Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ted Miller Makes Some Important Distinctions, and Some Much-Needed Sense

Ted Miller's PAC-12 blog is one of the best college football news digests in the country.  It's sharply written and carefully researched, in an entertaining, largely positive style.  If you follow the conference, particularly if you want conference-wide news at a glance, Miller's blog is a great place to start.

Yesterday in his mailbag feature the ESPN blogger broke down the NCAA's investigation of Oregon's connection to Will Lyles as plainly and carefully as anyone on the web.  His take is refreshingly free of accusations, name-calling and hysteria.  Call it a dose of common sense, something that has been lacking in some of the reporting and commentary on the issue (including, at times, at The Duck Stops Here.) An excerpt follows, in italics:

The NCAA's investigation of Oregon has nothing to do with the Ducks using a recruiting service -- even paying $25,000 for one. Most teams use recruiting services, and that use is not against NCAA rules, nor is spending a lot on them.

The problem for Oregon is primarily Will Lyles, who has been characterized as a “street agent,” a third party who steers recruits to certain colleges.

The Ducks face two connected issues; 1. What did they get for $25,000 from Lyles? 2. Did Lyles steer prospects to Oregon (?)

To the first question: Can Oregon produce for investigators what Lyles gave them that was worth $25,000? If Oregon hands over hundreds of hours of video, as well as scouting reports, telephone numbers and other bits of information that are valuable in recruiting, then a significant part of the school's defense will be accomplished. It can say: "We paid Lyles for his recruiting service," and it would be tough to prove otherwise as the second question gets asked.

And that, again, is: Did Lyles push recruits to sign with Oregon? If Oregon doesn't produce materials of value that Lyles provided, then the payment looks fishy, particularly when you consider Lyles' reputation and that he clearly had "mentor-like" relationships with redshirt freshman running back Lache Seastrunk and Heisman finalist LaMichael James, who brought Lyles along as his guest at the Home Depot College Football Awards in December.

As for what might happen, it's hard to say. Oregon isn't the only team under scrutiny. The NCAA recently announced that the influence of street agents in college football was going to get a serious look. And if it finds that Oregon paid someone to deliver an A-list prospect, well, that's a serious recruiting violation that likely would have serious consequences. But there is a ways to travel to get to that point, so Oregon fans don't need to get into a full panic just yet.

Taking a step back from the ledge, it doesn't make sense that Oregon would have agreed to pay Lyles $25,000 to deliver Lache Seastrunk.  The Ducks have world class facilities, an exciting offense and great coaches that good players want to play for.  They recruited the player, who originally  leaned to USC.  USC's Pete Carroll left for the NFL; the Texas prep star reconsidered his commitment.  He made a faith-based decision to sign with Oregon.  Did Lyles advise him in his decision?  Probably.  But Seastrunk has stated repeatedly he made an independent decision for his own reasons, based partly on the advice of his father and a personal vision.  Did Oregon break the rules in signing him?  If the NCAA looks at the evidence objectively, there's not a conclusive case that the coaching staff did anything wrong.

Spring practice is twelve days away.  To date, there is nothing about this investigation or the reporting of it that should lessen enthusiasm for real football.  The Ducks could be even better in 2011, and given what they've accomplished in the last three years, that's saying something.  There are plenty of reasons to be excited this spring.  In the neighborhoods near Autzen Stadium the cherry blossoms are starting to open, and so is the most promising season in Oregon history.

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