Opinion: SI report about the OSU football program allegations shows change needed in college sports

The story about Oklahoma State allegedly paying players is a terrific bit of reporting by Sports Illustrated. The story includes the words of seven former players who are quoted by name.

Brad Girtman, a defensive lineman, talked about a system administered by an assistant coach under which players were paid for their stats.

Calvin Mickens, a defensive back, talked about visiting a booster's house to collect multiple payments of $500 in cash.

William Bell, a defensive end, talked about reporting to another booster's house to work and being paid to hang out and fish for catfish.

SPECIAL SECTION: More on the investigation go to www.kjrh.com/osureport

It's an exhaustive, thorough, and brilliantly reported piece.

And all around the country, people are reading it and rolling their eyes.

So what is happening here? What accounts for the way the story is being ridiculed?

Don't tell me that "everyone knows" football players get paid. That's both true and not explanation enough.

"Everyone knows" a lot of people drive drunk. But when someone gets caught driving drunk, that still qualifies as news.

"Everyone knows" politicians take money for political favors. But if a news outlet can actually document the corruption, a grand jury is convened.

So it's not just that "everyone knows" cheating goes on at college campuses. It's that everybody -- or almost everybody, except the NCAA and others with a vested interest -- understands the cheating is a natural reaction to a system that has become indefensible.

The Sports Illustrated story is about a scandal that most Americans do not think is a scandal. It documents the systemic violation of rules that should have long ago been repealed.

Imagine if a magazine produced an exhaustive, beautifully reported story during Prohibition that proved people still drink. That's exactly what Sports Illustrated has done here. The story may be true, and the violations may be real, but who really cares?

Which is the bigger scandal: That Mickens got $200 for playing well against Montana State or that Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is getting $30.3 million over eight years?

Which is the bigger scandal: That a few players got paid more than market value for doing menial chores for boosters, or that a whole team of players was denied the market value of their services, which forced them to do the menial chores?

This is not to denigrate the Sports Illustrated series. As any reporter will tell you, there's a huge difference between saying "everybody knows" something and proving it to be true. Sports Illustrated is painting a vivid, on-the-record portrait of college football in 2013. There is significant value in that.

But the reaction is telling. Because it suggests that America is coming to a tipping point. Fans don't give a flip if players are getting paid for their pass deflections or their tackles. Just like fans didn't care if Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel got paid for signing autographs.

This isn't about giving players a $20 stipend so they can buy pizza, either. This is about recognizing that the entire system is based on a concept of amateurism that no longer makes sense to anyone except those who profit from it.

(Contact Memphis Commercial Appeal Columnist Geoff Calkins at calkins@commercialappeal.com; Twitter @geoff_calkins. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com.)

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