It was a gloomy week to be a Duck.
Rumors continue to swirl about Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL. Recruiting is stagnant and brackish, the Ducks pursuing 2-star linebackers and unrated defensive linemen as they’ve gathered the fewest commits in the conference. An 18-game starter on the offensive line and a former Honorable Mention on the PAC-12 All-Academic team, Nick Cody inexplicably gets himself declared academically ineligible for the Fiesta Bowl.
Tuesday the Willamette Week, a free tabloid from downtown Portland that mainlines controversy like a heroin junkie, publishes a report full of unnamed sources stating long-time boosters are fed up with The Visor and ready to say good riddance.
And Wednesday, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions rejected a bid from Oregon’s lawyers for a summary disposition, a football plea bargain that would have settled the Will Lyles case. There’ll be a hearing in the spring, with coaches called to testify. Hard to say whether Kelly will take a chair at that hearing, or will be locked up in the war room of the Philadelphia Eagles, grinding for the NFL draft.
Welcome to the bizarro world of NCAA investigations, where a river of dirty money drains into a slough of inconsistency and uneven justice. The NCAA and their president, former University of Washington president Mark Emmert, want to dance gangnam style on the grave of the Oregon Ducks. Will Lyles has been condemned as a scum and a slimeball and completely untrustworthy, until the COI calls him as their star witness.
Now having pummeled the Dawgs 9 times in a row, having come within a missed block and two missed field goals of their second trip to the national championship game, the Ducks empire is crumbling, and the cackles of delight around the Northwest from the Crimson and Gray, Orange and Black and Purple and Gold, couldn’t be louder or more justified. The Ducks won with flash and a stash of Nike cash. They were cocky and flashy and cut corners. Kelly himself is a classic Aristotilian tragedy, a great man brought down by the fatal flaw of arrogance. He was the one who had Lyles brazenly squire him around Houston, and the one who ordered the athletic department to pay the scout/runner/agent/exploiter of underprivileged kids with fast 40 times the top rate for recruiting services without a shred of the required reporting or documentation.
Kelly likes to play fast. But in dealing with the NCAA, where justice is both delayed and denied, there’s no up-tempo way to blur the lines any more than Auburn already has. Somehow that $225,000 payment to Cam Newton’s father never resulted in a single minute of NCAA probation, but the Ducks seem destined for a bowl ban and loss of scholarships. The hammer. It’s a decision that will be applauded from Montlake to Heritage Hall.
Lost in this is the Fiesta Bowl. While the Ducks keep making headlines for all the wrong reasons in the days leading up to the game, Kansas State is quietly preparing with no distractions. Unless Kenjon Barner and Kiko Alonso play the game of their lives, or the coaches are cooking up miracles in those closed practices, look for the Ducks to lay another giant egg in Glendale, providing a fitting cap to this era of almost. Eugene burns, the lawyers are at the gate, and the coach is fiddling with his resume.