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On Sports Illustrated’s motive and a lapse in logic

Looking at Sports Illustrated’s lack of logic and what it means for the interpretation of this series.



Photo Attribution: USATSI

Photo Attribution: USATSI

I’ve been looking for a more in-depth report on what, exactly, Sports Illustrated is trying to do with this whole story.

Maybe I just missed some stuff along the way, or wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I finally came across a really interesting podcast with Jon Wertheim who is Sports Illustrated’s executive editor (and somebody whose writing I really like) here on Sports Business Radio.

Here’s what he says about the OSU series:

I had wanted to commission a story on what goes on at a big-time college football program. I wanted to look into a program and sort of venture inside the factory and spend some time there and give a comprehensive look at what goes on instead of sort of waiting for the next scandal to fall and then chase that.

We wanted to look at a program that had gotten good very quickly and Thayer Evans had some knowledge and experience with Oklahoma State and we poked around there. The more we poked around the more we found players, ex-players, and coaches willing to talk and paint this portrait.

We chose Oklahoma State but it really is — and I hope this doesn’t get lost — this is sort of intended to be representative of the landscape.

A lot of this is specific to Oklahoma State and Stillwater but it’s sort of “these are the rules of engagement” and that’s not to say that every program is doing this but you’re naive to think this only goes on in Oklahoma.

“This is sort of intended to be representative of the landscape.” Well, that’s not what you told me from the outset when you gave me this as the tagline for your series:

The rapid ascent of the Oklahoma State University football program into a national powerhouse is examined in a five-part series to run across SI’s platforms.

I don’t think you can logically portray both “the landscape” and “why OSU got good” (and we’ve already been over the fallacies you’re representing in the “why OSU got good” part).

You can give me one or the other but I don’t think you get to give me both. George Dohrmann even said that it was multiple things, and basically said that this doesn’t go on everywhere. Here’s his quote:

When we started digging in you didn’t find one thing. I’ve done a lot of these and you find academic fraud or you find a compensation system or you find a crazy drug program. But with Oklahoma State you were getting all of them.

So is it representative of the landscape, or not? Because Wertheim tells me it is and Dohrmann pretty much says it’s not.

Wertheim went on to talk about why SI picked Oklahoma State:

We had heard murmurs of this program and it seemed the more we probed the more there was smoke there. I thought the AD’s statement the other day was really quite honorable.[1. Holder thanked SI for making OSU look at itself.] He basically said we’re going to look at these allegations and we take them seriously.

There does seem to be this sense of “why these guys? why us?” from Oklahoma State but again this was more sort of — this was the sausage factory we chose to investigate but the idea is that this is more a comprehensive look at big-time college football in 2013.

I just, I don’t understand.

I’ve read every piece SI has put out and nearly every single word that has been written on the Internet about this entire thing and I’m still not clear what Sports Illustrated is trying to do. Are they trying to take down a program? Because if so, that’s looking quite silly at this point. Are they trying to shine a light on college football? Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann don’t seem to think so.

It almost seems like the editors and the writers emailed 10 minutes before the whole thing dropped last Tuesday to discuss what they wanted it to be.

Finally here’s Wertheim on how this ends:

The last part of the series is on the human cost of all this. To me that was what was the most jarring and problematic. If you’re around sports in any way you’re not necessarily surprised to learn that yes for star players sometimes Ds get turned into Bs and sometimes they’re slipped $200 handshakes — I think we all cynically assume that goes on. To me the really jarring part of this whole series was the final part.

To hear these kids, a lot of them were probably not in for college academically. For whatever reason, whether injury or they got in trouble or simply weren’t good enough — they were no longer of use to this program. Most of the 60 people we spoke to on the record[1. Hi, Aso.] felt as if they were exploited by the system, a lot of them did not graduate.

So you write a 2,000-word piece pointing at OSU and saying “kick more people off the team” and your last piece is going to be about how OSU should have cared more and not gotten rid of the people you originally wanted OSU to kick off the team?

Like I said on Friday, the lack of logic is breathtaking.

So let’s break this down one last time. I have two issues with the logic Sports Illustrated is presenting overall (we won’t get into the allegations by less-than-reputable folks and no physical evidence to back it up).

1. Because I don’t know what the piece is trying to tell me, I’m relying on what Sports Illustrated is telling me the piece is trying to tell me. Because they’re telling me two different things, I remain confused and start to wonder if Sports Illustrated even knows what they’re trying to tell me.

2. This:

John Walters mentioned this on Twitter last night but SI keeps saying “we wanted to know why OSU got good?” And their failure to put a finger cause and effect of this entire thing is just incredible. I mean, look at this chart:

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 8.46.30 AM

If Sports Illustrated is really telling me that OSU got good because Fath’ Carter got a couple hundy in lieu of Boone Pickens’ donation then them printing the entire series makes more sense, because only an idiot would think those things.

Now I do want to note this…if Sports Illustrated wants reform in college athletics, good, I do too. If they want to have a conversation about giving kids a chance and trying to reconcile this billion-dollar industry with (what used to be) amateurism, good, I do too.

Just stop bombarding me with non-sequitors and strangely sterile claims about a big-boy college football program.

You want to talk, I’ll listen. But not like this.

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