At least eight former Oklahoma State football players say they received cash payments from people associated with the Cowboys' program starting in the Les Miles era and have identified another 29 players who also allegedly took money, Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday in the first of a five-part investigative series on the football program.
Some players received $2,000 annually and others about $10,000, multiple players told SI, with a few stars allegedly receiving $25,000 or more.
Among the players SI identified who allegedly took money are former quarterback Josh Fields, running back Tatum Bell and cornerback Darrent Williams. (Williams was shot to death in 2007 while he was a member of the Denver Broncos.) Fields, Bell and others denied receiving illicit payments, but multiple players were on the record as saying they received money and saw other players getting payments.
"I'm in disbelief," Fields told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Tuesday. "I never had anyone attempt to give me any type of payments or do my schoolwork and never saw my teammates accept money. I never accepted anything. Seeing my name in there was a shock."
SI also claimed that former quarterback Bobby Reid was given money. During a notable September 2007 news conference, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy staunchly defended Reid after an Oklahoman columnist questioned the player's maturity. But four former Cowboys told SI that after Reid lost his starting job, he stopped receiving bonus money. Reid, too, denied receiving money while he was an Oklahoma State player.
Subsequent installments of the investigative piece allege that there also was widespread academic misconduct involving the football program, that the program tolerated recreational drug use, and that members of a hostess program had sex with recruits.
The first part of the series concentrated on financial irregularities in the football program. SI reported that payments to players, which stretched from 2001 to at least 2011 under head coaches Miles and Gundy, were primarily delivered three ways: a de facto bonus system based on performance on the field; direct payments to players from boosters and coaches independent of performance; and no-show and sham jobs -- including work related to the renovation of Boone Pickens Stadium -- that involved at least one assistant coach and several boosters.
Former Cowboys quarterback Aso Pogi, whom SI said denied doing any work despite living rent-free on a booster's ranch, told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he was misquoted in the story.
"When I read the article, I was in complete shock -- that was nothing I said," said Pogi, adding that he did work at the ranch to pay for his rent. "It was completely misinterpreted and out of context. And I saw absolutely nothing of that manner [compensation for no work] going on."
Miles, the coach at LSU since the 2005 season, was instrumental in creating a "hospitable" environment for boosters, according to SI.
Several players claimed that former Oklahoma State special-teams and secondary coach Joe DeForest played an integral role in the bonus payment system and would determine how much players would get.
"It was just like in life when you work," said Thomas Wright, a defensive back from 2002-04. "The better the job you do, the more money you make."
Former defensive back Calvin Mickens said he received $200 after forcing a fumble and breaking up a pass in his very first game.
"I was like, wow, this is the life!" Mickens said, according to SI. "I'm 18, playing football, and I just got $200."
DeForest, now the associate head coach and special-teams coordinator at West Virginia, said he never paid a player for on-field performance.
Fields, who was the starting QB from 2001-03 under Miles, with Gundy as his quarterbacks coach, also said there were never boosters in the locker room before or after games or on planes.
Fields disputed the credibility of the players quoted in the story. Five of those players were dismissed from Oklahoma State for various reasons.
"Anyone that played at OSU or is from Stillwater knows those guys [quoted] are not credible," Fields told McMurphy. "If you thought guys were getting paid, why not prominent players instead of backups and third-string guys?"
Former Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall choice in the 2010 draft, echoed Fields' comments.
"I have never seen Joe DeForest give anyone money," Okung told ESPN's Joe Schad. "As for boosters, Mike Gundy ran a tight ship. He didn't like visitors. Boosters were not accessible to us and we didn't know them."
Okung said he believes the players who spoke to SI did so "out of spite." Said Okung: "A lot of these players are spiteful. They had multiple drug issues. They did things that were detrimental to the program. They didn't all graduate. Gundy couldn't tolerate it and let them go."
The SI report claims that the timing of the alleged violations coincided with Miles' return to Oklahoma State as head coach prior to the 2001 season (Miles was OSU's offensive coordinator from 1995-97). The Cowboys had gone 3-8 the season before Miles became coach, but afterward the football budget was increased. Assistants were paid more, players ate better, and facilities were upgraded. But, according to players SI interviewed, the culture change around the program also included NCAA violations.
T. Boone Pickens, the school's most prominent booster, was not implicated in any improprieties by SI's sources. The billionaire, however, said in a statement to USA Today on Tuesday that he was disappointed in the magazine's reporting.
"This series is not reflective of Oklahoma State University today," Pickens' statement said. "Many of their sensational allegations go back a decade ago."
"It's very disconcerting to hear about all these things that are alleged to have happened," athletic director Mike Holder said last week when SI presented him with its findings. "But there's nothing more important to us than playing by the rules, being ethical, having integrity. To hear we have some shortcomings or could have ... in a way I guess I should thank you. Because our intent is to take this information and to investigate and do something about it."
On Tuesday, Holder also clarified an apology he made the day before.
"In Monday's news conference, I apologized to our fans and mentioned phone calls I had made to other Big 12 athletic directors prior to the release of the first article from Sports Illustrated," he said in a statement. "To clarify, my apology was in regards to the negative publicity that was coming our way. My apology was in no way an admission of wrongdoing by OSU athletics."
Gundy, who is preparing the No. 13 Cowboys for their home opener Saturday against Lamar, said he was confident the proper steps would be taken by the university.
"I'm going to guess that once we get all the information and we see what's out there, then our administration, our people inside, will look at it and we'll see where we made mistakes," Gundy said. "And we'll try to make ourselves better and we'll correct it and then we'll move forward. And I would hope that there will be some of it that we'll say, 'I'm not sure, it could go one way or the other.' That's really the best way I can put it. But I think the university is looking forward to seeing the information and seeing how we can make ourselves better from it."
West Virginia released a statement Saturday that did not mention DeForest and said it had "launched an internal review to ensure the coach's full compliance to NCAA rules while at West Virginia." WVU also contacted the NCAA.
"While our assistant football coach has denied the allegations, it is the right thing to do to look into the matter and review practices here," athletic director Oliver Luck said.
Miles has said he didn't know of any improprieties while he was coach at Oklahoma State.
"I can tell you this: We have always done things right," he said after LSU's win Saturday night over UAB in Baton Rouge, La.
SI reported that many of the violations happened outside the four-year statute of limitations for prosecution; however, the NCAA could still penalize the school if a "pattern of willful violations" occurred before the four-year statute but continued into the past four years and/or if allegations include a "blatant disregard" for the most serious of NCAA rules, including extra benefits or academic misconduct.
Information from ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy and Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.