Ohio State has dominated NCAA investigation headlines this summer, but there's some interesting trouble brewing in the Pacific Northwest at Oregon, where head coach Chip Kelly appears to have gotten himself in a bit of a bind over his relationship with scouting service owner Will Lyles. Yahoo! Sports has an extensive exclusive story on the matter, but it essentially boils down to this.
In a wide-ranging, multi-day interview, Lyles said Kelly "scrambled" in late February and asked Lyles to submit retroactive player profiles to justify the $25,000 payment to his company, just days before the transaction was revealed in a March 3 Yahoo! Sports report. Lyles also provided details of his fledgling company – Complete Scouting Services (CSS) – as well as the extent of his relationship with numerous Texas high school stars and his role in Ducks’ recruitment of certain prospects.
Lyles insists Oregon did not make a direct request or payment to steer recruits to Eugene. However, he now says Oregon did not pay him for his work as a traditional scout, but for his influence with top recruits and their families and his ability to usher prospects through the signing and eligibility process. That dual role as mentor to prospects and paid contractor to Oregon is believed to be a focus of the NCAA probe.
At best, Kelly paid a lot of money for old recruiting information. At worst, he actively tried to cover up paying off a runner to steer Texas-area recruits to Oregon. Needless to say, the latter of those two could be very, very bad for Oregon and Kelly, and neither comes off as a glowing endorsement of the way things are done in Eugene.Surprising allegations? Possibly. But really, if you've read anything about Oregon athletics, you know Phil Knight's finger prints are all over the program, and you know he puts a premium on recruiting.
Knight graduated from Oregon, but so much of his spending in Eugene is not about education. It isn't even really about athletics, because let's face it: After you spend your first $100 million or so, you probably have all the jockstraps and barbells you need.
No, most of Knight's spending is about recruiting. He spends to excess in order to impress high school kids. In the mixed-up world of the NCAA, schools can spend $50 million on gold-plated mouthpiece holders, but if they give a kid $1,000 to pay his mom's mortgage, it's a violation.
Knight has poured tens of millions of dollars into what amounts to makeup and jewelry for the athletic department. Consider the size and cost of new academic-support buildings at three big-time schools:
Miami, under construction now: 30,000 square feet, $13.6 million.
Michigan, completed in the winter of 2006: 38,000 square feet, $12 million.
Oregon: 37,000 square feet, $41.7 million.
Is it any shock that a school that pours a ghastly amount of money into influencing recruits once they walk on campus might try to throw a few thousand dollars at a guy in recruit rich Texas to gain an advantage?
It's probably a little too soon to lump Oregon in with Ohio State, as the NCAA has yet to even charge the Ducks program with any wrongdoing. It would appear, though, that at the very least, Kelly, Knight, and all of those folks up in Oregon are walking a very fine line in recruiting. If they stepped over it, then we may have witnessed one of the quickest rises and falls of a big time program in recent memory.