Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011

“Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.”

The statement has much power; and much truth. Athletics are an incredible method which can bring much positive light into our world. The understanding of teamwork; a collective effort between a group of individuals to reach a shared goal. When approached from the right frame of mind, all sport can provide an incredible array of value to each individual and society in general. Physical activity is fundamental not only to a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. Far too often, as we enjoy those things that bring us together, we forget the root importance of the original concept. Sport, from its conception is good, but degenerates in the hands of man.

Not only can sport be good for the individual body and mind, but it can also become a collective source of societal unity. We all believed in miracles once upon a time; and miracles happened. But miracles, too, can degenerate in the hands of man.

Many Duck fans recall, almost with a badge of honor, the late 1970's when football in the state of Oregon was not much more than an afterthought. There were endless seasons where a successful season was defined not by total wins, but by Civil War performance. There were glimmers of hope. In those glimmers, dreams were born. Dreams that seemed more like fantasy became a reality. But did that reality degenerate in the hands of man? Some say yes. Some say no.

As the University of Oregon has been besieged by media, both local and national, regarding the recent allegations of impropriety, Duck fans have gotten a glimpse into a world many thought we had avoided. The belief is still prevalent amongst most Duck fans that, while the football coaches were playing on the periphery of rules that were ill-defined and somewhat archaic, the coaches had not gone far enough into the filthy underbelly of college athletics to dignify any truly severe sanctions.

It has been my personal position all along that this may be the case. From the earliest moments of the Yahoo investigative reports of a $25,000 payment for scouting services, I have personally tried to temper the opposing voice of journalists. I sought facts that might shed a different light. Like ravenous wolves in a hunt, local media seized upon the national headlines. “Oregon cheated.” Everyone knew it; or did they?

When I first began to write about the topic, I simply gathered some facts from recruiting articles, pieced the facts together and tried to get the rush to judgment to slow down. To an extent, this worked, but not without it's own repercussions. Nonetheless, I persevered. It became clear to the family and friends of Lache Seastrunk that I was not from the same mold as others and wanted nothing but to bring a little bit of sanity back to his story. And I was granted interviews.

From the genesis of this experience, I was forthright in my views. I never pretended to be anything other than what I am.

Along the way, I have learned some facts that were pertinent and put those facts out there for public view.

Now two months later, there are still many questions left unanswered. We still do not know exactly what transpired in February when coaches were finally able to get Will Lyles to provide written examples of his work. Was this a cover-up attempt to appease NCAA investigators? Or was this the culmination of many months of requests that had gone unfulfilled? Either scenario is plausible. Yet, when media reports on that component, there is only one conclusion that is drawn; cover-up. I have yet to see “traditional” media say that the other theory is just as plausible. Maybe they don't want to be seen as “homers.” However, as they continually refer to themselves as “unbiased” reporters, wouldn't it be prudent of a truly unbiased reporter to concede that there are multiple possible explanations? Are these reporters truly unbiased if they always assume the worst case scenario?

I have, on multiple occasions, conceded that it is entirely possible that Chip Kelly panicked when he heard that his use of Will Lyles' recruiting service was being investigated and asked for last minute materials to appease the NCAA. Nonetheless, for his last minute request to be a “cover-up” one would have to presume that the NCAA, prior to Yahoo's report, had specifically asked Coach Kelly if he had written documentation of Lyles service and that Kelly had replied in the affirmative. There is no evidence, however, that this is the case. The NCAA did not request any materials from the University of Oregon until after the initial Yahoo reports were released. Therefor, even in a “worst case scenario” Kelly's late request for materials could not truly be deemed a “cover-up” attempt. That is just lazy journalism to classify it as such.

I have never conceded, though, that Oregon provided extra benefits to any players. There simply is no evidence to support such a conclusion. In countless conversations and emails with multiple family members, friends, high school teachers and other people close to the Seastrunk family, not a single member has ever accused Oregon coaches of providing extra benefits to Seastrunk or his family. They did, however, admit that there were impermissible benefits given to Evelyn Seastrunk by other schools. Even Will Lyles admits that Oregon did not give Seastrunk any extra benefits.

The sordid recruitment of Lache Seastrunk will likely never be known in its entirety. And his story is the story of the underbelly of recruiting. The trips to Auburn; the trips to LSU and Tennessee and the University of California provide just a glimpse into a world many of us knew existed but chose to ignore. Now, Oregon has blasted their way into a small circle of elite schools; and they are not being welcomed with open arms. Oregon is new money; old money does not like new money. Such is the price that must be paid as they move into the upper echelon of football programs.

The pressure of winning is intense; more now than ever. Coaches are paid exorbitant amounts of money to do just that; win. And we cheer for them to win. We hope that whatever it takes to win is legitimate enough to not cause real trouble. And when we roll in the mud with hogs, we are bound to get some dirt under our nails. Everything degenerates in the hands of man.

But it does not have to be that way. Will Lyles was known in some circles as exactly what many know this underbelly to be; he was dirty and a lot of people knew. Could they prove it? Maybe; maybe not. Most of them did not want to prove it. He delivered results. Coaches got kids that helped them win and the scouting services he worked for got clients that were willing to pay for their services. It was a win-win. But the old money did not appreciate the new blood in the club; and they fought back.

So, here we sit, seven months into an NCAA inquiry, then investigation, into the recruiting practices of the Oregon football team. Are they on the up-and-up, or are they the new SMU, dirtiest new kids on the block? Time will tell. The opinions and facts I share are to tell a side of the story that few people see. It is less glamorous than the scathing “scandal” headlines.

Nonetheless, the facts I have uncovered paint the picture you want to see. Some see them as proof of nothing; some see them as exculpatory evidence. The truth, however, is somewhere in the middle. The fact that Will Lyles was not a sole mentor to Lache Seastrunk does not disprove the possibility that Oregon committed wrongdoing. It merely points out that the original story was still devoid of all facts and slanted to one side of the story; guilt. Everything in the hands of man degenerates. 

Will Lyles told stories in the Yahoo article that painted the picture of a man who was solely influential on Lache Seastrunk. If there were others whose influence was just as important to Lache, then Lyles' after the fact “belief” that Oregon was paying for his influence would lose its heft. After all, if there were other, just as, or more, influential people in Lache's life, then Lyles' conclusion is simply wrong. This does not discount the possibility that Oregon used Lyles for information. But, isn't that what schools do with all recruiting services? Get information. That is what the service is supposed to provide. If one of those services provides deeper more profound information, then a school has chosen wisely.

Lyles further sold himself as just an innocent guy who did not understand the rules well enough. To that, we must say “bull.” Lyles may not know all the NCAA rules, but he knows that coaches cannot pay for parents to visit. He likely knows that football players cannot make paid official visits to a school until after their first day of school as a high school senior. Lyles was not the “innocent dupe” he portrayed himself to be.

Oregon discovered the extra benefits Lache Seastrunk received and did exactly what a strong compliance department should; deemed the player ineligible and worked with the athlete and NCAA to restore eligibility. Again, though, this does not prove Oregon innocent, it simply gives a glimpse into the inner workings of an athletic department currently under fire. Guilty of multiple major violations? Maybe. Guilty of minor violations that result in meager sanctions? Also maybe. Innocent of everything? Not as likely.

In the end, what we must all remember, football and every other sport we cheer for; just a game. Enjoy every moment of what you witness; it brings nations together.

Everything degenerates in the hands of man. Let's try to prove that wrong.


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