Maybe the coaches at Oregon need to bring in Bob Barker for a crash course. Maybe they need to watch an Extreme Couponing marathon to improve their retail pricing skills. Because when they bought what Will Lyles was selling, they got righteously ripped off.
You already know the Ducks paid $25,000 to Houston-based Lyles shortly after National Signing Day in 2010. You already know that the school's official position was that the money paid for a 2011 "national scouting package" from Lyles' Complete Scouting Services that included videos and information about prospects in the signing class of 2011. You also know the school's position was that the payment had nothing to do with Temple, Texas, tailback Lache Seastrunk, who signed with Oregon shortly before the check was cut and with whom Lyles had a close relationship.
Monday, in response to open records requests by the Eugene Register-Guard and The Oregonian, Oregon released a wealth of documents pertaining to Lyles. One of those contained the "2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet," which on its inside pages contained what it claimed are "Player Profiles 2011." School officials claimed the videos are jumbled with hundreds from other sources in the football program's computer system, so they couldn't figure out which came from Lyles and which came from other sources. So they didn't produce any videos.
Curious as to what exactly those Oregon coaches got for their 25-grand investment? If the booklet (posted here by The Oregonian) is any indication, they got hosed. Let us count the ways:
• All the players profiled were members of the class of 2009.
• In Lyles' nation, there are only 140 players, and 133 of them played their high school ball in Texas.
• Only 22 were good enough to sign football scholarships with FBS schools. Of those, 15 signed with BCS automatic-qualifying schools.
• One player profiled died in 2010 while a freshman at North Texas.
• The profile for DeWayne Buggs, a linebacker from Houston's Lamar High, includes a category called "MSL Sports.net ranking." That suggests Lyles simply cut and pasted the profile from material produced for a former employer. Shawn Garrity, the former president of now-defunct MSL Sports, confirmed to SI.com that Lyles worked for the company as a regional scout. This Facebook posting also connects Lyles to MSL. For his part, Garrity said this of Lyles: "He's a good guy. This is not a guy driving a Mercedes around."
• The two paragraphs under the headline "About us" are almost identical to the two paragraphs under the headline "About" on the website of Elite Scouting Services, another previous Lyles employer. The only differences? "Elite Scouting Services" has been changed to "Complete Scouting Services" and "ESS" has been changed to "CSS."
Oregon spokesman Dave Williford said late Monday that he had forwarded all questions about the booklet to the compliance office, but he didn't expect an answer Monday. Now the Ducks are thinking. It will take time to weave a tale that will explain all this in a satisfactory manner.
My money is on this excuse: The booklet was a sample, sent by Lyles to illustrate what the real thing might look like. If Oregon comes back with that, the next questions will come quickly.
• So, based on an incomplete, possibly plagiarized sample, your football program paid Lyles $25,000 (an amount legitimate recruiting service provider Dick Lascola told SI.com "better provide a hell of a lot.")?
• So where is the real material? (It had better be produced within nanoseconds, or everyone will assume something fishy.)
• Is this the same story you gave the NCAA?
That's the key question now. What did coach Chip Kelly and his staff tell NCAA investigators when they asked earlier this year about the payment to Lyles?
"Most programs purchase recruiting services," Kelly told ESPN.com in March. "Our compliance office is aware of it. Will has a recruiting service that met NCAA rules and we used him in 2010."
If the booklet isn't a sample, then that statement could land Kelly in real trouble -- especially if he used it with NCAA investigators as well as the media. Why would a program pay $25,000 in 2010 for information about recruits who signed with schools in February 2009? Unless Lyles can somehow bend space and time. Then Oregon got a bargain.
Even if the payment was for something else, investigators probably couldn't have proved the Ducks broke any 2010-vintage NCAA rule regarding scouting services. But that only holds true if Lyles produced something resembling a legitimate product. If Kelly or any of his coaches tried to pass off the booklet released Monday as legitimate, NCAA investigators might consider that a fib on the level of, say, claiming a recruit wasn't at a cookout at a coach's house when he actually was or, possibly, conveniently forgetting to mention that series of e-mails about the tattoo parlor. Ask former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel how those fibs turned out for them. It's relatively unclear whether any NCAA rule in 2010 could prohibit a school from paying a recruiting service $1 million, much less $25,000. But it's crystal clear that in 2010, the NCAA rulebook forbade lying to the NCAA.
Maybe Lyles fulfilled the bulk of his order with video. For Oregon's sake, it had better not be video of the players profiled in the booklet. If Lyles indeed sent video of actual 2011 prospects from across the nation, then the Ducks must figure out exactly what he sent and present it to the NCAA and to the news organizations that have waited patiently for the school to fill legitimate open records requests. If they can do that, they have nothing to fear.
If that isn't the case, then Oregon needs a whopper of a story to explain all this. Timing limits Oregon's excuse parameters. The Register-Guard requested documents received between Feb. 1, 2010 and March 4, 2011. That only allows for a 22-day window between the receipt of any sample and the receipt of Lyles' invoice. (According to school records, Oregon paid in full on March 29, 2010.)
Things could get quite a bit messier if the Ducks claim the booklet released Monday is indeed part of what they purchased. If that's the case, Kelly and his coaches need to paint themselves as the most pathetic shoppers this side of Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn. They need to claim Lyles ripped them off and that they got too busy to ask for a refund. Then they need to pray NCAA investigators believe a shoddy, outdated, possibly plagiarized booklet is what Oregon actually bought.