ANALYSIS : New NCAA Disclosures May Make a Difference : Athlete Exchanging Information for Eligibility Could Cause Potential Cheaters to Think Twice
Nothing the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. has done so far, including Southern Methodist’s death penalty, has proven sufficiently chilling in big-time sports. Just this year, three more college football programs were put on probation, SMU’s lesson apparently long forgotten. Investigations were announced as often as before.
But the disclosure that the NCAA has gotten Oklahoma State’s Hart Lee Dykes to testify against his own school, while allowing him to continue his football eligibility, may cool some of the cheaters. They can no longer count on the complicity of the corrupted, or the high-mindedness of the NCAA.
According to a Newsday story Wednesday, Dykes was allowed to finish his college career in exchange for testimony against his school and three others that recruited him in 1985. Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas A & M have been put on probation this year because of information provided by Dykes, who has since become the Big Eight Conference’s all-time leading receiver. Oklahoma State is also expected to receive severe penalties.
Neither the violations, so-called illegal benefits, nor the probations are new to college sports. But the use of immunity, whether offered or merely requested, to obtain evidence apparently is.
“I can’t recall that happening during my years,” said Michael Gilleran, who headed a staff of NCAA investigators at one time and was later an assistant director of enforcement. Gilleran, now commissioner of the West Coast Athletic Conference, added: “I can’t recall ever using it on any of my cases.”
He said, however, that it is consistent with NCAA thinking, which is not so interested in penalizing players as institutions.
“Obviously, some people will say this is just wrong,” he said. “The people that lost to Oklahoma State will say, ‘This is silly. It’s OK to lie, cheat, just so you can survive to your senior year, just play it out.’ The worst thing that can happen is the team won’t go to a bowl game.”
Not even that happened to Oklahoma State, which beat Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl to top a 10-2 season. And Dykes, who apparently testified that an Oklahoma State coach and several boosters provided him with a car and a cash allowance, suffered no sanctions at all.
“But you just have to weigh that against the desirability of getting first-hand information,” Gilleran said. "(The NCAA) theory is, kids come and go but institutions and policies remain in effect. Boosters are around 40 years.”
It is unclear what kind of squeeze the NCAA put on Dykes. According to the Newsday story, Dykes simply rolled over when the NCAA made a routine offer of immunity. However, Dykes did have legal counsel early in the NCAA’s investigation, and it is Gilleran’s theory that once Dykes was advised that his eligibility was in jeopardy, a lawyer intervened to minimize the penalty.
“Any lawyer worth his salt knows what’s at stake,” Gilleran said.
The NCAA, in trying to turn up illegal inducements, is apparently willing to offer its own incentives. This may not be fighting fire with fire, but it does mark the enforcement agency’s willingness to get down and dirty.
In any event, Dykes played the season as a kind of inside informer, apparently selling out the program for a year of eligibility. This sounds unseemly, but perhaps, Gilleran said, he had no choice.
“ ‘I’m gonna hang or I’m gonna cut this deal,’ ” Gilleran said.
But up to now, no other athletes have chosen to hang, indicating a loyalty too tough for the NCAA to penetrate. Dykes’ underground cooperation may signal an end to that strange trust and introduce a new and even more powerful element in the NCAA’s enforcement policies: paranoia.
From now on, the boosters and coaches who provide illegal and unusual benefits to produce winning programs must be wary of the very people whose services they are trying to buy. An athlete who will play for a school for $1,000 in an unmarked envelope, which is one of 20 violations found at Oklahoma, may sell out for a better price, say eligibility, down the line. Still, Gilleran doubts that this will have a major impact. Noting that the SMU death penalty hasn’t wiped cheating off the face of the earth, he said: “This may have the unfortunate byproduct of forcing people to cheat better. This attention does not improve morality but rather the methods of cheating.”
He said that the only answer, as always, is for university presidents to fire coaches who cheat, not coaches who finish 5-6.
“You might ask what the message is when Barry Switzer continues to coach at Oklahoma,” he said. “What’s the lesson? The cynics would say, if you get away with something to the point of building a reputation, you ought to continue doing it.”
Nothing changes, in other words. Players are still for sale; coaches are still buying. What’s different is that the NCAA has announced itself as being in the market, bidding against the opposition.