In a FOX Sports exclusive, Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans details a troubling situation in the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ football program, in which a man is alleged to have provided improper benefits to current and former football players and refuses to cooperate with the schools’ internal compliance investigation.
From Evans’ report, it appears that the school has done everything in its power to get answers from Gannon Mendez in its probe of his relationship with the football team. The school has reported minor violations in connection with the investigation including a $5 cocktail and the sales of gaming consoles the players received as gifts from the 2010 Alamo Bowl.
While these are ticky-tack secondary violations that will result in no loss of player eligibility and no sanctions for the school, the NCAA will almost certainly want to explore the depth of access Mendez has had with the football program.
Likely paths for the impending investigation include determination of Mendez’ status as a “booster” according to the NCAA’s definition of that term and whether the school adequately monitored its program to prevent someone like Mendez from providing the types of benefits detailed in Evans’ story.
The University is responsible for insuring that its various constituencies (e.g., University staff and faculty, coaches, student-athletes, alumni and friends) abide by NCAA rules and regulations. Under NCAA rules, all alumni, friends and employees of the University are categorized as "representatives of the University's athletics interests."
NCAA Bylaw 13.02.11 defines the term "booster." In part, the rule states:
"A booster (i.e., representative of the institution's athletics interests) is an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g. apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have known) by a member of the institution's executive or athletics administration to:
- Have participated in or to be a member of an agency or organization promoting the institution's intercollegiate athletics program;
- Have made financial contributions to the athletics department or to an athletics booster organization of that institution;
- Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospects;
- Be assisting or to have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families; or
- Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution's athletics program.
Evans’ report indicates that while Mendez has apparently enjoyed an alarming degree of access to players in the ‘Pokes’ program, he is not a season ticket holder, nor has he made any financial contributions. However, this doesn’t rule out Mendez being defined as a booster, since he allegedly has engaged in “assisting or to have assisted in providing benefits” to the student-athletes. If he is defined as a booster, then the school is responsible for knowing about his activities and interaction with the program and preventing him from jeopardizing player eligibility by providing improper benefits.
The booster determination leads to the other path the investigation can be expected to take—determination of whether the school has “failed to monitor” or has demonstrated a “lack of institutional control” over its athletics program.
In addition to Mendez, NCAA enforcement would also likely explore other individuals with “insider” access to the program to determine if Mendez is an isolated “rogue booster” or if there are others committing similar or perhaps even worse impermissible benefits violations.
Most recently, the NCAA Committee on Infractions concluded that Ohio State University failed to monitor its football program in allowing numerous players to receive cash and other impermissible benefits. The decision came roughly one year after reports of the violations surfaced. Coach Jim Tressel later admitted that he had known of the violations months before the story became public and concealed the information. Tressel was fired and the program was saddled with a loss of nine scholarships over three years and a one-year post-season ban.
It is far too early to determine what penalties Oklahoma State might face if there are any violations discovered beyond what’s already known. But Mendez’ refusal to cooperate will certainly pique the NCAA’s interest and this story could play out along timeline similar to that of the Ohio State case.