible agenda that could favor this story, you have to question his credibility. When almost all of the most potentially credible sources are anonymous, you have to question credibility.

To be fair, there is more to come, but I don't really expect any real proof of anything, only allegations and denials. This investigation is, in my personal opinion of what I've read so far, shoddy, full of innuendo that can't possibly be supported with other evidence, and irrelevant to anything but a spectacular headline.

Full disclosure: I loathe Thayer Evans. I think he is an evil clown masquerading as a journalist. I have a personal bias against him, and everything I wrote about his work should be read with this bias in mind.

Allegations of Impropriety By Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi St.

Contrast the foregoing with the Yahoo! sports report today about several players at various SEC institutions receiving illegal extra benefits from various sources coordinated by one guy: Former Alabama defensive end Luther Davis.

This is a story that is very easy to believe. It's essentially all about money and things, as well as extra benefits like travel and lodging that the athletes were not entitled to receive under the NCAA rules. These are exactly the kind of things we'd expect to show up in an investigative report. The are not spectacular, nor mind boggling — they are simply what you would expect if you were looking for NCAA violations. No sex. No drugs. No academic fraud. Just extra benefits.

What makes this report credible, and spectacular, are these three things:

  • It is done by Rand Getlin and Charles Robinson, and Robinson in particular is well-known for his comprehensive investigation and revelation of the Miami Hurricanes scandal involving Nevin Shapiro. That investigation was meticulously documented not just with sworn testimony, but with hard, physical documentation. Robinson's name lends major credibility to this story.

  • Like the Miami investigation, the SEC blockbuster has documentation, not just unsworn claims by sources either with a potential axe to grind, hiding behind anonymity, or other conflicts of interest. Robinson has the papers to prove his claims, and they are damning, if not completely bulletproof.

  • The investigation is relevant now, and important. If these allegations are proven true, a BCS champion (Alabama) will almost certainly be dethroned, and many games at both Mississippi St. and Tennessee forfeited. In addition, Tennessee and Mississippi St. are on NCAA probation, and that will have further consequences.

This is how a proper, meaningful investigation is done. Reading the Yahoo! article will take you right to what you need to know, support the reasoning behind the story, and provide the kind of proof that is hard, if not impossible, to ignore.

Like all investigations, the Yahoo! investigation has holes, and it has problems. Some of the documentation is not really proof, but is useful evidence. We don't know why Davis came forward and opened his records to Robinson et. al. Motivations are important, and single-sourced evidence without the benefit of professionals testing its validity always raises doubts.

The thing about this one is that after reading it, I find myself convinced that wrongdoing definitely happened, not probably happened. To me, that's real investigative journalism, and perhaps I should disclaim a bias in favor of Robinson also, but honestly, the quality of his work speaks for itself.