I will start by alleviating the fears; it just is not plausible.
As news broke yesterday that Chip Kelly was seriously negotiating with Tampa Bay to succeed Raheem Morriss and become the Buccaneers next head football coach, writers, columnists and amateurs everywhere immediately began the speculation: Was the sudden departure a Pete Carroll-esque midnight dash to avoid sanctions?
To many people, this made a lot of sense. The season is over, it has been several months since the notice of inquiry was announced and the Tampa Bay rumors made little sense to them. So, they began to speculate. As rival fans swelled with excitement and Duck fans began to ponder "life after Chip," the athletic department was silent which only served to further fuel speculation and rumors.
Recently, I have been asked by a thread started on one particular internet message board that said, essentially the NCAA gave Oregon advance notice of impending sanctions and that Chip would need to be sacrificed to minimize the sanctions. From there Chip decided to leave.
This scenario is just not possible. Let me explain. The NCAA, while they are very scattered in their punishment of schools and no one can predict punishment, there is one thing that they are very stringent with: process. The NCAA follows their process by the book, every time.
The process proceeds as follows:
1. After learning of possible violations, the NCAA will begin an initial inquiry process to gather some basic facts. This happens nearly constantly. In this case, that began last March when the NCAA asked for financial and other records of every football player from the state of Texas. They also requested documents regarding their recruitment.
2. Letter of Inquiry. If the NCAA believes that there is a reason to dig further, they will send out a Notice of Inquiry. Institutions receive these more frequently than we know as well. Many turn up nothing, some turn up violations that are considered major. Oregon received a Notice of Inquiry in early September
3. After receiving a Notice of Inquiry, the NCAA has six months to complete it's investigation and present a Notice of Allegations. At the moment, the NCAA is in the investigative stage. From my earlier article, you should know that it appears the NCAA concluded their interviews with Duck players in December when Dontae Williams spoke with the NCAA. If there is no Notice of Allegations within six months, the NCAA can inform the school that the investigation is going to continue or they can say that no wrongdoing has been found and close the investigation. If they extend past the initial six months, the NCAA must inform the university of their progress every six months.
4. Notice of Allegations. This is where it gets serious. When the NCAA sends this notice, it means that they believe they have found major violations and lists those possible violations along with the rights and responsibilities of the university. A Notice of Allegations does not include any suggested sanctions. It simply lists those violations that the NCAA believes have been committed.
5. Institution Response. After receiving a Notice of Allegations, the university has 90 days to respond to the alleged violations in the Notice of Allegations. This is the point at which most universities will either self-impose or tell their side of the story as to why they think the actions were not violations. The NCAA has been fairly lenient with cooperative institutions who positively self impose reasonable sanctions for their violations.
6. Hearing. At this point the Committee on Infractions will meet and decide if the university has violated the rules it is accused of violating. If the university admits to all of the allegations, then this step will likely be skipped over, for the most part as it is simply the university pleading guilty.
7. Sanctions. If the NCAA finds that the university did indeed commit the infractions, or if the university has admitted their violations, sanctions will follow. The NCAA can accept any self-imposed sanctions and call the case closed or they can decide that the self imposed sanctions are insufficient and levy even more sanctions.
Folks, we are still in step 3, there is no way possible that the NCAA violated all of its premises to give Oregon and Chip Kelly a heads up.
Later this afternoon, I received more calls regarding the rumors about impending doom. Let me say that I have always been fairly forthcoming that I think that the NCAA will find some wrongdoing and give the Ducks some form of sanctions. I have never believed, though, that the sanctions will include a post-season ban. The actions the NCAA are investigating do not rise to the level of Ohio State this past year. No one knew about extra benefits and hid them from the administration then lied to NCAA investigators about them.
WHERE DID THE RUMORS EMANATE?
Where do I think that the rumors started? I think that there is a certain amount of validity hidden somewhere inside the fabulously false rumors. I have heard from more than one person who speaks with coaches regularly outside of football, that the coaches recently heard some news and that has caused some level of worry amongst different people. Let me say, though, that this has gone through a little bit of the "telephone game" phase. It has been greatly distorted as it has worked its way through.
The NCAA, like any large institution is not immune to leaks. Oregon has a former graduate who reached very high levels in the NCAA and the attorney Oregon has hired, Michael Glazier, is a former NCAA employee. Certainly there could have been word that a Notice of Allegations was imminent.
This is where it gets speculative. Many sources have said that the Ducks received news of sanctions. Highly unlikely, though, as I already outlined, that the NCAA has skipped from phase 3 to phase 7 without any steps in between. A more plausible scenario is that Glazier learned of a Notice of Allegations pending and self-imposed sanctions have begun to be suggested. This is very plausible and much more realistic than the sanctions have been "pre-warned" to Oregon.
The good news is that even those predicting harder than "slap on the wrist" penalties are not talking about vacating wins or post season bans.
Those that follow recruiting closely might know that the Ducks played 2011 with just 74 scholarship players, not including walk-ons who were granted scholarships during the season. That means that any scholarship reductions will be easily absorbed. The Ducks have also used less of their available recruit official campus visits this season which could be a sign that the Ducks are trying to use those "lost visits" as part of self-imposed sanctions.
EASING SOME FEARS
Again, most of the speculative part is my attempt to ease the fears of Duck fans. I simply do not see any indication that the Ducks are about to get "hammered." There is little indication that the Duck faithful need to worry about sanctions that will tear down the fortress that we have seen built over the last 15-20 years.
Don't be surprised, though, by some form of sanctions.