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How the Sports Illustrated Expose is Still Hurting Oklahoma State

This is a tough read for OSU fans.



I finally had a chance to read the full 27-page report from the NCAA regarding the decision to ban OSU’s basketball program from postseason play in 2021 and take away three scholarships (among other penalties).

I’ll be dropping 10 thoughts on the report later this week, but I found a delectable little nugget in there I thought I should share with you (presuming your nuggets are coated in angst and frustration like mine are).

When considering what penalties to levy on Oklahoma State (or any school), the NCAA starts by determining whether the indiscretions are Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3. Within each of those three levels, there are three other levels. So you could have a Level 1-aggravation or a Level 1-standard or a Level 1-mitigation.

Lamont Evans received a Level 1-aggravation (obviously), and Oklahoma State received a Level 1-standard. The way those are adjudicated is fascinating. If you receive a Level 1 violation, you start at a Level 1-standard, the middle one. From there it can go up to aggravation or down to mitigation. OSU argued that its institutional violation should have been downgraded to mitigation while Evan’s should have been (and eventually was) upgraded to aggravation.

This matters because the punishments doled out for the three tiers within Level 1 violations are different. For example, here are the postseason punishments for each tier within a Level 1 violation.

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You can see that if OSU’s violation had been reduced to Level 1-mitigation that it could have gotten away with no postseason ban at all. At Level 1-standard you get one or two years of a postseason ban (OSU got one).

Though both Evans’ and OSU’s violations started out as Level 1-standard (as all Level 1s do), Evans’ was elevated to aggravation for obvious reasons. Here’s the laundry list of reasons why this took place.

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There was also a mitigating factor for Evans, but it did not outweigh the aggravating one.

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So he was elevated to Level 1-aggravation. Very bad. The worst penalty you can receive. As for Oklahoma State, it had multiple mitigating factors that could have lowered its tier of punishment to Level 1-mitigation and helped it get away with no postseason ban at all. Here they are.

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HOWEVER, it had two aggravating factors that kept it at a Level 1-standard violation, and you are not going to enjoy reading what they were. The first is obvious. It says: “Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violation or related wrongful conduct.”

Yeah, duh. More from the NCAA.

As these cases recognize, a coach’s authority derives from the institution. Thus, when that authority is abused as a result of a coach’s involvement in violations, both the coach and the institution bear responsibility. For these reasons, the factor applies to Oklahoma State. [NCAA]

The second is a dagger: “A history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution.” Here’s what the NCAA said about that.

Although the panel notes that most of these cases occurred over 25 years ago, the institution’s most recent case is only five years old. [NCAA]

That was a result of … you guessed it (!) the Sports Illustrated mess. So thanks, Hart Lee Dykes and thanks, Sports Illustrated. Back to the NCAA.

The Committee on Infractions (COI) has previously determined that the factor applied when an institution had only one prior case that was even less recent than this. [See University of Connecticut (2019) (determining the factor applied where the institution had only one previous case that occurred eight years earlier).]

And similar to the circumstances here, the COI has applied the factor when an institution had one recent case among other cases occurring decades ago. [See Southern Mississippi (determining the factor applied where the institution had one case three years prior, but its other two cases occurred over thirty years ago).] Consistent with these cases, the factor applies here. [NCAA]

You really do hate to see it. Though Oklahoma State agreed with this finding — because it was true — and though the NCAA only came up with Level 2 violations as a result of the SI scandal, there’s a world in which the fallout from Sports Illustrated actually kept OSU’s violation in this case at a Level 1-standard instead of bumping it down to a Level 1-mitigation.

I’m not saying that without SI’s investigation OSU would have been downgraded to a Level 1-mitigation, but I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been either. Who knows. We can’t live in that world because it does not exist, and a NCAA investigation almost a decade old because of a magazine that thought it had the goods haunts an arm of the program it wasn’t even investigating in the first place.

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