Better Duck

Oregon's ties with a scouting service owner raise plenty of questions but likely not enough to spell sanctions
July 03, 2011

Oregon's rise to elite status under coach Chip Kelly—the last two Pac-10 titles, a near national championship last season—is no accident. Kelly and his assistants have proven themselves to be among the shrewdest coaches in the sport.

That's why no one believes that Kelly and his coaches were dumb enough to get ripped off by a Texas-based scouting service operator. In March the NCAA discovered that Oregon had paid $25,000 in March 2010 to Complete Scouting Services, a company run by Houston-based trainer Will Lyles. The payment, according to an invoice obtained by SI, was for the company's "National Package," which, according to Lyles in a radio interview he did with Houston's KCOH-AM last week, included game video and evaluations of players in the 2011 class.

The NCAA had begun investigating the payment in the spring because Lyles has a close relationship with several Oregon players, including tailbacks LaMichael James (of Texarkana, Texas) and Lache Seastrunk (of Temple, Texas). The latter signed with Oregon seven weeks before the school's payment to Lyles went through.

That does not constitute an NCAA violation as long as Lyles provided $25,000 worth of scouting material to Oregon. The majority of programs use scouting services, which provide video and evaluations of players to help college coaches narrow their recruiting options. But after last week's developments, only the most naive fan would not be suspicious of what went down in Eugene.

On June 20, almost four months after two Oregon newspapers filed an open records request with the school, the university released a 143-page booklet that Lyles had sent to Kelly on Feb. 22, 2010, as part of the National Package. The report, titled the 2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet, featured 140 players, all of whom graduated high school in 2009. Of those in this "national" report, 133 were from Texas. No videos were released because, according to Oregon officials, the school could not determine which recruiting videos had been sent by Lyles. One day later the school released more material that came from Lyles—spreadsheets listing little more than name, school, position, height, weight and contact information—about class of 2012 and 2013 prospects from four states. The last batch of spreadsheets was sent on March 3, 2011, only hours before multiple news outlets would report the $25,000 payment.

Lyles did not respond to interview requests, and Oregon spokesman Dave Williford, in a statement, would only say, "As we have previously stated, we have and will continue to work with the NCAA on this matter. Until this is resolved, we will offer no further comment."

Oregon has hired a lawyer who specializes in NCAA enforcement issues to help handle the inquiry, but don't expect the school to receive more than a slap on the wrist. While Lyles's service may have violated a minor NCAA rule that requires such businesses to provide material at least four times a year, the NCAA will have a difficult time proving what has become public perception—that the money went to compensate Lyles for swaying either James, a 2008 recruit, or Seastrunk or both to sign with the Ducks. Oregon coaches are sure to claim that they were duped by Lyles into buying outdated and dubious recruiting material.

It may walk like a major NCAA violation, quack like a major NCAA violation and look like a major NCAA violation, but if there's no smoking gun—and so far there is none—it will not be ruled to be a major NCAA violation. Rather it will be interpreted as a loophole in the governing body's bylaws that Oregon exploited. Expect the NCAA to close the loophole, and for it to be forever known as the Oregon Rule.

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ANDY STAPLES'S

Extra Points

Russell Wilson, who started the last three seasons at N.C. State, will use a graduate-student waiver to play at Wisconsin. His arrival gives the Badgers an experienced quarterback and could tilt the balance of power in the Big Ten's Leaders division.... Now that West Virginia has ended its awkward coach-in-waiting arrangement, don't be surprised if quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers generate national buzz. If they can shock LSU in Morgantown on Sept. 24, the rest of the schedule is manageable.... The recruiting fallout from the Ohio State scandal continued last week, when offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, a 6'5", 302-pound senior from Lakewood, Ohio, decommitted from the Buckeyes and said he planned to visit Michigan. Kalis is the second recruit lost since the scandal broke.

CAROLINA BLUES

NCAA Should Hammer The Heels

Any discussion of the litany of allegations the NCAA hurled at North Carolina last week must begin with these two: The Tar Heels allegedly employed an agent's runner as its associate head coach, and a woman employed by coach Butch Davis to tutor his son provided several players improper assistance. If proven, those violations rank alongside any of the last decade.

John Blake, who spent three seasons as an assistant at North Carolina, resigned last September. But according to the Notice of Allegations the NCAA sent the school last week, from 2007 through '09 he received payments totaling $31,000 from agent Gary Wichard, a close friend and former employer. The NCAA's insinuation is that Blake not only recruited players to wear Tar Heel blue, but that he also recruited Tar Heels to sign with Wichard's agency. (Blake's lawyers say the payments were to help the coach pay for private school tuition for his son and deny that Blake recruited players for Wichard while with the Heels.)

Also in the notice, the NCAA has accused Jennifer Wiley, a former tutor, of providing about $3,500 in impermissible benefits—including paying parking tickets for players and providing them free tutoring. (Messages to Wiley's lawyer went unanswered.) If North Carolina is guilty of both, the NCAA would be justified in sanctioning the Heels as harshly as it did USC last year—even if the Committee on Infractions doesn't find evidence of a lack of institutional control, which draws the most severe penalties. (And the NCAA's 42-page notice doesn't accuse the school of that.) Consider that the NCAA banned the Trojans from postseason play for two years and stripped the program of 30 scholarships because USC coaches and administrators, it says, should have known that Reggie Bush and his family had received improper benefits. Shouldn't Davis and his bosses also have known that their own man steered players to an agent who provided them with extra benefits? Davis and Blake's relationship dates to 1976 when Davis coached Blake at Charles Page High in Sand Springs, Okla. Still, the coach has pleaded ignorance throughout this investigation. Last October, Davis said, "I'm sorry that I trusted John Blake," and the coach maintains that position.

Davis has taken the stance that those who remain ignorant should remain gainfully employed. But even if he somehow keeps his job, he probably won't find it so appealing once the NCAA is finished with the Heels.

PHOTOSTEVE DYKES/GETTY IMAGES (SEASTRUNK)MONEY TRAIL Under Kelly (inset), Oregon paid $25,000 to a scouting services provider with strong ties to Seastrunk (15). PHOTOBOB ROSATO (KELLY)[See caption above] PHOTOJ. MERIC/GETTY IMAGES (SMITH) PHOTORICHARD C. LEWIS/ICON SMIWELL HEELED The NCAA has charged Blake with directing players to sign with an agent who was paying him in return.

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