Over the last two years, NCAA violations have given me a whole lot to write about: how Stanford’s academics-first approach casts doubt on pay-for-play systems for collegiate athletes, how sanctions like those at Ohio State often harm fan bases and entire institutions instead of the perpetrators within the violating athletic department and how USC’s postseason ban made a mockery of the inaugural Pac-12 Title Game.
This week it’s Oregon, which admitted to at least one major recruiting violation (while contesting another) on Monday night and proposing a self-imposed two-year probationary period and the loss of one scholarship for three seasons. Those penalties will still likely be increased by the NCAA, which is slightly more suspicious that Oregon’s $25,000 payment to recruiting evaluator Willie Lyles was a front for Lyles to direct recruits to Eugene — which would be another major violation.
Regardless, Oregon’s sanctions will be light compared to those received by other big-name violators of the recent past because the Ducks’ missteps were relatively minor. But even without bowl bans or significant scholarship cuts, there’s still something incredibly funny about what transpired at Oregon.
The high-flying Ducks are now veering just a little bit south — and they had to be pretty dumb to let it happen.
In January 2010, Oregon was coming off of a close loss (against none other than Ohio State) in the Rose Bowl, its fifth consecutive postseason appearance. The Ducks would return most of the big names from the team that reached Pasadena: 1,500-yard rusher LaMichael James, reliable backup Kenjon Barner and a host of defensive playmakers (Casey Matthews, John Boyett, Spencer Paysinger, Kenny Rowe). At the time it looked like quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would be back as well; for the sake of argument, though, even after Masoli was suspended for a felony burglary, experienced senior Nate Costa and speedy redshirt sophomore Darron Thomas were ready to step up as more than competent replacements.
The moral of the story is that the Pac-10 belonged to Oregon that offseason. The Ducks had creamed once-powerhouse USC in 2009 and the Trojans were expected to receive significant sanctions due to their own NCAA violations. (As it turned out, USC wasn’t eligible for a bowl — Rose or otherwise — in 2010). Stanford wasn’t quite on the national map, and with Toby Gerhart gone, few people expected the Cardinal to compete with the Ducks for a second straight year. Nike founder Phil Knight had just donated $100 million, much of which would go to state-of-the-art facilities, to the Oregon athletics program.
Why, then, did Oregon head coach Chip Kelly find the need to pay Lyles thousands of dollars to steer a single player, Lache Seastrunk, to the program? Seastrunk might have been one of the best recruits in the country, but at a time when the USC case had put everyone on alert for recruiting violations, why would Oregon, a program that was already dominant and had a roster chock-full of future college stars, stick its neck out?
A year later, when Yahoo! Sports reported on the incident, Kelly reportedly scrambled to request player profiles from Lyles to justify the $25,000 payment. Of course, the profiles were a year old and clearly useless to Oregon at that point, only adding to the program’s embarrassment.
If you’re Kelly, would it have hurt to ask for those profiles when you made the payment?
To top it all off, Oregon never needed Seastrunk in the first place. The Ducks’ depth chart at running back was so deep that he left for greener (yes, greener than Oregon) pastures at Baylor, where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2012, when the scandal broke.
Maybe those out-of-date player profiles weren’t the most useless part of the deal for Oregon after all.
The net result is that Oregon has had to deal with a black cloud hanging over its head for two-plus years (spanning multiple recruiting seasons), lost the recruit it worked so hard to bring to Eugene and now will forfeit at least three scholarship-years. It was predictable, and it has stupid written all over it.
Oh yeah, and the Ducks’ purse is now $25,000 lighter. But I’m not one to complain — I always thought Oregon had a bit too much green.
Joseph Beyda is delighted to see another powerhouse taken down. Share your prediction of what program will topple next at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.