For Oklahoma State fans, this off-season has been all about the future. The Top 25 2019 recruiting class that third year head coach Mike Boynton has put together has been impressive, and there are still two open scholarships left to fill. Fans are looking toward to the final season for guys like Cam McGriff, Lindy Waters, and Thomas Dziagwa. It’s been a time of hope and excitement that fans may finally see the program return to a time of success it hasn’t be able to sustain for more than a decade now.
For the rest of the college basketball world though, the focus has been in the courtroom and on the end of the FBI’s investigation into corruption within the sport. Now that the trials are mostly over and the sentences handed down, attention turns to the NCAA, which has been quietly performing their own investigations into the programs at the heart of the entire pay-for-play corruption case.
While Oklahoma State fans may not think this pertains to them; it does.
Earlier this week Stan Wilcox, NCAA vice president for regulatory affairs, announced that six Division I college basketball programs would be receiving notice of allegations for Level I violations from the NCAA by the end of the summer. Two of those programs, which Wilcox described as “high-profile,” would be receiving their notices by early July.
For those hoping this is just lip-service, your hopes are in the wrong place.
Level I violations are the NCAA’s most serious and they carry the strongest punishments. That generally includes scholarship reductions, postseason bans, and show-cause orders against coaches.
Plus, according to the NCAA, a notice of allegations is sent after an investigation has closed.
Most Oklahoma State fans haven’t thought much about the trials or FBI investigations recently, as most of the national media focus has been on schools like LSU, Arizona, and Kansas. However, the fact remains that former Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans is one of the few men who not only pled guilty to bribery charges, but will actually serve jail time.
And that’s where the problem lies for Oklahoma State: Lamont Evans. The former assistant came to Stillwater with former head coach Brad Underwood. When Underwood left and Mike Boynton was named the new head coach, Evans was named the top assistant. He was eventually fired after the allegations and charges were announced.
But while there has been no evidence to say that Coach Boynton knew of Evans’ misconduct, he and Oklahoma State are forever linked to the former assistant. And, If some of the college basketball media’s biggest names are to be believed, Oklahoma State should start getting worried.
“At least 20 schools were mentioned during the course of the FBI’s investigation. Among others were Oklahoma State, USC, Auburn and LSU,” wrote Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports when the news was first announced.
“Those expected to be in the crosshairs and face the most significant penalties include: Louisville, North Carolina State, Kansas, Arizona, LSU, USC, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Auburn,” wrote Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo in their article.
While Forde, Thamel, and Dodd don’t go as far as saying they believe Oklahoma State will be one of the schools named this summer, CBS’s Matt Norlander has. During the latest episode of the CBS Sports’ Eye on College Basketball Podcast, both Norlander and host Gary Parrish predicted that Oklahoma State would be among the six programs named in the second group of four schools. From Norlander:
“...purely because, as obvious as it is, if you are an institution that had a member of your men’s basketball program arrested, subsequently plead guilty... to me as you start this... from a practical perspective if you’re the NCAA, it makes a lot of sense to at least start the process there.”
Oklahoma State fans are going to cry foul, that Evans’ was fired, that his mis-dealings were more connected to Coach Underwood and previous jobs than to his time in Stillwater. And Norlander would... partially agree with them.
“There are fascinating scenarios in a number of schools by the way. You know Lamont Evans.. I don’t want to say the majority, but a lot of what was pinned against him in the trial — he did bad stuff at Oklahoma State, he was arrested while he was at Oklahoma State — but a lot of it was when he was at South Carolina, said Norlander. So how is the NCAA going to handle a situation like that? How is the NCAA going to handle the situation with Lamont Evans period when he’s at Oklahoma State for a year, that’s when he gets pinched. Brad Underwood is the coach there, he’s not even at Oklahoma State anymore.”
But here’s the thing: the NCAA has shown time and time again that it does not care who is and isn’t at a program in determining their punishment. If violations were made at a school, that program is going to face the consequences. Even if those associated with the violations are long gone, even if time has passed and wounds have healed, the NCAA is going to take its pound of flesh.
After an extended and lengthy process, there could be plenty of college coaches who will be happy to see those that bend the rules to get top talent get what’s coming to them.
“The membership, particularly the coaching community, have been frustrated,” Wilcox said recently. “Those cases started 2017? We’re now in ‘19. They want action.”
There’s a strong sense that this is the best chance for the NCAA to really go after those coaches that pay players to come to their schools.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma State — a team that by all indication never paid to direct a player to the roster — it seems like they might be caught in the crosshairs of a sport and NCAA desperate to make changes and hand out punishment that, in their eyes, will have a deep impact on the sport.
Look. Norlander and Parrish might be wrong. The inclusion of Oklahoma State by Forde, Thamel, and Dodd may simply being examples of good journalism because of the program’s connection to the investigation. Maybe Oklahoma State will be the only school with a former assistant coach who was found guilty and sentenced to not face Level I violations. Maybe OSU will eventually hear their names called by the NCAA but not for Level I violations.
All of that is possible.
But until we know for sure, I’m going to be directing more of my attention to what the NCAA is releasing over the next couple of months.