CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The NCAA put Oklahoma State’s football program on a year of probation Friday for failing to follow its own drug-testing policies over a four-year span, largely sparing the Cowboys of serious penalties for violations uncovered following an expose by Sports Illustrated.
“I feel this vindicates us,” Oklahoma State president V. Burns Hargis said.
The Committee on Infractions also ordered Oklahoma State to suspend its Orange Pride student organization after determining the all-female group “impermissibly” helped in recruiting efforts after being organized by the football program.
The penalties come two years after a series of Sports Illustrated articles alleged widespread misconduct in the program. The magazine said it interviewed more than 60 former players and found evidence of potential NCAA violations under coaches Les Miles and current coach Gundy dating to 2001. The stories included numerous former Oklahoma State players making allegations of cash payments to players, academic misconduct, inconsistent enforcement of drug policies and some of the school’s recruiting hostesses having sex with prospects from 2001-10.
After a joint investigation, the NCAA and Oklahoma State said last October that the most egregious allegations were “fundamentally unfounded,” though three potential violations were found. The magazine stood by its reporting.
“At the end of the day, there’s no doubt that this case was written about; it was highly publicized. Some salacious stuff was out there, a lot of unsubstantiated stuff that was not found,” said Greg Christopher, chief hearing officer for the infractions committee. “It was not for a lack of looking.”
The NCAA said five football players competed in a total of seven games from 2008-2012 when they should have been benched for violating drug policies. But the NCAA said the school was not guilty of failing to monitor its football program, a violation that could have brought more severe penalties. And it agreed with the school’s self-imposed recruiting limits.
The Sports Illustrated report alleged that Oklahoma State had widespread marijuana use and the university’s drug testing policy favored those players who received more playing time. In last year’s report, it was determined that athletic ability was not the reason for the failure to properly apply the policy.
According to the NCAA, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder believed he had latitude in following the drug policy and deferred to coach Mike Gundy’s recommendation on whether to suspend players who failed a drug test.
“I think the evidence showed coach Gundy was actually trying to do what was best for the student-athletes,” Hargis said. “If any competitive advantage was gained, it was very slight. But, nonetheless, we did not have discretion written into the drug policy. We do now.”
Orange Pride was not sufficiently aligned with the admissions office, so all hosting duties the group performed were impermissible. The committee also was concerned that the school continued to use the group, despite information distributed by the NCAA specifying that the use of such groups for athletics recruiting was impermissible.
According to last October’s report, current or former players who were interviewed reported they had no sexual activity with any Orange Pride members.
For the next two years, Oklahoma State is limited to 30 official visits per year during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. It will also reduce the number of coaches participating in off-campus evaluations from 10 to nine in the fall and nine to eight in the spring, and it will reduce the number of evaluation days by 10 in the fall and spring during both years.
“This was really one of the most cooperative investigations in recent history,” Christopher said. “We have full confidence in what came out of this.”
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