If this were a hypothetical situation in need of a hypothetical answer, that answer would be obvious. The school would be in big, big trouble.
But this isn't a hypothetical situation. This is Oklahoma.
And so a different kind of answer is obvious: The NCAA doesn't want to put Oklahoma in big, big trouble.
|Tiny Gallon and his mother allegedly received $3,000 from a financial adviser connected to an OU assistant. (Getty Images)|
Soon, we'll say the same thing about Oklahoma: The Sooners will get something -- but not what they deserve.
Again, if this were a hypothetical, it would go like this:
Say there's a school that has been found guilty of recruiting violations. I mean, ridiculous, intentional cheating. The NCAA busts the school, puts it on probation and life goes on. But before the probation ends, that same school -- exact same sport, different coaching staff -- is being investigated again by the NCAA, this time for an even uglier violation.
That's death penalty stuff, right?
That's Oklahoma basketball.
Not sure you're aware of how bad things are at Oklahoma, so allow me to explain. But first, allow me to explain my background. My mom went to Oklahoma. My dad went to Oklahoma -- undergrad and law school. My grandparents went to Oklahoma. I grew up in Norman. One of my most prized pictures is a snapshot from "Meet the Sooners" day in 1977. It's me and Billy Sims. I'm sitting on his lap.
So don't tell me that I'm "out to get" Oklahoma. That's laughable. Oklahoma is still home to me, but what's happening inside that athletic department is frightening. The athletic director there, Joe Castiglione, is one of the most respected college administrators in the country. Which makes it so baffling that the Sooners simply cannot stop cheating.
Right now, the latest incident is merely an allegation. But it's a damned serious allegation. In the wake of the allegation, two people lost their jobs, two other OU athletes sacrificed their college eligibility and the NCAA is poking around Norman. The NCAA is still looking for the actual fire, but for now there's so much smoke that people are stop-drop-and-rolling all over campus at Oklahoma.
The smoke comes from Tiny Gallon and Willie Warren, the Sooners' best two players this past season, who have been linked to a Merrill Lynch financial advisor in Florida. The financial advisor reportedly wired $3,000 into a bank account held by Gallon and his mother. And the smoking gun? Phone records connect a member of the Oklahoma coaching staff, Oronde Taliaferro, to the financial advisor.
That's some serious smoke. It's so thick that Oklahoma pushed Taliaferro out last month. Technically he "resigned," but don't be stupid. He didn't resign on April 8. He was fired. The financial advisor, Jeffrey Hausinger, also is out of a job. He left Merrill Lynch on March 26, shortly after his alleged involvement went public.
As for Gallon and Warren, both entered the 2010 NBA Draft around the same time that Hausinger left his job. Both are thought to be headed to the second round, land of nonguaranteed contracts. Both are awfully young to be leaving for the second round -- Gallon a freshman, Warren a sophomore. But they're gone. They're not coming back. Oklahoma doesn't even want them back. And if you couple their departures with the job losses of Taliaferro and Hausinger -- who exchanged more than 65 calls and text messages in a 10-month period -- well, those are some easily connected dots.
So now we wait. We wait for the NCAA to connect those dots officially and to render a judgment. If it's anything like the investigation into Southern California, this could take a while. In the vacuum of information, though, we can speculate. Which is what I'm going to do right now.
I'm going to speculate that the NCAA finds enough wrong to level Oklahoma with a major violation. Oklahoma has prepared for such a finding by distancing itself from Taliaferro: "Don't blame us," Oklahoma symbolically told the NCAA by pushing Taliaferro out. "Blame him."
But it's not that easy. "Us" and "him" were the same thing when this violation allegedly went down. And if the NCAA connects enough dots to level Oklahoma with a major violation, then all hell should break loose. Look at the background here:
Former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson makes a mockery of NCAA rules by teaming with his coaching staff to make almost 600 illegal recruiting phone calls. The OU compliance department lets it happen. Doesn't have a clue what's going on. And so the NCAA hammers Oklahoma with lost scholarships, lost recruiting services, a finding of monitoring failure and a vicious public censure that accuses the OU staff of "deliberate noncompliance" and "willful violations." The NCAA also puts Oklahoma on probation through 2008, which is toothless assuming the Sooners stay out of trouble.
Which they did not.
The football team is found in 2007 to have two players, most notably quarterback Rhett Bomar, who were paid by an OU booster for work they never performed. That extends the athletic department's probation through May 23, 2010. Which was Sunday. Which means these latest allegations, the ones involving Gallon and Taliaferro and $3,000 from a financial advisor, happened before the probation had expired.
Which means the Oklahoma basketball team has been accused of a major violation while still on probation for "deliberate noncompliance" and "willful violations." The same OU basketball program that cheated horrifically a few years ago under one staff is now being investigated by the NCAA for the most awful of violations: payment of a player, with the direct knowledge of a coach.
That's ugly. So I'll conclude this column by assuming the NCAA will use phone records and other evidence to connect those dots. And based on that assumption, I'll ask a rhetorical question.
If Oklahoma basketball doesn't deserve the NCAA's death penalty, what program ever will?