By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It would appear that the events evolving around West Virginia University’s football team – and college football in general — the past few weeks are begging for athletic director Oliver Luck to expand his recently announced investigation into his football program concerning the alleged involvement of associate head coach Joe DeForest in a pay-for-plays program at Oklahoma State.
DeForest was cited in Part 1 of the Sports Illustrated five-part investigative series into the way the Cowboys grew into a national power, claiming he was a central figure in seeing as many as 30 players were rewarded for their performance with cash payments or, in one case, with a credit line of $5,000 that was periodically replenished.
Now associate head coach and special teams coordinator at WVU, working on a contract that pays him in excess of $500,000 per year after a failed season as defensive coordinator, DeForest was an assistant at Oklahoma State from 2001-11, the period in which the magazine claims the NCAA rules were broken.
Four more parts are to come and DeForest is said to be included in today’s chapter outlining how the “Orange Pride” hostess group provided sexual favors to recruits.
West Virginia does not have a hostess group to greet recruits. It was last tried briefly when Rich Rodriguez coached at WVU.
DeForest has denied his involvement in such programs in a written statement but skipped post-game interviews in Oklahoma and Tuesday’s weekly interview session, something he always attended, even when his defense was its lowest point last year.
“I have never paid a player for on-field performance. I have been coaching college football for almost 24 years, and I have built a reputation of being one of the best special team coordinators and college recruiters in the country based on hard work and integrity.”
In the shadow of this background, Luck announced his own look into the WVU football program to make sure such illegal programs were not being conducted under his nose.
“West Virginia University is aware of an upcoming investigative reporting series in Sports Illustrated which — while focused on another institution — includes allegations against one of our current assistant football coaches regarding his time of employment at his previous Institution,” Luck said. “Upon learning of the pending investigative report, WVU launched an internal review to ensure the coach’s full compliance to NCAA rules while at West Virginia. The NCAA has also been contacted. 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.”
This practice of providing extra benefits to players may be more widespread than suspected and seems to involve the giants in the game.
National champion Alabama, coached by West Virginian Nick Saban, has been involved in a new scandal as Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that former Alabama football player D.J. Fluker and four other SEC players were implicated in receiving extra benefits while still in college.
The reports, based on financial records and text messages of former Alabama player Luther Davis, said benefits came from various sources, including sports agents.
A second Yahoo! report named another former Alabama player, Mark Barron, in the same situation. He was referenced in the text messages about agents trying to recoup $8,000 from him.
Now add on a troubling arrest within the Mountaineer program. Junior redshirt linebacker d’Vante Martinez Henry of Moore, Okla., is being held at North Central Regional Jail on $100,000 bond on a felony charge of sexual assault.
While Henry claims the sex was consensual, he was almost immediately dismissed from the West Virginia football team by coach Dana Holgorsen.
Almost as troubling as what happened, though, is that he was brought onto the team and into school despite enough indications of some kind of problems, as yet to come to light, that he was suspended before playing a game.
“There was strict parameters put in place that he had to abide by in order to play next season,” Holgorsen said. “The allegations made against him are troubling and very serious.
“He is no longer a Mountaineer.”
That Holgorsen moved swiftly and decisively is to his credit but that he felt it necessary to gamble with a player who obviously already had some kind of mark against him shows a misplaced importance on filling a team with good people.
Certainly, there is no contradiction between being a good person and a good player, and had WVU taken someone else or even gone a scholarship short it would have been better than carrying a player who wasn’t going to play anyway and taking a chance that he would not pass the requirements set up in order to qualify him to play.
The events of the past few days make it incumbent upon Luck to do a thorough investigation to the program as a whole and do it as seriously as he did investigating which company he would grant the school’s Tier 3 media rights to.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.