NCAA Immunity Deal Hovers Over Oklahoma State : Ex-Investigator Confirms Hart Lee Dykes Retained Eligibility in Trade for His Testimony
Wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes of Oklahoma State, the Big Eight Conference’s all-time leader in receiving yardage, ended his college football career Friday night in San Diego’s Holiday Bowl, where Oklahoma State defeated Wyoming, 62-14. But the final chapter of his life at Oklahoma State won’t be written until later this week.
The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. is expected to put Oklahoma State on probation with severe penalties because of violations documented in large measure by Dykes’ testimony--one of the few times the NCAA has been able to put together a case against a school with the aid of an athlete still attending the school.
Published reports, citing unspecified sources, have said that the NCAA gave Dykes immunity from eligibility sanctions for his testimony against four schools--Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas A&M.; Those schools were involved in a highly publicized recruiting struggle for Dykes when he came out of high school in Bay City, Tex., in 1985. When asked previously about the situation, Dykes has said, “It doesn’t ring a bell to me.”
However, Ron Watson, a former NCAA investigator who is now an assistant athletic director at the University of Oklahoma, confirmed that the NCAA gave Dykes immunity and criticized it for making the deal.
“Hart Lee is making kind of a mockery of the NCAA system,” said Watson, who spent 18 months as an NCAA enforcement representative and now serves as Oklahoma’s assistant athletic director for compliance. “He played while everyone knows he received extra benefits that no other athlete should be able to receive.”
David Berst, the NCAA’s assistant executive director for enforcement, was on vacation, according to his office, and could not be reached for comment.
Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas A&M; were put on probation in 1988 wholly or in part because of information provided by Dykes.
In the Oklahoma case, which resulted in bans on bowl appearances by the Sooners for the next 2 seasons as well as other penalties, the most serious of 20 violations cited by the NCAA was that an Oklahoma assistant coach offered a recruit $1,000 in an envelope. Published reports, citing unspecified sources, have identified the assistant as Oklahoma receivers coach Mike Jones and the recruit as Dykes.
Of that violation, which was strongly contested by Oklahoma officials, Watson said: “Looking at the time Hart Lee was recruited and the numbers that were out there publicly, what he was going to go for on the auction block, our coach wasn’t going to get involved with a $1,000 offer. That was chicken feed.”
Indeed, according to Watson, Dykes’ testimony to the NCAA regarding his own school was that he received a cash allowance and a car through the efforts of the Oklahoma State coach who recruited him, Willie Anderson, and “several” OSU boosters, whom Dykes named. Anderson, who was fired by Oklahoma State in 1986, did not return calls regarding this story.
Had the NCAA developed such information on its own, Dykes could have been, under the rules, declared ineligible. However, because the NCAA obtained the information from Dykes in exchange for immunity, his career continued. Oklahoma State will begin serving the penalties after Dykes, expected to be a high pick in this year’s National Football League draft, has gone.
“That was why it was amazing his teammates would get along with him as well as they did this year,” Watson said. “To tell about negative things like that and play with those same guys. He’s going to put a lot of them without TV and bowl games.”
Major sanctions against Oklahoma State certainly would affect running back Barry Sanders, who won the ’88 Heisman Trophy as a junior. Questions remain as to whether Sanders will return for his senior season if the sanctions against Oklahoma State are particularly harsh.
According to an NCAA source, who asked not to be identified, Dykes wasn’t compelled to seek immunity and talk because of any evidence the NCAA had. The NCAA simply offered the immunity as a matter of course, the source said, and Dykes accepted.
“It was a pretty lucky shot,” the source said.
Dykes was advised to accept the immunity and tell all he knew, according to Watson, by James Sears Bryant, a Dallas lawyer who formerly served as a judge in Enid, Okla. One of Dykes’ brothers, Todd Chambers, lives in Enid, where he formerly played basketball at Phillips University and worked as a juvenile counselor in Bryant’s court.
Recalling an interview he had with Dykes last summer as part of Oklahoma’s investigation, Watson said: “One of the first things Hart Lee said was that it was a rather strange situation but, between his brother and the judge, he was convinced that he was going to be in more trouble if he did not talk and tell the truth about all schools’ recruitment of him.”
Bryant was out of town, according to his office, and could not be reached. Chambers would not comment except to say: “I’ve tried to stay out of it. Judge Bryant is a friend of the family’s. I don’t know what all he and Hart talked about.”
The NCAA source defended the NCAA’s action in the matter, saying getting to the heart of a school’s problems is more important than a single player’s eligibility.
But Watson is not so sure.
He said of Dykes: “This young man will always be able to look back at this as if he completely tricked the NCAA. He didn’t lose his eligibility. He got to keep the material things that got him interested in a particular school to begin with.
“If (the NCAA is) going to strengthen penalties against a school, fine. If they are going to strengthen them against a coach, fine. But I am still of the opinion that we had better do something with the athlete. I think young people in this day and age are very aware that if they have their hands out and accept things, it’s wrong.
“They should be subject to extreme punishment, and I’m talking about banning them from all NCAA play.”