This is as quick a thing as we'll ever write on a media exposé of a college football program.
The SI series on Oklahoma State allegedly paying their players is well-reported, and cinches together a pattern of incentives and black market compensation well. We repeat: it does all of that in great detail, and via multiple named sources. Please note that: not anonymous sources, but players who were there over a significant span of time, and who all made similar claims involving the same names.
It seems to be well done, at least on the cash side for part one. Tomorrow, part two will cover academic fraud--the only angle we really care about--and then in parts three and four devolve into a bold description of how college students like to have sex and use drugs. This part will be great if you find sex and drugs shocking, and in particular if you enjoy shaming young women who like to have sex as much as young men during college.
That the thing is procedurally well done is nice. That's great: journalism needs to be done well. What bothers us most is this question: in whose service is this, and to what end? The common answer is "the reader," or "the public trust," and that may very well be true here. Oklahoma State is a public university, and the citizens of the state need to know if the academic integrity of that state school is being compromised in the name of making tax-free money through the football program. That part is potentially legitimate, and necessary.
The possibility that bothers us most: the repeated invocation of the NCAA rules in order to make the exchange of services for cash. If the general thrust of the investigation makes clear that the notion of amateurism is bankrupt in so many senses, and provides a case study on how even big programs bleed down scraps to feed the dogs who pull the sleds of college athletics, and that this is a black market created to evade the demands and regulations of the free market...then that would be journalism in service of something noble.
But if this is another "oh my god, look at the filth of college athletics" fret-piece in the end, we're out. It is good to have detailed case studies on how the college football black market works. But to show the slums of the city without pointing out the burghers who keep it that way renders this pointless. The NCAA are the police, pointing to unenforceable and insane laws, and doing their job as badly as could be imagined. It's fun to hate them. It's harder, and less fun, to tie this all back to City Hall, and the schools themselves who create the favela in the first place, and skim profit off the top. Put that money into a player's hands, and it's a violation of charter. Put it into a University President's hands, however, and it's part of a system, a system which could easily find further validation in the form of Oklahoma State's story.
If that's not anywhere in this--or doesn't lead to this--then this is work done in the service of a larger corruption.
P.S. The sex angle is going to be horrible.
P.P.S. So will the drugs part.
P.P.P.S. Both of those are in service to corrupt rules, too.