E:60 Reports On 'Operation Gridiron' Air Force Academy Football Scandal

ESPN's E:60 looked into the controversy surrounding the United States Air Force Academy and its football team.

The problems, which are unthinkable for a military academy, stem from an effort to root out sexual assault and drug abuse among cadets. In 2011 the Air Force created a secret network of informants to gather information.

One of those informants was Eric Thomas, a member of the Academy's soccer team.

The information Thomas provided led to the convictions of three football players and included the first successful prosecutions of sexual assault at the academy in more than a decade.

Almost immediately afterward the program was closed and Thomas was expelled for actions, he claims, were part of his work as an informant.

According to Thomas and his Air Force handler, top players "seemed very well protected" and as soon as they were implicated in wrongdoing, military leadership sought to end the program.

"I went because I wanted to play division one soccer, but I stayed because I wanted to serve this country," Thomas said.

Though he was an athlete, Thomas told ESPN that he saw a clear difference in how top football players were treated.

He saw events at a party that led to him being approached to be part of the program. Thomas said his first assignment was to report on a former football player who had been suspected of sexual assault.

"I saw it as protecting some cadets," he said.

Thomas told ESPN that his efforts on behalf of the program -- which he said involved saving a woman from rape -- eventually led to him being expelled when he reported sexual improprieties involving five football players trying to drug some girls.

Police officials say that school leadership interfered with investigation and refused access to football players and coaches.

"If it was just a regular cadet, there would be zero tolerance," said the officer in charge of the case.

Thomas' work led to three sexual assault convictions, but that did not stop Thomas from being expelled only six weeks before graduation.

The Air Force disputes Thomas' version of events and the reasons for his expulsion. The Academy continues to exist that the reasons Thomas was kicked out were unrelated to his work as a confidential informant.

"I think we messed with the wrong people at the wrong time," said Thomas. "Doing the right thing comes at a cost and I don't think the Academy likes that."

Thomas is proud of his action. "We got three rapists out of the Air Force...I would do it again."

See the teaser video for the piece here: