Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011

Lost in all of the realignment talk this week is a notice of allegations. Surprised? Did the NCAA go from inquiry to allegations in less than a week? No. This was a notice received by the South Carolina Gamecocks.

In a trend that the NCAA has seemed to crack down on this past season, this involves (mostly) impermissible housing benefits. What started as a single incident at LSU with Akiem Hicks has gone around the nation to Boise State and now back to South Carolina. This is a startling trend as it appears many places may be arranging for athletes to get significantly reduced living costs.

In LSU’s case, there was one player. In Boise State’s case there were 63 players involved and nearly five thousand dollars. South Carolina is accused of arranging for 10 of it’s football players and two members of the women’s track team to stay at an exclusive hotel for 25% of the regular cost (based on NCAA determination of a normal cost for the 2 room suites that the athletes stayed in). The total value of these extra benefits is $47,000. The compliance department at South Carolina were aware of the arrangements and signed off on the housing. That helped to bring about a “failure to monitor” allegation against the Gamecocks.

In addition to the housing extra benefits provided to the players, there were players who received over $8,000 in extra benefits from Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation. The President of the company, Steve Gordon, and treasurer Kevin Lahn are both South Carolina graduates who paid these benefits to several players. Among the benefits provided was funding to freshman receiver Damiere Byrd for an unofficial visit. Byrd is currently serving a 4 game NCAA suspension for accepting $2,700 in extra benefits. In total, the NCAA has accused South Carolina of providing $55,000 in extra benefits.

How, exactly, does this deserve mention in an Oregon blog? Simple, it is clear from the level of these violations that the amount of extra benefits provided to South Carolina far exceeds the payment Oregon made to Will Lyles and Complete Scouting Service. Yet, the media seems more intent on the issue surrounding Oregon and their use of recruiting services than they do about this growing problem of extra housing benefits. Extra housing benefits started with Reggie Bush. Schools got smarter, but the benefits still violate NCAA bylaws.

What Oregon is being investigated for, at this point, is nowhere near the level of these extra benefit investigations. There is no indication, yet, that Oregon provided a dime in extra benefits to players. It is clear from the manner in which the NCAA has proceeded that this investigation has been centered on Will Lyles and whether Oregon willfully paid for access to players. So far, every person I have spoken with (save for one person whose service was canceled by Oregon in favor of Lyles) denies that this was the intent of the payment. There is no indication from family, friends or coaches that any recruit who visited Oregon was provided with any extra benefits.

What does this mean? Well, for those that are still worried, look no further than the punishment handed down to Boise State. Wait for the punishment handed to South Carolina. Their allegations include tens of thousands of dollars (in South Carolina's case) to dozens of players (in Boise State’s case) across a several year period. While Boise State received somewhat harsh penalties, they were nowhere near the level of Southern California. If history is an indication, expect in the neighborhood of 2-3 scholarship reductions for 2 years as well as probation and other minor penalties to come South Carolina’s way in the future.

This will bode well for any potential sanctions against Oregon. Though it looks very slimy on the surface, the alleged violations by Oregon are not nearly as significant as those at Boise State and South Carolina. The violations they committed were not nebulous and there was no gray area in the definition. The athletes received housing at considerably under the prevailing rate for the room.


Last week, Brian Berger, 750 The Game host of “The Sports Insider” alluded to “more information” about Chip Kelly. In doing some research and contacting a few sources, including athletic department personnel, here is the only thing I can conclude; Berger’s reference is not going to be some “shocking” revelation.

Currently there is a story being developed regarding Terelle Pryor’s recruitment. Because Oregon was involved late in attempting to have Pryor come out for a visit, Chip Kelly, Pryor’s primary recruiter, will be mentioned in the article. Though it is doubtful there will be much to talk about from a violations standpoint as Pryor never actually visited Oregon.

Members of the coaching staff and athletics department are still very confident that Oregon has not violated any major rules. President Lariviere has stated privately that Chip Kelly’s job is not in jeopardy.

What, then, could Berger be alluding to in his statement? What I have been told is that the big time boosters, outside of Pat Kilkenny and Phil Knight, have said that when the recruiting story first broke, there was unanimous support that Chip was safe regardless of outcome. Recently, however, these boosters have said that, while they support him currently, if a darker truth than what we have been led to believe comes out, that Chip no longer has 100% support of the boosters.

This is not big news, really. It has been speculated for a while now that if Kelly is found to have committed violations along the lines of Jim Tressell boosters and fans would support a change in leadership.

Unfortunately, like many stories surrounding the Oregon football program, Berger will turn it into more of a faction of boosters that want him fired; and he will say it is presumed that there is a deeper problem. This is not true. Do not buy what Berger sells as it is simply an exaggeration of what is happening.

As previously stated, other coaches currently on staff still fully believe that there were no major violations. University of Oregon President Lariviere stated that Kelly’s job is safe.

At this point, based on ongoing investigations into other programs and the penalties handed out recently to LSU and Boise State, there is even more reason for optimism for Oregon fans. The recruiting service scandal does not rise to the level of $55,000 in extra benefits at South Carolina. The scandal is not as pervasive as the multiple year, 63 players provided extra housing benefits at Boise State. Barring unforeseen violations discovered in the process of this investigation (which I am told there is nothing major by sources inside the athletic department), any violations found to have occurred will incur less than the penalties at Boise State.

At this point, I think it is fair to say that Oregon fans once on the edge of their seat expecting bad news and the NCAA hammer to fall can take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the season. Anything that might be coming down the pike will be minor in comparison and should not affect recruiting much, if at all.


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