WakeyLeaks puts focus on college sports ethics – Chicago Tribune
One Thursday during Les Miles’s tenure as Oklahoma State’s head coach, a message surfaced on an answering machine inside the Cowboys’ football facility, with a man’s voice making a solemn claim: He had watched practice of Oklahoma State’s opponent and learned its plays. The message detailed a dozen plays and formations for the Cowboys to prepare for.
“It was really, really good stuff,” Miles said. “The only thing is, we didn’t believe it. We didn’t believe that it was authentic.”
Miles and his staff decided not to broach the information at that Friday practice. They had installed their game plan, and so, late in the week, it probably would just confuse his players. But his coaches wrote down all the plays they had heard just in case the voice mail started to prove accurate.
“We were prepared,” Miles said. “We didn’t know the guy who even called.”
Miles’s instinct proved correct: The plays he heard Thursday never materialized Saturday. But the experience underscores a reality about college football, exposed by the revelations this week regarding the so-called WakeyLeaks saga. Now-fired Wake Forest radio analyst Tommy Elrod, also a former Wake Forest player and coach, shared game-plan information with Wake Forest opponents over three years, an apparent attempt to submarine a head coach who did not retain him as an assistant. In ranking elemental components of the sport, subterfuge and espionage rank somewhere between blocking and tackling.
The scandal spread after Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich on Wednesday admitted that Elrod had spilled game-plan information to Cardinals offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway, with whom Elrod had worked at Wake Forest. Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan told Sports Illustrated on Wednesday that the Black Knights had been contacted by Wake Forest and were “looking into it.” Virginia Tech then admitted that an assistant had received information from Elrod before a 2014 game, though the school said the information was never used in their game.
“We are disappointed and embarrassed that this type of information was distributed to, and apparently received by one of our former assistant coaches,” Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock said in a statement. “The distribution of this type of information among peers or rivals is wrong and not in the vein of sportsmanship and integrity that we demand and except.”
But in a universe as cutthroat as college football, what brand of sportsmanship can coaches really expect? Elrod’s behavior can be categorized unequivocally as traitorous. He betrayed his alma mater, deceived his employer and, depending on your perspective, committed a crime in stealing intellectual property.
“That’s like treason,” former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
The reaction of teams who received Elrod’s pilfered game plans, though, may be more complicated. The question is not only of ethics but also of etiquette. By any reasonable definition, Louisville would have been unethical had it used information obtained by a scorned ex-coach. Then again, no one said college football coaching is ethical by the standard definition. Was Louisville cheating? Or was it merely taking advantage of an edge presented to it?
“There’s a parameter that says one, if it’s not covered in the rule book, then it stands outside the lines, and you need to do whatever you need to do win,” Miles said. “And then there’s another piece that says morally that’s wrong. There’s arguments for both. I’m glad I never had that. I never had that great information.”
Bellotti argued that accepting another team’s game plan from an opposing staffer would undermine the perceived role of a coach: to set an example for his players. It also would give tacit approval to employees going rogue.
“You try to find out any info you can,” Bellotti said. “I’m not certain that I would ever accept it. I would not. The fact that a former coach, no matter how disgruntled he may be, that he would give out information about the program he played for and coached for, by accepting it, you’re sort of saying, ‘Hey, that’s okay.’ Winning above all costs, I’m uncomfortable as heck with it as a coach.”
The most sporting thing Louisville or any other team could have done upon hearing from Elrod would have been to let Wake Forest know it had a mole. But Elrod apparently leaked secrets for three years without any teams notifying Demon Deacons Coach Dave Clawson.
“Calling Wake Forest, I’m not sure about,” Bellotti said. “You have a choice of whether to use it or not. Even if you’d probably use it, I wouldn’t totally trust something when I got it. It might be misinformation. Out there in coaching, there’s a lot of people who cheat in recruiting, but you don’t turn them in. It’s hard. It’s outside my control. Worry about what you do. Don’t worry about the other guy. To me, it’s just, I don’t know. The whole thing just makes me sort of ill.”
Miles pointed out the frequent sharing of information among coaches. It’s standard for a coach to receive advice from another coach about an upcoming opponent if they have a good relationship: Hey, we ran away from their defensive end, but we realized afterward we should have run at him. He also mentioned the common practice of stealing signals, which happens every Saturday.
“But that is a game-day function, and it’s something that is seen and observed,” Miles said.
Miles said he had never heard of anything remotely like WakeyLeaks and had never been put in a position to accept a stolen game plan. But during his time at LSU, he said, Miles believes some opponents – whom he declined to identify – somehow had uncovered his secrets.
“I can tell you when I felt like I’ve been skunked,” Miles said. “I can’t tell you I’ve ever had information to any extent prior to the game. I never had a game plan. Sometimes you find a piece of paper laying around from a practice or something, but that gave us no advantage.”
Some coaches would prefer never to be placed in the situation Louisville found itself in: having either to accept a covert advantage or turn down a surreptitious edge. But without questions, they’re more concerned with being on the other end of such deception. Coaches, by their nature, are a paranoid bunch. This week, having offered so much validation for those feelings, isn’t going to help.
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