These days David Schmidly is safely tucked away in University of New Mexico biology classrooms, far from the noisy scene of college athletics.
But a series of articles by Sports Illustrated troubles the former UNM president and has him speaking out against the reporting done by the national magazine.
Schmidly, prior to his stint at UNM, served as president at Oklahoma State from 2002-07. He was known at both schools for his hands-on approach when it came to athletics.
SI this month featured a series of articles painting a picture of an Oklahoma State football program run amok. The magazine’s 10-month investigation alleges OSU players were paid under the table by football staff and boosters, that they were given sham jobs and that they had schoolwork done for them.
“It was grossly sensationalized,” Schmidly said. “I’m not saying none of it was true, but those things were never reported to me. I left the field with the football team. I went into the locker room, and I stayed until the players left. I never saw any donors hand out money. I never saw any coaches handing out money.”
He also disputes the academic fraud allegations.
“The academic counselors didn’t report to the athletic department,” Schmidly said. “The coaches didn’t have control. They reported to the provost. … The provost was very diligent about any academic fraud issues. The provost never brought to my attention any suspicions.”
Schmidly said his approach to athletics at OSU was similar to what he did at UNM. He made the athletic director a university vice president and had him report directly to the president’s office.
“He had accountability, not just to the athletic program, but to the overall university,” Schmidly said. “We met every week. None of these issues alleged ever came out in any of those discussions. The athletic director, none of the vice presidents, ever reported allegations of student misconduct.”
Schmidly said he was disturbed by the magazine’s allegations that players were paid for work they did not do.
“While I was there, there was another institution, I won’t mention its name, that was reported for that,” Schmidly said. “When we learned about that, I ordered a complete audit of our work program for football and the men’s basketball program. We did a complete audit to make sure we completed the proper paperwork and reviewed with all the employers what the NCAA rules were and make sure they understood we were going to comply with those rules.”
Schmidly was particularly upset with the portrayal of Kay Norris, an OSU alumna who died of cancer in 2006. The article reported that Norris paid athletes.
“I don’t believe for one minute that she would have had the kind of value system that would allow her to do anything inappropriate,” he said.
He also disputed the article’s allegations that former Cowboy Vernon Grant received money. Grant died in a car crash in 2005.
“I don’t believe he would have been engaged in the kind of conduct alleged,” Schmidly said.
Schmidly said he has contacted current Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis, who is conducting an investigation of his own.
“I pledged my support to assist them in any investigation,” Schmidly said.
Sports Illustrated wrote that it conducted interviews with 64 Oklahoma State football players who played from 1999-2011.
Les Miles was Oklahoma State’s football coach when Schmidly arrived in 2002. In 2005, Miles left for LSU and Schmidly hired Mike Gundy, who is still the school’s coach.
Schmidly also addressed other college athletics issues.
“I’m a purist,” Schmidly said. “I don’t think players should be paid. Once that happens, it changes the entire tenor of the student-athlete enterprise. Maybe we need some re-evaluation of what a scholarship should be worth. But the idea that they should be paid changes the enterprise from student-athlete to a professional perspective.
“The value of a college education – that’s quite a bit of money itself. A couple hundred thousand dollars. And there’s the specialized professional training they receive for potential pro athletes. A lot (of athletes) graduate without debt because they get scholarship support. Most students graduate with a lot of debt. It’s far better for college athletes.”
Schmidly points to how the NCAA handles TV contracts and “has a formula for distributing the money.”
“Unfortunately, college football, and all the money and commercialism of it got outside of the NCAA. College athletics would have been better served if it kept football and the revenue of football inside the NCAA. But it didn’t and that genie is out of the bottle.”
As for Sports Illustrated’s investigation, Schmidly said he wishes the magazine had contacted him.
“I would have been happy to talk to them,” Schmidly said.