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Some final thoughts on the Sports Illustrated series

Wrapping up (finally) the 10-day saga that has been Sports Illustrated and Oklahoma State.



Photo Attribution: USATSI

Photo Attribution: USATSI

Berry Tramel said it best in this morning’s Oklahoman:

The OSU/Sports Illustrated saga has reached a merciful end, which thrills at least three parties. OSU. SI. Me.

You can add myself to that list as well.

The last 10 days have been some of the weirdest, funniest, and most intense I’ve had during my brief history of covering OSU sports.

I wanted to write one final longer piece on the whole saga — partly because I feel like yesterday’s post left a bitter taste in the mouths of many (which wasn’t my intention, but I also understand) but also because I needed to put a final bow on this gift-wrapped material Sports Illustrated has been sending me since last Monday.

A few lingering thoughts and I’ll try and tie it all together (as much as it can be tied together) at the end.

1. I think SI tried to build a five-part series around, like, three legitimate things that happened at OSU — they should have tried to build a five-part series around college football and used the heavy stuff from OSU in it. Instead, they tried to blow the conversation about the NCAA as a whole up with little more than a firecracker. The whole thing was silly.

2. I tried to stay objective at the beginning because there’s no shortage of people making illogical connections and letting their fandom take over, but at some point in the middle I became more concerned about the entertainment value of what I was reading than the actual value of it, which was nothing. I thought this was telling for SI.

3. Why wasn’t the assistant coach whose quote was on the cover of SI mentioned in any of the five parts? And how out of context do we think his “I knew this day was coming” quote was?

4. I thought it was interesting to see how unified pretty much all of Oklahoma — fans, media, everyone — was over the whole thing. I’ve never gotten so many emails/texts/tweets saying “did you read this Jenni Carlson article?” or “did you hear Trabes on the Sports Animal?”

Those things are usually said with a smirk and a grin, not with a “you have to see this because it matters to OSU” tone.

5. I thought the cousins Tramel,[1. Berry was absolutely elite throughout.] Kelly Hines, John Helsley, Anthony Slater, and Gina Mizell all offered excellent coverage. Not to mention the O’Colly, Orange Power, Ben Allen of KOSU, Jeff Johnson of Rivals, Brendon Morris, Kieran Steckley, and my guys Carson Cunningham, Matt Amilian and OKC Dave. I likely left a lot out as well but here’s how you can follow all of those folks below.

6. I genuinely think the NCAA takes a 15-minute look at this, laughs, and moves on. Maybe the slap OSU on the wrist for the “drug counselor” who lied on his resume or the undocumented paying of players through Joe DeForest or John Talley but they’ll LOL at the rest of it…I think.

7. The next stories George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans do (separately, because they won’t be doing one together) will be interesting, to say the least. I texted Amilian this last night but I really think this is how all of this went down at SI:

Jon Wertheim and Chirs Stone (executive editors): “We want to nail the NCAA!”
Thayer Evans: “I want to nail OSU!”
George Dohermann: “Don’t even care, just want my name on the cover!”

That’s how it felt from everyone’s post-series explanation anyway. You guys know how I feel about how it ended up but I’m disappointed in SI for 1.) not framing it in a more coherent manner and 2.) not getting everyone on the same page.

8. How much better does Mike Holder feel right now than he did the Monday before this came out? 1,000x? 10,000x? Is it even quantifiable?

9. Somehow, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, the big winner in all of this is the one group of people who has the least to do with any of it. Us, fans. I told Carson last night that the only thing that will even remotely approach the amount of content we had to work with and joke about is OSU going to the title game this year.

10. I’m interested to see what, if any of this, ends up in court. There are rumors (as you knew there would be) of OSU lawyering up and yada yada yada. But really, what are they going to prove or disprove? I wonder if the Aso Pogi or Tatum Bell incidents go to court either — it doesn’t feel like they’ll have a lot to stand on (Pogi might).

I think everybody talks big at the time about grabbing lawyers and all that goes with that but I think most of it fizzles out eventually, if not immediately.

This whole thing was one of the bigger clusters I’ve ever seen. I was talking to Berry about this yesterday off-air but the amount of information that was flowing in on a daily/hourly/minute-ly basis was staggering.

I likely typed things that contradicted themselves in parts of what I wrote and I’m sorry for that.

I appreciate you guys rolling with me as the story unfolded. It became actually kind of fun in a weird way and I enjoyed walking through all of it with you guys. I got so many ideas and good points from so many of you and I tried to credit where I remembered but know that I appreciate the contribution of each one of you.

My final thing I’ll leave you with on my interpretation of what happened (or didn’t happen) is this:

The trajectory of the series was, from the outset, deeply flawed. Sports Illustrated  contradicted themselves from the very, very beginning when they said “it’s a series to see why OSU got so good AND to take you behind the scenes of a big-time sausage factory that is a college football program.” You can do both, I guess, but trying to do both takes away from the individual purpose of each one…plus SI failed like nobody in recent memory has failed at showing me why OSU got so good so quick.

I thought the sausage factory stuff was interesting though. College sports do have an “I’m going to find a reason to run this guy off because he isn’t good anymore” problem and I’m glad SI addressed that. The bigger problem — as SI also pointed out — is that college football teams are run like businesses with these bizarre restrictions that are fairly easily avoided by jumping through the correct loopholes.

I don’t know how to reconcile that but it IS an issue.

As Clark Matthews pointed out to me on Twitter college football (and basketball) teams (OSU included) also have a big-time “should I give this guy a scholarship even though he’s probably dumb as rocks and his character is sketchier than the old Dirty’s bathrooms but MAN, he can JUMP” problem. Les Miles clearly indulged in the giving of scholarships to these guys which is something I think Gundy has largely avoided.

It’s the big-time question though because once you start handing out those kinds of scholarships — and not caring about what eventually happens to folks — that’s when you’re perpetuating, as SI called it, “the dirty game.”

I’m bummed SI didn’t write about one of those two things though because I think those are real issues and we, as a society that consumes college sports heartily, need to address. Most of us don’t care because we get to push the not-so-pretty stuff out of our minds every week when we retreat from Boone Pickens Stadium back to our lives and jobs.

But that’s the point, right? We kind of don’t really care what happens to the lives of those who entertain us because…well…as long as they entertain us, we’re good. We’re selfish like that as humans.

We should be better than that, though. This isn’t a movie or something we’re all emotionally detached from. We have a history in Stillwater — most of us anyway — we went to games and met our best friends there and, at some point, all of that was (is?) a really big deal to most of us.

So let’s not throw the SI story in the trash “because Thayer wrote it” or “because there was no physical evidence” but let’s, as fans, use it as a measuring stick for what matters and what doesn’t.

Because beating OU in December means a lot.

But I promise you Kevin White getting on that bus in Part Five and never getting back off means a lot more.

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