Ross Parmley has been fired effective immediately as the University of Tulsa athletic director, TU President Steadman Upham said in a letter that was sent to TU faculty, staff and students tonight.
Parmley, 39, was placed on paid administrative leave after a court affidavit – unsealed last week in Oklahoma City – called TU's athletic director an "admitted gambler." The affidavit was part of an ongoing FBI investigation into an alleged Oklahoma City gambling ring.
In the letter released tonight, Upham indicated that Parmley wasn't truthful with university officials in October 2011 about an FBI investigation and the extent to which he had been gambling.
“At that time, Ross told me that his involvement was solely due to a family connection to the person being investigated,” Upham said in the letter. “For obvious reasons, I specifically asked Ross if he had ever gambled on college or professional sports. He told me that friendly wagers during personal golf games constituted the extent of his betting activities.”
When contacted by the Tulsa World tonight, Parmley declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney. Attempts to contact his attorney were unsuccessful.
Teddy Mitchell of Oklahoma City was indicted in September on gambling charges. An 84-page affidavit related to the case was unsealed two weeks ago. In the document, Oklahoma City-based FBI Special Agent Francis Bowles Jr. alleged that Parmley had placed bets with Mitchell.
Parmley’s name was mentioned once, alleging that he had paid Mitchell $1,782 for gambling debts in the November-December period of 2009. Parmley has not been charged with any crime.
A source told The Oklahoman that Parmley admitted to using an Internet gambling site during an unspecified number of years. In 2005 and 2006, Parmley was a member of the TU football program’s support staff. After that, he occupied various positions within the university’s athletic administration. Reportedly, he stopped gambling in 2010, and a source told the Tulsa World that Parmley did not place bets on TU games.
An NCAA rule prohibits student-athletes and athletic department staff members from “wagering on intercollegiate, amateur and professional sports in which the Association conducts championships.”
Upham indicated in the letter that Parmley “was keenly aware of NCAA regulations regarding compliance issues. Since being hired by TU in 2005, Ross has annually signed an official document certifying that he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations involving The University of Tulsa.”
Upham has been out of the country on a trip that was planned before he returned to his role as TU president Oct. 1, but he’s been in communication with Parmley and TU officials. In the letter, Upham stated that in a Nov. 27 conversation with Parmley, “Ross admitted he had not been truthful in our 2011 conversation. He was immediately put on administrative leave and, at my direction, TU notified the NCAA. We subsequently launched our own internal investigation.”
The NCAA investigation will likely raise several questions, including Tulsa’s diligence in investigating Parmley’s role in gambling, according to former NCAA investigator and former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe.
“Certainly, if there was something that they knew about and they didn’t act on it or didn’t act strongly enough or whatever, then there’s going to be a significant price to pay, I would think, for that,” Beebe said.
Three months after Parmley raised the issue of the FBI investigation, TU promoted him from interim athletic director to athletic director. He succeeded Bubba Cunningham, who had taken the same position at North Carolina.
“I took Ross at his word, as I had no reason to believe there had been any acts of impropriety or non-compliance,” Upham said in the statement. Upham said Parmley was promoted based on an “exemplary service of more than six years” at TU.
The FBI has been investigating Mitchell for eight years, according to The Oklahoman. A federal grand jury indicted Mitchell, his sons Dryden Mitchell and Nick Mitchell, six other men and a Costa Rican company in September, records show.
Mitchell, 58, is accused of making millions of dollars by hosting illegal high-stakes poker games at his home and by illegally taking bets on sporting events. He has pleaded not guilty.
A Lawton native, Parmley received his master's degree from the University of Oklahoma. After serving as the Norman Public Schools athletic director, he became TU's director of football operations in 2005. In 2006, he became the assistant athletic director for football operations.
Kevan Buck, TU’s executive vice president and treasurer, is serving as the university’s acting athletic director. TU has not announced a timeline for conducting a search for Parmley’s successor.
Mentioned by various TU sources as possible athletic director candidates are former Hurricane football coaches Dave Rader and Steve Kragthorpe, former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts (a former Oklahoma quarterback and the father of current TU tailback Trey Watts), former U.S. Congressman Steve Largent (a former TU wide receiver and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame), and Northwest Missouri State athletic director Wren Baker.
TU has been rocked by two high-profile firings within a span of three months. In September, for reasons not disclosed by the university, university President Geoffrey Orsak was dismissed. He had been Upham’s successor for only 74 days. After Orsak was terminated, Upham agreed to return to the university presidency.
Upham said he was saddened to announce Parmley’s firing “for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I considered Ross a true professional in intercollegiate athletics.”
Upham said TU would cooperate fully with the NCAA’s investigation.
On Monday, a TU source confirmed that an NCAA investigator was in Tulsa but did not visit the TU campus. No one within the TU administration has been able to confirm whether the NCAA representative was able to conduct an interview with Parmley.
“This a difficult time for TU and we realize that our reputation is at stake,” Upham said in the letter. “We are determined to uncover the whole truth in every aspect of this case.”
University of Tulsa President Steadman Upham's letter to the TU community
Today, I terminated the employment of TU Athletic Director Ross Parmley. His departure from the university is effective immediately.
I am saddened to make this announcement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I considered Ross a true professional in intercollegiate athletics.
In October of 2011, Ross shared with me that he was cooperating in an FBI investigation pertaining to a gambling case in Oklahoma City. At that time, Ross told me that his involvement was solely due to a family connection to the person being investigated. For obvious reasons, I specifically asked Ross if he had ever gambled on college or professional sports. He told me that friendly wagers during personal golf games constituted the extent of his betting activities. I took Ross at his word, as I had no reason to believe there had been any acts of impropriety or non-compliance.
At that time he was still interim athletic director at The University of Tulsa.
Approximately three months later, in January of 2012, based on a record of exemplary service of more than 6 years, Ross was promoted to the position of Athletic Director.
Ross Parmley is keenly aware of NCAA regulations regarding compliance issues. Since being hired by TU in 2005, Ross has annually signed an official document certifying that he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations involving The University of Tulsa.
On Tuesday, November 27, while I was out of the country, Ross admitted he had not been truthful in our 2011 conversation. He was immediately put on administrative leave and, at my direction, TU notified the NCAA. We subsequently launched our own internal investigation.
TU is cooperating fully with officials from the NCAA to comprehensively investigate this matter and bring it to a fair and proper conclusion. This a difficult time for TU and we realize that our reputation is at stake. We are determined to uncover the whole truth in every aspect of this case.
Peggy and I are currently in South America on a multi-country trip that had been planned long before my return to the Presidency in October. We are scheduled to return at the end of the month. In the interim, I will remain in close communication with senior university administrators, the members of the TU Board of Trustees and officials from the NCAA in regard to this matter.
The greatest professional privilege I have ever been given has been to serve as President of The University of Tulsa. I will continue to strive toward ever-greater moments for the students, faculty, staff and alumni of this exceptional institution of higher education. Thank you for your continued commitment to our future.
FOR MORE ON THIS STORY, SEE WEDNESDAY'S TULSA WORLD