Friday, March 4, 2011

These Are the Words We Never Wanted to Hear: the NCAA investigators are coming to town

The concern is what happens next.  NCAA inquiries usually end in bloodshed, often of a sacrificial lamb.  One program has to suffer so the rest can appear to be clean.   Ohio State has paid for recruiting services, as has Oklahoma, Southern California, Auburn and LSU.  In the world of NCAA compliance and investigation, it's never good to be the program drawing heat, the program in the headlines.  Oregon has found itself directly in the path of a tweet and Internet tornado.  There is debris everywhere, and Indianapolis has called not to aid in the cleanup but to inspect the wreckage.  Disgruntled rivals, competing scouting services and discarded athletes will queue up to assist them.

Just a week or two ago we were marveling at how quiet and uneventful the off season had been.  The main stories of the winter had been the transfer of a fourth string running back and Darron Thomas switching his number.  No arrests, no headlines, no controversy, and little in the way of news.  It was delightfully boring and deliciously quiet, a time to catch up on winter reading and hit the treadmill.  We rarely appreciate being and nothingness when we have it.

Here are the links and background to a story that will hang like a cloud over spring practice and the 2011 season:

Aaron Fentress of has an interview with former Oregon recruiting coordinator Deryk Gilmore on the value of scouting services:  it's all about information and access.

jtlight of Addicted to Quack notes Oregon's transparency may be an encouraging sign, perhaps even a saving grace:

While the NCAA will no doubt continue to look into these issues, the proactive nature of the Oregon athletic department is very encouraging. They obviously are not trying to hide anything that has happened in these transactions, and are going out of their way to provide information to the public, something we haven't seen happen often in recent years.

The university made the public record of the payments immediately available, and is fully cooperating with NCAA investigators.  Schools that have faced these situations in the past (notably USC) exacerbated their problems with denials and stonewalling.

In part, this seems to be a test case for the NCAA compliance people, who have been on the trail of  street agents for a while, believing them to be the silent assassins  on the artificially-turfed knoll of college football integrity. 

Rob Moseley of the Register-Guard had the facts on the state of the case:

The NCAA has requested documents from Oregon regarding the football team's purchase of scouting services, as documented in several stories over the last 24 hours.

The Ducks announced the development this evening, saying they contacted the Pac-10 about the issue this morning, and the NCAA in turn directed Oregon later in the day to provide documentation related to the use of scouting services.

"We have been asked to provide a series of documents by the NCAA and intend to fully cooperate," UO athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement. "I reiterate that it is our belief that the purchase of such services is within the allowable NCAA guidelines."

The hardest thing to explain away will be the $25,000 payment to Will Lyles, just a few weeks after Lache Seastrunk signed his letter of intent.  The figure is considerably higher than most recruiting/scouting services; it's much higher than the stated rates on Lyle's website (rates he altered late in the day on Friday to include a $25,000 national rate, which has the appearance of a panicked cover-up), and a rate that apparently provided Oregon with access to one player.  It may be explainable, but it stinks.

Eugene Register-Guard Columnist George Schroeder's take includes this stern indictment:

 "The facade has been stripped away. Whether you believe Oregon is clean or dirty, there’s no denying the Ducks have been wallowing in the ooze."

The Ducks are not alone.  They're just the team in the crosshairs.  One of the leading recruiting services, National Scouting Report, includes testimonials from Ohio State and Auburn on its webpage.

Justin Hopkins of Duck Territory confirms that "Oregon has paid for scouting services to multiple outlets in recent years. Virtually every program in America pays for service of the same kind in one way or another. The amounts can vary."  He summarizes the essential points succinctly:

Will Lyles of complete scouting services was the biggest benefactor. Oregon has admitted to payment which is apparently in the sum of $25,000. This payment is completely within legal NCAA guidelines.

-Lyles had relationships and involvement with Oregon players Lache Seastrunk and LaMichael James, among others that went to play at other colleges.

-Oregon has not broken any laws unless there is proof without a doubt that James and Seastrunk were coerced strongly by Lyles to attend Oregon. There is nothing else the NCAA can investigate unless other accusations surface that we haven't heard about.

Ted Miller of ESPN provides the portion of the NCAA by-laws that cover recruiting and scouting services:

NCAA Bylaw 13.14.3 states that an “institution may subscribe to a recruiting or scouting service involving prospective student-athletes, provided the institution does not purchase more than one annual subscription to a particular service and the service: (Adopted: 1/1/02, Revised: 1/16/10)

(a) Is made available to all institutions desiring to subscribe and at the same fee rate for all subscribers;
(b) Publicly identifies all applicable rates;
(c) Disseminates information (e.g., reports, profiles) about prospective student-athletes at least four times per calendar year;
(d) Publicly identifies the geographical scope of the service (e.g., local, regional, national) and reflects broad-based coverage of the geographical area in the information it disseminates;
(e) Provides individual analysis beyond demographic information or rankings for each prospective student-athlete in the information it disseminates; (Revised: 4/13/10)
(f) Provides access to samples or previews of the information it disseminates before purchase of a subscription; and
(g) Provides video that is restricted to regularly scheduled (regular-season) high school, preparatory school or two-year college contests and for which the institution made no prior arrangements for recording. (Note: This provision is applicable only if the subscription includes video services.)

That's a lot of articles and subparagraphs and semi-colons, but the money quote from Miller is this: "If Lyles was paid and steered Seastrunk towards Oregon AT ALL, he’s a booster."

Booster is bad.  Booster means loss of scholarships and possible sanctions.  By all accounts, Lyles is sleazy, seedy and opportunistic.  Oregon got in bed with a bad guy, and now the NCAA is coming over to give a physical.

The Addicted to Quack commenters are doing their homework:

@BFeldmanESPN Spoke to a coach who said there is a “legit” recruiting service (XOS) that charges $40k for film for entire nation, but most are under $15k

schadjoe Joe Schad

“Willie said he was a trainer,” Evelyn Seastrunk said. “Now Oregon says he’s a scout. Is he on Oregon’s payroll?…”.If Willie Lyles collected $25,000 off my son he needs to be held accountable. The NCAA must find out for me..“…I don’t know how to digest someone cashing in on my son…”

Investigations like these need a whistle-blower, a mole, a deepthroat, an outraged party who didn't get theirs.  Meet Evelyn Seastrunk, who didn't want her son going to Oregon, and hasn't yet had her opportunity to cash in on her son.

Andy Staples of reports:

Lyles did not return calls from His Web site features a "JUCO price list" that offers videos for a particular state for $3,000. A multi-state region costs $5,000. A "trifecta package" that includes any three states costs $8,000, while a "national package" costs $15,000. No single service is priced at $25,000.

No service was listed at this price, until Lyles updated the site on Friday afternoon to include one, a clumsy attempt to rebury the body after the unmarked van parked across the street.

Another danger in all this is that Oregon, an administration and athletic department full of very smart people, led by a very smart coach, has associated itself intimately with a guy who is not very smart, and not as slick as he perceives himself to be.  Thus the spring game tailgate starts off with a Molotov cocktail.

Then too, here is another brute truth:  a character of this caliber, caught in the squeeze of a nationwide investigation by a powerful governing body, there is virtually no limit to how quickly and enthusiastically he would give everyone else up (coaches, players, schools) to save himself or reduce his damage.  Will Lyles is not a stand-up guy.  He's the kind who changes his story until he's impossibly found out.  Cornered, he'll sing.  And when he opens his mouth, Mighty Oregon might go silent for a long time.


  1. Wow! That's a pretty pessimistic last paragraph. Cheer up, Oregon will reside with USCw in NCAA purgatory for a while and then back to the quacking good times - perhaps with fewer feelings of moral superiority.
    Meanwhile Auburn is in for a Faulknerian barn burning but they have some excess lumber to rebuild.

  2. This post linked here.

    I honestly don't think y'all have so much to worry about. The compliance vetting and transparency bodes pretty well.

  3. EC, Gulf Coast--

    I y'all are right, but my hunch is the NCAA is looking to make a statement on the street agent issue, and Oregon drew their attention at the wrong time.

    What college football really needs is some honesty and common sense. You know and I know that every major college team pays players, compensates runners and agents and competes on a black market for top talent. They have to find a way to legitimize the process, and govern the sport for what it is. Currently, we have a system of shamateurism, much like track and field in the 1960's.

    Thanks for visiting and enjoy your spring practice.


  4. Mighty Oregon? I love my Ducks but they haven't won a BCS Bowl since the Fiesta. UO has work to do before we start throwing out words like that. Lyles doesn't have the best street cred and UO no longer requires his services. Until they find someone else who will work behind the scenes.

    Nobody cares about Lyles in reality. The NCAA has let Lyles infect numerous programs for years and now they want to clean things up? BS. This is approaching Bud Selig status. The NCAA cares about ratings,not ethics. If you want to compete as a major program you push the envelope and maximize the budget. If you don't like it go to Oregon State and be OK with 6-6. Everyone involved here will lie till they turn blue, and if Oregon is guilty so is every program who recruits through agents.

    Even if the NCAA attempts to make an example of UO who cares? Reduce scholarships? Please. The best athletes want to come to Oregon now, just ask Snoop Dog's son. Kids are going to a school regardless of sanctions. USC just reeled in George Farmer, Antwuan Woods, Lamar Dawson and Christian Heyward in one offseason. Think they mind NCAA investigations and punishments? Not so much.

    No matter what happens the Ducks are going to be loud come September. These headlines will actually benefit UO in the end because they're being talked about in the offseason more than any other school. I haven't heard of ESPN dropping any Duck games.... Interesting how there are investigations months after the Ducks run, and fresh off a top 5 recruiting class. That smells a lot more like envy than dirty. GO DUCKS

  5. Duckup--

    Mighty Oregon is a reference to the fight song.

    Appreciate your post, and thanks for reading.