Call it a hit piece, call it good investigative journalism, call it whatever you will, Sports Illustrated's five part series on Oklahoma State football made waves. We won't address the validity of the reporting, whether things are true or not will be decided somewhere else, though probably not by the NCAA, they're too busy trying to survive the weekend. No, we won't concern ourselves with whether these things are true or not, our friend @thisiskyco has done that in a homerish response earlier this week. What we're more concerned with is the unprecedented response of the Cowboys to the allegations. The administration in Stillwater has set the precedent in how a university should respond in crisis and handle a public relations grenade.
Almost from the start AD Mike Holder got out in front of the story. His response was simple and direct. To paraphrase, Holder said "we're aware of the article, we are proud of our program, if something is going on we will hunt down the facts and expose the truth, good or bad. Welcome to Stillwater Mr. NCAA, we're here to help." Here's the full statement, you can paraphrase it yourself.
The key to all of this, was in the first few seconds when Holder said, we've got something "we're going to have to deal with." He then spent the next few minutes praising the credentials of writers from SI. But make no mistake, Holder let everyone know that his job and the administration's job to protect OSU and its reputation against enemies both external and more importantly internal.
Here's why this is precedent setting. Most schools take this opportunity to circle the wagons go silent. They may issue a statement, but they don't do a great job of getting out in front of the problem. That's what Oklahoma State has done. They are now guiding the story for the most part.
America loves that. They want to see a human response from an institution, not a press release. Holder nailed all that. He was self-effacing and apologetic for what what about to happen to the Big 12. But he was clear that OSU is not in the business of making excuses, their business was about finding the truth.
This is in stark contrast to what we've seen from places like Notre Dame, with Manti Teo's fake girlfriend and the horrific Lizzy Seeberg sexual assault. It's a huge contrast from Texas A&M's response to Johnny Manziel. And its a different approach than we see in almost any crisis be it political, entertainment, or sports.
For example, OSU has a webpage dedicated to the story and crafting the school's response to the allegations. Now the Pokes have known about the story since August, so they've had some lead time, but the response is no less remarkable. On Oklahoma State's response page, which can be viewed here, we have what is more than likely spin, but also quotes from players who played for the coaches and administrators named in the piece, videos from guys like T. Boone Pickens, and others associated with the program.
In short they've given supporters and those curious about the program some bullets to counter the negative reaction that articles likely cause. For the most part the responses are measured and draw one towards the themes of common sense, transparency, and curing the problems. It's all about Oklahoma State's side of the story and more importantly, not just saying there is another side, but telling that other side.
There are two fronts in this PR fight. The public, or face of the program side which seeks invoke transparency of process and the goal of truth. The other side, which we don't see is the private side. Lawyering up, bringing in people who deal with the nastiness and NCAA probe will bring. We know the latter goes on, it's the former, perhaps pioneered by Donna Shalala and Miami, that has been so impressive coming out of Stillwater.
Look, do we know what happened during this time period? Of course not, do we know that student athletes are compensated at times, have grades altered or work performed on their behalf? Of course. It may well have happened at Oklahoma State. Time will tell. The lasting impact of whatever revelations come forth will be mitigated by the timely and intelligent response from Oklahoma State's administration.