On Saturday, October 26, Jason and Tommy, both Texas Tech graduates, drive in from Dallas, Texas just before 11am. Jason works in a corporate sponsorship role with the Dallas Mavericks, though none of us has any idea what he does for them. Outside, it is overcast and even a bit cool. We begin the short walk to Gaylord-Memorial Stadium just before noon.
As we walk to Campus Corner, we watch the Pride of Oklahoma Band march down Boyd Street. All of the bars are packed, and so are the sidewalks. Beer is currently being sold on every street corner, and it seems as if college students are subsidizing their rent by turning their front yards into parking lots. The OU campus features many Native American statues and sculptures, and red phone booths are peppered around the campus. Oklahoma State fans would call these gestures pretentious.
As we walk around Campus Corner, Oklahoma and Texas Tech fans are almost impossible to tell apart. There are lots of Texas Tech fans milling around. As my friend Jason puts it, “When your team is number 10 in the country, people come to watch them.” As the band passes us I notice the cymbals players. Do the cymbal guys get band scholarships too? If so, isn’t this the greatest scam ever? Or could someone legitimately be a better cymbal player than someone else? We are all uncertain.
About an hour before kickoff rain begins to pour and suddenly we are in the midst of a torrential downpour. The game is delayed 90 minutes and the weatherman is predicting a second batch of apocalyptic showers later this afternoon. Presumably, this aided us in procuring such great seats. I made it clear today about the consequences of a student athlete selling their complimentary tickets. NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 states that “a student-athlete may not receive payment from any source for his or her complimentary admissions and may not exchange or assign them for any item of value.” We buy them from a season ticketholder who doesn’t look a day under 50. All clear.
Finally, it’s time to enter Gaylord-Memorial Stadium. The state of Oklahoma has a modest four million residents and, come Saturday, 85,000+ of them gather in Norman to watch the Sooners. I’m told that there are 83,456 fans in the stadium today. On game day, the stadium’s population would qualify it as the fourth largest city in the state of Oklahoma. Thirty minutes before kickoff we make it to our seats. Our seats are in section 34, row 14, around the two-yard line in the lower level behind the Texas Tech bench. Gaylord-Memorial has banners on the press box that say they won national championships in 1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, and 2000. If we think the Bowl Championship Series selection is a mess today, in 1975 Oklahoma could claim a national championship along with Alabama, Arizona State, and Ohio State.
Suddenly, questions begin to fill my head. Who’s here? Who’s standing on the sideline? I’m told that former OU wide receiver Malcolm Kelly is in attendance tonight. Where is he? Where are the recruits? How many coaches are on the sideline? Are the Graduate Assistants wearing headsets? Are they exceeding their job descriptions by actually coaching during a game? Where are the compliance people? Fortunately, from my seat, I am able to locate Oklahoma’s Compliance Director, Jason Leonard on the sideline supervising an army of prospective student-athletes.
The Sooners are also expected to have several top targets on hand today. Before a prospect attends an official visit, they must provide OU with (1) an ACT/SAT score, (2) an academic transcript, and (3) register with NCAA. NCAA Bylaw 13.02.16.1 states that “an official visit to a member institution by a prospective student-athlete is a visit financed in whole or in part by the member institution.” Students and their family members may take as many “unofficial visits” as they want to college campuses, but the only expense that the college may pay for are three tickets to a home game. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not allow an institution to publicize a prospective student-athlete’s visit to the campus. Introducing recruits to the crowd or speaking with the media during an official visit is a violation. To be more specific, Clemson University was recently hit with a secondary violation when prospects on unofficial visits were inadvertently videotaped in the locker room during a trophy presentation, which played on the school’s website. NCAA Bylaws also forbid boosters and fans from Tweeting, Facebooking, or contacting prospective student-athletes in any way. For example, a student that announces the presence of a prospect that is in attendance for today’s game and/or starts a chant saying, ‘We want the PSA’ is in violation. Even a single tweet by a student manager about a possible recruit’s visit is a violation. (you guess it, it’s a violation)
Shortly after the prospective student-athletes exit the playing surface, the OU Jumbotron plays a video where former OU Coach Barry Switzer claims to have “invented winning championships.” As the video concludes, the team runs out of an inflatable Sooner Schooner and onto the field. Our section stands. We will remain standing for every play of the entire game. The university may not permit a prospect to run through the tunnel (or any game-day simulations) with the team prior to the game during a visit. I scan the field for any “official or unofficial visitors” (identified by wearing lanyards) participating in any pregame festivities. I also keep my eyes peeled for any customized items being shown to any prospective student-athletes. NCAA Bylaw 13.7.3 defines personalized recruiting aids as “any decorative items and special additions to any location the prospective athlete will visit regardless of whether the items include the prospective student-athletes name or picture.” All clear.
Just before the game starts, I head to the bathroom. I think this stadium, along with a few elementary schools built before 1990, are the last bastion of the urinal trough. As I head back to my seat I pass a prospective student-athlete wearing a game day lanyard and a high school football rain jacket. The NCAA forbids the institution from providing any team gear or other inducements to prospective student athletes.
Oklahoma wins the toss and elects to receive the ball. Today, OU will be dressing ninety-five players, which is the limit for home conference games. For road games, the BIG12 limits the travel squad to seventy players.
On the opening drive, Oklahoma’s Blake Bell rushes for 18 yards for a first down. I ask Jason, “How many weeks will it take for his jersey to be for sale?” He replies, “It’s already for sale.” The NCAA states that “student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.” Three plays later, Texas Tech blocks a field goal and takes possession at their own 47-yard line. Jason explodes, “BOOM!”
In the middle of the first quarter, Bob Stoops gets steamrolled by his own cornerback when he steps off the sideline to argue that a Texas Tech pass was a fumble, not an interception. The Tech fans love it. Coach Stoops plays it off well. I then take a brief survey of Oklahoma’s sideline and try to guess how many people on the Oklahoma sideline are actually “coaching” or “participating.” The NCAA limits the number of coaches to “one head coach, nine assistant coaches and four graduate assistant coaches who may be employed by an institution in bowl subdivision football.” It also appears that nobody is chewing tobacco on the sideline today. NCAA rules forbid the use tobacco during games or practices.
Late in the second quarter, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell hits senior wide receiver Jalen Saunders streaking down the sideline for a seventy-six yard touchdown — to take a 14-7 lead at the half. During halftime, a second batch of apocalyptic showers covers the field and I bruise my shins, thanks to the smallest walkway between seats that I’ve ever seen. We all head for cover.
Texas Tech opens the second half with a brilliant directional kick that pins Oklahoma at their own fourteen-yard line. Coach Kingsbury will refuse to hold anything back in the second half. In fact, in the third quarter alone, Texas Tech pulled off a trick-play punt return, recovered an onside kickoff and scored on a fake reverse touchdown pass. The Texas Tech trick punt return is something that I’ve never seen before. Coach Kingsbury sent his returner running up the left sideline to signal a fair catch and the Oklahoma punt defense followed the return man. But the ball was kicked further toward the right sideline and a Texas Tech upback fielded the kick on a bounce and ran 32 yards before being tackled out of bounds. Wow.
Late in the third quarter, Mississippi native Lacoltan Bester rushes for a thirty-five yard Oklahoma touchdown. It’s 28-24, Oklahoma. My friend Jason shakes his head in disgust. At the end of the third quarter, a fan is brought onto the field for a chance to win a year of Chick-fil-A if he can make a twenty-yard field goal. The guy manages to kick the ball only twelve yards.
Midway through the fourth quarter Tech quarterback Davis Webb throws an interception to Gabe Lynn at the Oklahoma 39. Oklahoma will score on this possession to take a 35-24 lead. Then, with 0:38 remaining in the game, Texas Tech fails to convert on fourth down with no timeouts left and Oklahoma takes over to end the game. Oklahoma wins, 38-30. Around me complete strangers are hugging one another. Oklahoma players run to the student center and exchange high fives with wild imprecision. (Note: A student-athlete providing hugs to students is not an extra benefit.) “Jump Around” comes on the sound-system inside the stadium and the Pride of Oklahoma band goes crazy. The guys playing cymbals were spectacular. All around me is bedlam.
Back at the tailgate, we are putting away the remaining cold beverages. Many Oklahoma fans cheer as each player exits the stadium. As we clean up the tailgate, I remind my friends that per NCAA rules we cannot give food/drinks to student-athletes. God help me if I have to knock a cookie out of OU’s safety Hatari Byrd’s hand. The term “extra benefit” refers to any special arrangement by an institutional employee or representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide the student-athlete or his/her relatives or friends with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. Even a ride home would be considered an extra-benefit. A prospect on an “official visit” must pay the actual cost of the tailgate meal prior to the tailgate. Failure to pay is a violation. We will not be putting our team at risk today.
The BIG12 and NCAA have clear-cut rules about the involvement of alumni and friends in the recruiting process. NCAA Bylaw 13.1.2 states that a permissible recruiter “shall be made only by authorized institutional staff members.” You are to stay out of it and leave the recruiting to the coaches.
 NCAA Bylaw 13.10.5 states, “a member institution shall not publicize (or arrange for publicity of) a prospective student-athlete’s visit to the institution’s campus. Further, a prospective student-athlete may not participate in team activities that would make the public or media aware of the prospective student-athlete’s visit to the institution.”
 NCAA Bylaw 13.10.3
 NCAA Bylaw: 13.10.2
 NCAA Bylaw: 22.214.171.124
 NCAA Bylaw: 126.96.36.199
 Bylaw: 188.8.131.52
 NCAA Bylaw: 11.7.2
 NCAA Bylaw: 11.1.4
 NCAA Bylaws: 13.2.1, 184.108.40.206
 NCAA Bylaw: 16.2.3
 NCAA Bylaw: 220.127.116.11