For a WVU fan who doesn't want to wade through thousands of words written by Sports Illustrated, here's a quick primer on WVU Associate Head Coach Joe DeForest's role in the report. And then a reckoning of SI.
If you're a Mountaineer fan of any note, it's almost a give that you've heard something about the current Sports Illustrated report detailing improprieties at Oklahoma State which have specifically named current WVU associate head coach Joe DeForest. Unfortunately for you this is a pretty formative period for your Mountaineers and, between reading re-vamped depth charts and studying Clint Trickett's tape from Florida State, you just don't have the time to go sifting through the thousands of words that make up Sports Illustrated's SPECIAL REPORT.
Well, you're in luck. I don't sleep much and I take long bathroom breaks at work where I scroll through all sorts of stories on my iPhone, so I'll do the heavy lifting for you and break this baby down. I love SPECIAL REPORTS!! I live for them! Let's do this!
Give me the short version. What the hell's going on up in Stillwater?
I'll tell you what's going on....COLLEGE FOOTBALL is going on! No really, call me a cynic, but that's what this thing read like. Every generic impropriety you've ever associated with major college football makes an appearance in this thing (so far - we're only on part 2 of 5 of this SPECIAL REPORT). You want $100 handshakes? They've got 'em. Players working fake jobs to mask payments? Yep done. Tutors doing homework to keep players academically eligible? Check, check and check.The next 2 installments are titled DRUGS and SEX and no, I didn't make that up.
Let me put it another way: I hope I'm not dating myself here, but 2,000 words into this thing I wasn't so sure that authors George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans hadn't simply found an unabridged screenplay of the old movie The Program and inadvertently published it. It's not even good new-wave stuff like charging for autographs or sexting. This is simply that old school dirty pool that's been going on for as long as people have cared about the outcomes of college football games.
OK, but how does DeForest figure in?
He is the most prominently named assistant coach in the whole thing and had some very specific allegations laid at his doorstep (I added the bold type):
The amount paid for a specific play was not always the same. For Girtman, quarterback hurries were worth $50, a tackle between $75 to $100 and a sack from $200 to $250. Echoing his teammates' claim, Girtman says the rates were told to him by assistant Joe DeForest, who ran the special teams and secondary under coach Les Miles from 2001 to '04, and was the associate head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach under current coach Mike Gundy from 2005 to '11. When players met with their position coaches after games, according to Girtman, DeForest would go from group to group and discuss with the players what they had done. "Your stats definitely dictated how much you were getting," Girtman says.
Linebacker-defensive end Rodrick Johnson (2004 to '07) told SI it was openly discussed among teammates that DeForest set rewards of between $100 to $500 for a big play on special teams. Cornerback-wide receiver Chris Wright (2001 to '03) says he saw DeForest hand stacks of bills to certain players. "It depends on who the player was, how many yards they ran for, how many catches they made, how many touchdowns they scored, how many tackles," says Wright, who says he did not take money. "It all depends on performance."
DeForest, now the associate head coach and special teams coordinator at West Virginia, says, "I have never paid a player for on-field performance. I have been coaching college football for almost 24 years, and I have built a reputation of being one of the best special teams coordinators and college recruiters in the country based on hard work and integrity."
And just a little more:
When Girtman, a prized recruit from Houston's Memorial High, verbally committed in January '03, he says DeForest gave him a list of boosters and their telephone numbers. Girtman recalls that DeForest pointed to one name on the list and said, "If you need anything, call this guy." Girtman says he never contacted the booster.
DeForest and assistant Larry Porter, who was running backs coach from 2002 to '04, also made straight payments to players. Girtman says that when he arrived in Stillwater in the summer of 2003, DeForest handed him a debit card with $5,000 on it, which was periodically refilled. Ricky Coxeff, a cornerback in 2003 and '04, says he waited in the car on several occasions as Williams and Bell visited DeForest at his home and then returned with cash. Shaw says that Porter gave him $100 "four or five times," telling him to use the money to get something to eat. Several weeks before the start of fall camp in '03, Carter says that Porter gave him "a couple hundred bucks" in the locker room so that incoming freshmen Coxeff and defensive lineman Xavier Lawson-Kennedy could stay at Carter's apartment -- before they were allowed under NCAA rules to begin receiving room and board. Lawson-Kennedy confirms that he and Coxeff stayed at Carter's apartment.
DeForest says each of the allegations against him is untrue. (Tatum) Bell denies receiving money from DeForest. In a statement Porter, now the running backs coach at Texas, says, "I've been made aware of the accusations, and I'm disappointed because they are all absolutely not true. None of that ever happened."
There's a bit more about some sham jobs, but we'll get into that later. This is by far the most serious allegation against DeForest, so let's examine it further.
Holy crap, Joe DeForest was a one-man ATM!
Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. This is a couple of guys saying not just what happened to them, but what they think happened to other guys. As information goes, it's pretty thin. No receipts, no checks, not even "and then he spent his money on this" type of stuff that you can go back and prove (like somebody bought a $2k ring). And one of the supposed recipients, Tatum Bell, has been very vocal in the aftermath of this report that he never received any money, tweeting "man, I drove a Ford Focus, haha."
So I really don't care about Oklahoma State - is WVU in any trouble here?
No. Unequivocally no. Outside of WVU finding something in its internal investigation resulting from the report - and something significant coming from that would be surprising - it's nada. Even if everything in this report were true, it would only result in penalties against DeForest (most likely the dreaded 'show cause' ban), not WVU. But fortunately for Joe, nothing in the report thus far was said by or about players who were at OSU more recently than 2007.
How does that matter?
The NCAA has what amounts to a 4 year statute of limitations on violations:
NCAA rule number 32.6.3 says, “Allegations included in a notice of allegations should be limited to possible violations occurring not earlier than four years before the date the notice of inquiry is forwarded to the institution or the date the institution notifies (or should have notified if earlier) the enforcement staff of its inquiries into the matter.
So even if a tape surfaced of DeForest making it rain $20 bills during a scrimmage, as long as it happened prior to 2009, the NCAA can't nail him for it.
(There is some fine print for that, part of which allows penalties for incidents stretching back further than 4 years for “allegations in a case in which information is developed to indicate a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution or individual involved, which began before but continued into the four-year period.” But again, no indication of anything within the last 4 years, so unless something more recent than 2009 surfaces, DeForest seems to be covered.)
So why the hell is SI writing about stuff that happened during the Bush Administration?
Good question. We'll get to SI a little later.
So you're saying we should RELAX?
Did DeForest's name come up anywhere else?
Boosters weren't the only ones funneling money to players through dubious work arrangements. Shaw says he accompanied Williams to DeForest's home on a few occasions and witnessed DeForest giving Williams money for jobs he didn't do. "We'd go over to the house, and [Williams] would fake like he's starting up a lawn mower ... so people could see him," Shaw says. "[Then he'd] cut it off. [He'd] start up a Weed Eater. Cut it off. [For that he'd get] $400, $500, $600."
DeForest says he compensated players who worked at his house but always "paid them fair market value based on services rendered." (Oklahoma State's compliance office does not have a record of clearing a player to work for DeForest.)
I added the emphasis on that last paragraph because in this whole shoddy report, that's the only thing that stuck out as somewhat troubling. This is DeForest admitting, with his own words, that he had players over to his house to do work for money and then the Oklahoma State compliance office confirming that it wasn't approved. These are both on-record statements, which really distinguishes them in this report.
What the hell was DeForest thinking? At best it's exercising poor judgment and at worst it's blatantly breaking NCAA rules. Having said that, both the late Williams (shot to death in 2007) and Shaw last played for OSU in 2004, so this is pretty old stuff. If there were multiple accounts of this leading up to 2010 maybe I'd be worried. But evidently the same guy who consistently handed out $100 in the postgame locker room didn't want to pay for sham yard work more than once or twice. Seems a little inconsistent to me but I don't write SPECIAL REPORTS for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Which brings us to our final point:
But isn't this SPORTS ILLUSTRATED?! Isn't this a big deal?
Sadly no, it is not. As I said earlier, this entire thing is simply a collection of garden-variety accusations of the types of improprieties that have been associated with big-time college athletics for years. There are no transcripts, no receipts, no records, no camera phone video (hell, most of this crap happened before people even HAD camera phones). In short - no stone cold proof. It's story telling, and just because it presents itself in the trappings we've all been taught to associate with BIG TIME NEWS don't be fooled into believing it's anything more.
To their credit, the Pistols Firing Blog has been doing a great job compiling numerous reports and quotes from former players, many whom were named in the SI report, as saying much of what was described was either overblown or never happened. They're telling stories too, and just because they haven't been edited into a FIVE PART SERIES or stapled together with a similar collection of brightly colored pages and cologne ads don't think that they're any less credible.
(Seriously though, take a moment and check out Pistols Firing and also the OSU SB Nation blog Cowboys Ride For Free. They're killing it this week, putting together a great collection of posts and even managing to score some body blows with report author (and Oklahoma Sooner fan) Thayer Evans. Give it a look.)
This makes me sad. I grew up waiting every week for my SI to come in the mail. I remember back when an SI SPECIAL REPORTS actually meant someone had done their homework, collected evidence and put together a narrative that would change the way I viewed the sports I loved. Maybe I didn't want to believe it, but more often than not I had to believe it because it was objective and it was vetted and it was researched. Sure there were stories, but there were also facts.
It's a true sign of the times that in the same week Dorhmann and Evans have gone all-in with their attempted take-down of the 2007 Cowboys, Charles Robinson and Rand Getlin have shown us once again why digital media sites like Yahoo! own the lumbering dinosaurs of the past like SI. Their tale of agent go-betweens and illicit payments is no less shocking, but the reporting is done with a level of sophistication that makes the SI effort comical in comparison. Hell, the very headline of the Yahoo! article seems to be mocking SI as it says "Documents, text messages reveal impermissible benefits to five SEC players." The word "document' is nowhere to be found in the SI piece.
Should Joe DeForest be worried? Yeah, probably - but more because his special teams gave up 10 points in a 9 point loss than because of anything SI will write this week.
If a journalistic reputation falls in the forest but no one is around to care, does it even make a sound?
Maybe someone should write a SPECIAL REPORT on that.