Hold-Off, Duck Haters — the Verdict is Still Out
The tweets from the opposing fan camps flew immediately Friday afternoon in the minutes and hours after Oregon released the NCAA’s “proposed findings of violations” over the football program’s recruiting methods.
This from Bucknuts.com columnist Matt Baxendell: “#NCAA findings are out & #Oregon is screwed. I cannot see Chip Kelly coaching another game now that it’s official. Said it since July …”
This one from a self-proclaimed Washington Husky fan: “Ducks ‘admit’ misuse of coaches ‘Lyles’ during recruiting. Walls closing in?”
And finally, one from a Wisconsin student: “First, TCU. Now, Oregon? Maybe next year the Badgers will play against a team with a little integrity in the Rose Bowl.”
That’s a sampling … of some of the more tame tweets.
But after the Twittering subsided Friday evening and you actually got around to looking at the documents yourself — which are nothing more than a draft of what the NCAA is considering knocking the Ducks with — it was impossible not to conclude: Who knows where this NCAA investigation will end up?
Four of the seven sections released by Oregon were redacted. According to the UO, that was done to protect the privacy of student-athletes. The document also is devoid of much detail; instead it’s full of the legalese you’d expect in investigations like this. And remember, the NCAA has yet to pop the Ducks with its official Notice of Allegations. So what is in Friday’s release may not be ultimately be in the final report.
Based on what’s there now, though, the NCAA apparently has uncovered no evidence Oregon paid Texas recruiting scout Willie Lyles to direct players to Eugene — as some media outlets last year insinuated was the case. The Ducks did, however, receive recruiting information from Lyles (and from two other scouting services) over the phone rather than in written reports — a violation of NCAA rules.
The NCAA also is claiming the Ducks exceeded the permissible number of coaches who can recruit at any one time between 2009 and 2011. But again no details, including a name.
Perhaps the most damaging language is this line (which the NCAA wants Oregon to agree to): “The athletic department failed to establish policies and procedures to monitor the football program’s use of recruiting or scouting services (from 2008-11).”
The “failure to monitor” charge is serious but not on the same level as the “lack of institutional control” accusation that has cut down other programs. It isn’t mashed potatoes, either. In December, the NCAA slapped Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban, the loss of nine scholarships and three years of probation “for failure to monitor, preferential treatment and extra benefit violations.” Former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel was hit with a show-cause penalty of five years, effectively ending his college coaching career, for lying to the NCAA and failing to report violations.
As usual, ESPN’s Ted Miller offered a level-headed analysis of Friday’s Oregon document drop. You can read his blog post here. But suffice to say, Miller opines it’s too early to conclude what the Ducks will ultimately face. Here are a few key graphs in Miller’s piece:
“Here’s an educated guess: Oregon will not get a wrist slap from the NCAA. And it won’t get horribly bombed,” Miller writes. “Yeah, I know, thanks a lot.
“… Still, predictions at this point as to what the NCAA eventually will do remain pure guesswork. For one, there’s a lot of stuff Oregon won’t let us see. For another, as pointed out by CBS Sports’ astute Bryan Fischer in a tweet, ‘Reading Oregon/NCAA docs, never been a major infractions case involving 13.14.3 (recruiting/scouting services). So definitely new ground.’
“… It’s meaningful, again, that NCAA investigators/infractions folks have little experience with cases like this. Alleged ‘street agents’ in football, while long an issue in basketball, are a mostly new thing. And a new area of emphasis for the NCAA.”
In reading between the lines, it appears most of the violations outlined (and not redacted) in the document come back to not insisting the scouting services furnished written reports.
It’s also clear — despite what Duck fans and supporters said for months last year when the story first broke — this is a serious investigation.
In the end — and we are likely months away from that point — the verdict may break one way or the other based on the intentions of the alleged rule-breakers, if that can be determined. Was the lack of monitoring purposeful, as in Coach B telling Athletic Department Official C to back off, and the AD guy going along knowing it was wrong? Or did the AD office lose track of its duties as four athletic directors — including two (Pat Kilkenny, Mike Bellotti) who didn’t hail from traditional AD stock — came and went over a span of five years?
Same goes for the alleged extra-coach-as-a-recruiter violation. Was it a case of a program knowingly trying to get a competitive edge by boosting its recruiter ranks? Or was it a coach who slipped up and showed up at a house of a recruit when other coaches were there, exceeding the NCAA limit?
We don’t know. And until more details are forthcoming, it’s difficult to read too much into this investigation — yet.
Now, on to the best links of the week:
The NCAA has decided to move up kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard-line. Good for the Ducks after they score, probably not so good when they are the recipient of a kick (think De’Anthony Thomas here).
The Ducks doomed to bow down to the Trojans next football season? Not so fast, says ESPN.
Here’s a look at Oregon’s first three opponents next season.
Chip Kelly is bringing in an inspirational speaker to provide his Duck players with another of life’s lessons.
New Oregonian football writer Jeffrey Martin wonders if LaMichael James could be the next Darren Sproles in the NFL.