Greg Poole of Leather Helmet Blog, who writes under the nickname EC Dawg, asks the tough questions about Oregon’s involvement with Will Lyles and the current media firestorm. Poole also writes his own pull-no-punches breakdown of the developments in the case, “Oregon Ripped off or Ducking?” which by now is making Oregon fans’ ears bleed.
His is the best SEC blog out there, the one most free of homerism or boosterism, and a good gauge of a national perspective from an informed college football fan.
LHB: 1. Give me the homer side of the revelations so far. From the east coast and with an SEC perspective – the $25,000 payment for for a national recruiting package that included 5 players not from Texas and zero players actually eligible to be recruited – the deal is suspect at best.
The deal issuspect. There’s no prettying it up. The 143-page booklet that Oregon released Monday was shoddy, cut-and-pasted, outdated and useless. It included one player who was deceased, several who were already signed and in school (including defensive lineman Nosa Eguae from Auburn,who started against the Ducks in the national championship game). Nearly all the recruiting profiles were from the 2009 graduating class, and they were largely marginal D2 and D3-level players. Some were even baseball and basketball athletes.
The best spin a Duck fan could possibly put on this is 1) there is no NCAA by-law against overpaying for bad information or making a stupid business decision or 2) Willie Lyles is like a great salesman who keeps lousy records and gets in trouble at tax time because he doesn’t have all his receipts. It could be that the chief value Oregon got from the Lyles were his relationship and coaching skills: he knew kids, recognized talent, made introductions. That in itself is not a NCAA violation, but if he steered Seastrunk and LaMIchael James to Oregon in exchange for his fee, that’s a gigantic no-no.
LHB: 2. How many players on the current roster were mentored by Lyles?
The two most mentioned are Seastrunk and James, two very big talents. James of course is Oregon’s biggest star, the Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy candidate. Seastrunk was a 5-star prospect with great speed who redshirted last season. LaMIchael James told the Oregonian newspaper, “Will was always there for me, even when I wanted to leave here or something, he was always there for me,” James said. “He was never pushing me, and anytime I needed Will, he was there for me. “I’m never going to turn my back on him. Ever.”
LHB: 3. What is your take on the statement that the video has been integrated with video from other sources and can not be separated?
Probably true to an extent. The video staff would likely prepare cutups and package everything they had on a player for the coaching staff. I’m not technical enough to know. Does video have something like an html code or other signature that identifies its original source? Be nice if Oregon could produce a couple of discs or some significant work product that they could identify as from Lyles. One important point: the NCAA has had the documents Oregon released to the media since March, and so far they haven’t sent the Ducks a letter of inquiry or announced a formal investigation. Most of the time, though, media leads in these scandals. The NCAA seems to respond at their own pace. They still have work to do at North Carolina, Auburn and Ohio State.
LHB: 4. Has there been an comment from the University about the content of the scouting report? Specifically, the lack of available prospects. I guess I’m asking if they contend they were cheated? If so, did anyone request a refund?
The University has been quiet. No statements, no explanation, no alibis. Chip Kelly hasn’t spoken to the media. The Athletic Department hasn’t said much, other than they’re cooperating with the NCAA.
5. Given the documented texts and phones between Lyles and the coaching staff, in addition to the suspect scouting report, are Duck fans beginning to have doubts about the future of any staff members?
Nowhere on the websites, comments or chat rooms has it even been whispered that Oregon’s staff is in any jeopardy. Most of the Ducks’ assistants have been here 20-25 years or more, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, line coach Steve Greatwood, linebacker coach Don Pellum, running backs coach Gary Campbell (who worked most closely with Lyles, even attended high school practices with him). Even strength coach Jim Radcliffe has been here 26 years. They are beloved. They led Oregon out of the dark ages of the Toilet Bowl (a 0-0 tie with archrival Oregon State) and a 5-0 loss to San Jose State, from a national laughingstock to respectability to national prominence. They’re respected and widely recognized for building the foundation of a pace-setting football team. Nobody here blames them, and the feeling among fans is that this is a lot of sound and fury, that Oregon will somehow avoid the Ohio State/USC kind of sanctions.
Local media is pushing the story hard, however, and many fans see that as bias or an anti-Duck vendetta, that the scrutiny is somehow a natural by-product of high level success.
You didn’t ask this, but here’s what I think: college football has become a big, big business. The PAC-12 just signed a three billion dollar media deal, with more to come in the form of a PAC-12 network. Oregon’s payout for the National Championship game was something like $25 million. Gene Chizik’s new contract will pay him $3.5 million a year, plus another million in incentives. There are huge rewards for winning, and it takes elite athletes to win. The athletes who can make a difference, like LaMichael James, like Aaron Murray, are scarce, and the competition to get them is as eye-gouging and violent as anything you’ll see along an SEC line of scrimmage.
All elite programs operate in the gray areas. They buy influence. They provide extra benefits to an athlete and his family. They make secret arrangements like Visa cards and off campus housing and plane trips to games for the athlete’s mama. There are tutors who offer extra assistance and girls who are encouraged to be extra friendly. It’s not a secret. It’s not unique to our program or yours.
It was our turn to get caught and spend some time in the slow-moving NCAA crucible. They’ll find something because they always do, once they start looking. The Ducks will lose some scholarships, maybe something along the level of the Boise State sanctions, something like that. And then it will be someone else’s turn, maybe Georgia’s after they win the 2012 Sugar Bowl or the 2013 Orange. That’s the way this works. To preserve the illusion of amateurism successful programs have to take turns being the scapegoat. Let the shock and outrage ensue. Are you going to tell me a star Georgia athlete pays for his own dinner when he goes out on Saturday night after a big win? That he ever buys his own drinks? That every car in the Athletic Department parking lot was bought by mom and dad?
Here’s what should happen: when Mark Emmert and the university presidents meet this summer for the summit on NCAA football, they take a hard and realistic look at the state of the game and the illusion of amateurism in college football. They engage in a meaningful dialogue, and they enact reforms that recognize the truth.
I love college football. I love the passion, the history and tradition, the stories, the way each group of athletes come to a school and become part of that tradition and play with courage, make sacrifices, achieve more than what was expected. I love the color, the songs, the competition. Pro football bores me to tears. I hardly watch two quarters of NFL football a season. I have an emotional investment in the athletes that compete for my school that surpasses reason and spans generations. When I open the paper or click on a website I want to read about the games, the triumphs and struggles, the summer workouts and the vibrant new prospects. I don’t want to hear some sanctimonius reporter bleating like Dom DeLuise, “Texas has a whorehouse in it.” College football is a lovely game. I want it to be a game again.