Oregon's rise to elite status under coach Chip Kelly—the last two Pac-10 titles, a near national championship last season—is no accident. Kelly and his assistants have proven themselves to be among the shrewdest coaches in the sport.
That's why no one believes that Kelly and his coaches were dumb enough to get ripped off by a Texas-based scouting service operator. In March the NCAA discovered that Oregon had paid $25,000 in March 2010 to Complete Scouting Services, a company run by Houston-based trainer Will Lyles. The payment, according to an invoice obtained by SI, was for the company's "National Package," which, according to Lyles in a radio interview he did with Houston's KCOH-AM last week, included game video and evaluations of players in the 2011 class.
The NCAA had begun investigating the payment in the spring because Lyles has a close relationship with several Oregon players, including tailbacks LaMichael James (of Texarkana, Texas) and Lache Seastrunk (of Temple, Texas). The latter signed with Oregon seven weeks before the school's payment to Lyles went through.
That does not constitute an NCAA violation as long as Lyles provided $25,000 worth of scouting material to Oregon. The majority of programs use scouting services, which provide video and evaluations of players to help college coaches narrow their recruiting options. But after last week's developments, only the most naive fan would not be suspicious of what went down in Eugene.
On June 20, almost four months after two Oregon newspapers filed an open records request with the school, the university released a 143-page booklet that Lyles had sent to Kelly on Feb. 22, 2010, as part of the National Package. The report, titled the 2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet, featured 140 players, all of whom graduated high school in 2009. Of those in this "national" report, 133 were from Texas. No videos were released because, according to Oregon officials, the school could not determine which recruiting videos had been sent by Lyles. One day later the school released more material that came from Lyles—spreadsheets listing little more than name, school, position, height, weight and contact information—about class of 2012 and 2013 prospects from four states. The last batch of spreadsheets was sent on March 3, 2011, only hours before multiple news outlets would report the $25,000 payment.
Lyles did not respond to interview requests, and Oregon spokesman Dave Williford, in a statement, would only say, "As we have previously stated, we have and will continue to work with the NCAA on this matter. Until this is resolved, we will offer no further comment."
Oregon has hired a lawyer who specializes in NCAA enforcement issues to help handle the inquiry, but don't expect the school to receive more than a slap on the wrist. While Lyles's service may have violated a minor NCAA rule that requires such businesses to provide material at least four times a year, the NCAA will have a difficult time proving what has become public perception—that the money went to compensate Lyles for swaying either James, a 2008 recruit, or Seastrunk or both to sign with the Ducks. Oregon coaches are sure to claim that they were duped by Lyles into buying outdated and dubious recruiting material.
It may walk like a major NCAA violation, quack like a major NCAA violation and look like a major NCAA violation, but if there's no smoking gun—and so far there is none—it will not be ruled to be a major NCAA violation. Rather it will be interpreted as a loophole in the governing body's bylaws that Oregon exploited. Expect the NCAA to close the loophole, and for it to be forever known as the Oregon Rule.
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