STILLWATER, Okla. - Coach Mike Boynton had one hour before the storm hit.
At 9:20 a.m. Friday morning, he first received word that NCAA sanctions were coming. Forty minutes later, he rushed to contact each of Oklahoma State’s 13 men’s basketball players before the devastating news went public at 11 a.m.
The Cowboys’ postseason hopes were smashed. The arrival of Cade Cunningham — the nation’s top prospect — and a top-10 recruiting class in July was in doubt.
And not even a single player had reported to campus.
Oklahoma State was banned from the 2020-21 postseason, placed on probation for three years and lost three scholarships for the next three seasons along with several other recruiting penalties on Friday, the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions announced. The ruling concludes an investigation that ruled former Cowboys associate coach Lamont Evans accepted bribes to influence student-athletes from 2016-17.
The university announced its intention to appeal the ruling, calling the ruling “unfair and unjust.”
“I was thoroughly disappointed with the way the NCAA decided to hand out those penalties that will certainly impact people's lives who had absolutely nothing to do with this case,” Boynton said. “Maybe probation, I could see. Maybe some reduction in recruiting activities, even though there were no recruiting violations here.
“But in terms of a postseason ban for a group of kids who were probably 15 and 16 years old when this thing was going on is completely, completely out of balance.”
On a day Boynton’s master plan to rebuild the program took a massive hit, the Cowboys were left searching for answers while expressing anger and disappointment.
Oklahoma State officials primarily expressed disbelief in the punishment — the first handed out after an FBI probe into college basketball recruiting that led to investigations at Kansas, LSU, Southern California, North Carolina State, Auburn, Arizona and Louisville.
“I’m shocked by the ruling today,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said, “and determined to vigorously fight against this injustice. OSU has strived to do the right thing during this process and all we expected in return was the NCAA to reciprocate.
“If this is what happens when there is no competitive advantage gained, then the NCAA has created an expectation of significantly harsher penalties when a competitive advantage is involved. All of us that are members of the NCAA will be watching to see if these standards and expectations are applied consistently.”
Evans, who spent a year on Brad Underwood’s staff but never coached a game under Boynton, was fired after he received federal charges in September 2017. Evans accepted bribes to link top players with bribe-paying managers and financial advisers, a scheme that began as a coach at South Carolina. He pleaded guilty to accepting $22,000 in bribes and last June was sentenced to three months in prison.
He also received a 10-year show cause from the NCAA, restricting him from any athletic-related duties.
The Cowboys are now paying dearly for Evans’ transgressions.
Oklahoma State received a Level 1 punishment, but while cooperating with the NCAA argued for a Level 2 punishment. That would not have included a postseason ban.
“A Level 1 for Lamont Evans? Absolutely,” Holder said. “But not Level 1 for Oklahoma State University. We were a victim.”
If the appeal is lost, there is no NCAA tournament. Three scholarships — and Oklahoma State currently has all 13 filled — are gone.
Cunningham, who has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft, could elect to not arrive in Stillwater, even with his older brother, Cannen, on Boynton’s coaching staff. He could elect to join the G-League, play overseas or transfer.
According to NCAA bylaws, Cunningham and all other freshmen are allowed to sign elsewhere because of the penalties. Even current Oklahoma State players can elect to transfer.
Boynton said Friday he spoke briefly with Cunningham along with every other player.
“It was a short conversation,” Boynton said. “We’re going to have conversations over the next few days, probably weeks, and we’re going to try to look at all options, whatever they are — G-League, overseas, another university or stay at Oklahoma State. At the end of the day, whatever his family and he decides is best for his future, I’m gonna get right in tow with that and I’m gonna support it 100 percent.”
Throughout his tenure, Boynton has never wavered in his belief he had the Cowboys on track. The FBI probe has hung over his head from Day 1. He’s dismissed players. Others have transferred.
He just views this as another bump in the road.
“This will not stop me from having success,” Boynton said. “It feels like an encyclopedia full of bumps in the road, but we will have success. We just have to figure out a way to do it within a new scope of operation. And we're gonna obviously fight this decision.
“But I'm not the least worried about me, or the ability of this program to be successful. In fact, every time something like this has happened, it's given me more conviction. Because I know when the day comes that we’re having success, I'll enjoy it that much more.”