Spring Practice got underway this week in Eugene.
(What, Chip Can’t Afford To Cash Out?)
The good news for Oregon is that - as Ken Goe of the PORTLAND OREGONIAN reported Tuesday - after a disappointing freshman redshirt, Lache Seastrunk has been impressive this week during drills.
Or is that bad news? (That is, that Seastrunk is even on the field.)
According to Oregon Coach Chip Kelly it’s definitely the former.
On March 3, the same day Oregon confirmed it had paid $25,000 to the one-person “recruiting service” run by Seastrunk “mentor” Willie Lyles, Kelly told John Canzano of the Oregonian: “We’ve done nothing wrong.”
So why then did Kelly and Oregon fork over $25,000 to Lyles, who went from not knowing Seastrunk before he became a college football prospect to reportedly living with Seastrunk?
The above invoice for the transaction confirmed Oregon was to receive “Game Film and Highlight Film” from 22 states - including Oregon.
But when Kelly was asked by Canzano what Oregon got for its 25 large, Kelly said, “names and phone numbers.”
The payment to Lyles, subsequent discrepancy over services rendered and Lyles’ “Complete Scouting Service” falling well short of NCAA “recruiting service” guidelines soon drew a visit from NCAA investigators to Eugene.
That visit though may now be an extended NCAA stay after a March 13 FOXSports.com piece by Thayer Evans detailing longtime Oregon assistant coach Gary Campbell’s relationship with Lyles in Texas.
In an article titled “Is Lyles most powerful street agent?“, Evans reported that Lyles accompanied Ducks assistant Campbell to at least two Texas High Schools - Clear Springs High School and Dekaney High School - while Campbell was recruiting football players for the Ducks in 2010. Evans:
Campbell said he did visit high schools with Lyles, but doesn’t recall how often.
Campbell on Lyles:
“I just don’t understand what the big deal about this scouting service and paying Will is all about.
“I don’t think Will did anything wrong. I mean, I know he didn’t do anything wrong with us because he knew that we weren’t going to do anything outside of the rules.”
Apparently Campbell is unaware of the NCAA’s criteria for a booster, or “representative of the institution’s athletics interests” (NCAA bylaw 13.02.14):
an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g., apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have been known) by a member of the institution’s executive or athletics administration to:
(c) Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes;
Again, keep in mind that before Seastrunk was known as a high school football prospect, Lyles had no prior relationship with him or his family.
If Campbell isn’t aware of the rules governing recruiting, it wouldn’t be the first time. The Oregonian reported last January:
The lone blemish on Campbell’s reputation was his 2003 interaction with junior-college running back J.J. Arrington, who had committed to California but was wavering back toward Oregon. In Campbell’s presence, Arrington signed with the Ducks after the midnight deadline, forging his father’s signature. The NCAA gave Oregon two years’ probation.
“It was a mistake,” Campbell said.
But Oregon stood by him, as he had the Ducks for so long. He so appreciates his coworkers’ longevity that if the Ducks’ coaching staff ever fractures or moves to another program, Campbell said, he might just retire.
The verification of the forgery caused Arrington to subsequently sign with Cal and landed Oregon in hot water with the NCAA.
Speaking of (in this case, alleged) undue influence over recruits, Oregon starting quarterback Darron Thomas said of Lyles in another FOXSports.com piece:
“He brings a lot of Texas to this team — a guy that Coach Chip Kelly and them out there now recruiting in Texas a lot. Like I said, he’s a big recruiting guy just leading guys.”
Oregon star LaMichael James on Lyles in the same story:
“He’s very influential to me and I know to Lache and just different players.”
For all we know Lyles is a good egg who had no design on personal gain when he struck up a relationship with Seastrunk and his mother. The fact that those relationships happened only after Seastrunk became a major college football prospect, and that Lyles has subsequently moved out of the Seastrunk home and cut off his relationship with Seastrunk’s mother after her son signed with Oregon may be complete coincidence.
Like the $25,000 from Oregon to Lyles right after Seastrunk signed with the school was only for “Game Film and Highlight Film.” (Or was it “names and phone numbers“?)
But as Lyles visited multiple Texas high schools with Campbell, by NCAA rules he’s defined as a booster who is forbidden any contact with Oregon recruits.
NCAA bylaw 13.1.2 (Page 96) on what constitutes a “Permissible Recruiter”:
All in-person correspondence on and off campus recruiting contacts with prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s relatives or legal guardians shall be made only by authorized institutional staff members. Such contact, as well as correspondence and telephone calls, by representatives of an institution’s athletics interests is prohibited.
There are some exceptions to that rule, but Lyles doesn’t fulfill any of them.
Lyles and Oregon have already violated the booster-contact rule thanks to Lyles’ relationship with both Seastrunk and assistant coach Campbell. Campbell confirmed the violation himself to FOXSports.com with his comments to Thayer Evans.
That violation would not, unto itself, render Seastrunk ineligible. But we’re now to the point with Oregon where the circumstantial evidence is impossible to ignore:
1) As a booster, Lyles was not permitted any contact with Seastrunk during the recruiting process
2) Oregon paid an exorbitant fee to Lyles, $25,000, for invoiced services that have been contradicted by Kelly
3) Lyles’ “recruiting service” does not fulfill NCAA guidelines
4) Oregon player comments suggest Lyles had influence over Duck players before signing with the school
5) The NCAA placed Oregon on probation for a 2003 recruiting “mistake” by Campbell
If Oregon were to cut Seastrunk loose there’d plenty of schools willing to acquire his services. Not to mention the fact that rumors have persisted for months that Seastrunk was considering a transfer on his own. (Memphis head coach and former LSU assistant Larry Porter, who dealt with Lyles extensively while on Les Miles‘ staff, is one coach who could afford such a risk.)
Then there’s Campbell, who last January was already bringing up the possibility of retirement. If Campbell really does care about the Oregon program he will indeed consider retiring to, at the very least, a voluntary NCAA sitdown.
But Oregon’s fate will depend on much more than placating the NCAA.
In the end the media, not the NCAA, will determine the fate of the Oregon football program.
If you don’t believe me on that, ask USC, which was never directly linked to the Reggie Bush family shenanigans but hammered by the NCAA anyway thanks to AD Mike Garrett’s unwillingness to be more forthcoming with NCAA investigators and just important, reporters.
How else do you explain the NCAA taking down the Trojans with a case mainly based on the contradictory testimony of a convicted felon?
With USC, the NCAA didn’t have a $25,000 check to a known street agent from the school itself. The NCAA didn’t have taped comments from an assistant coach acknowledging activities with a street agent that are against NCAA rules.
With USC, the NCAA didn’t have its own president (Mark Emmert last Thursday) sounding these alarm bells in the middle of its investigation of the school:
“When we have people that don’t want to conduct themselves consistent with the integrity of these games, we need to be ready to deal with that appropriately. We cannot have coaches, administrators, parents or student‑athletes sitting out there deciding, Is this worth the risk? If I conduct myself in this fashion, and if I get caught, it’s still worth the risk. We don’t want those kind of cost benefit analyses going on.”
What the NCAA did have with USC was ugly publicity from an investigative expose and a school unwilling to publicly acknowledge virtually any appearance of its own impropriety.
Sound familiar Ducks fans?