Much ado about nothing. That’s what the Willie Lyles/Lache Seastrunk/”Street Agent” NCAA investigation into the Oregon Ducks football program amounted to.
By now, you’ve likely heard countless regurgitations of the penalties laid upon the University of Oregon’s football program, and amidst the rhetoric surrounding it, you’ve likely heard the chatter. Oregon fans are delighted, rival fans are outraged, and bystanders of the sport are scratching their heads regarding what little amounted from a 2-year investigation revolving around a once-mysterious Suge Night look-a-like, a $25,000 check, and “major violations” which by definition are poorly defined.
There’s isn’t, nor has there ever been a denial concerning the questionable nature of the Oregon/Willie Lyles connection. Equally, there’s never been a denial that Oregon was the only player in this game. Be it LSU, Texas A&M, Cal, Tennessee, or any of the other schools tied to the Houston based “scout,” this was never a game of one-on-one between Lyles and the Oregon Ducks, but rather a seedy football version of what college basketball recruiting has been dealing with for the better part of a decade.
Lyles, in my opinion, is a somewhat knowledgeable, well-connected opportunist who happens to live in the heart of one of this country’s most fertile areas for high school football. Due to such, he offered people (schools outside the state) a conduit to legitimate knowledge of players, in addition to illegitimate access to said players’ wants and needs. In other words, an edge in the game we call “recruiting,” whose sole purpose is to gain that edge. Lyles offered an edge through a loophole created by an NCAA rule book which legitimizes recruiting services by means of their own rules to govern them. Where Oregon, LSU, and Tennessee erred in the process, was through their lack of compliance regarding the very rules specifically defined. Simply put, they didn’t bother to get the bogus material from Lyles that would’ve cleared them of any alleged wrongdoing.
Surely you remember the material (irrelevant player profiles) Oregon handed over following a records request, and you may or may not recall the similarly outdated material (irrelevant player videos) LSU divulged via a request made by ESPN’s Outside The Lines the following summer. Had Oregon gotten legitimate profiles, LSU gotten legitimate video, and Lyles himself provided either of the easily attainable products, both schools would’ve been in the clear and Lyles would likely still be in business. What he does isn’t unique. There are “Willie Lyles’” from coast-to-coast, greasing the wheels of the recruiting process, while greasing their pockets as the result of it. Does it make it right? No, but “right” has no place in a process not suited for people with weak stomachs.
Recruiting isn’t pretty. Ask people in the know about the process of getting players, and most will reply holding their nose. Schools want to win, kids want to get to the next level, and unfortunately there are people who’ve discovered a business in bringing the two parties together. It’s exploitation at its best, and it’s only getting worse.
The NCAA can’t properly monitor it, and the process by which they try is flawed to a near fatal level. In addition to their tangled web of rules, the means by which they classify illegalities magnifies the extent of a school’s breach. The term “Major Violation” was used early and often in the NCAA’s indictment of Oregon, and by figurative definition describes something devastating. But in literal terms, the NCAA defines “Major Violations” by things most would deem rather minor. This led outsiders unfamiliar with the details of this case, to conclude something deeper and more sinister had occurred, than even the initial accusations implied. Hence, in my opinion, much of the resulting outrage surrounding last week’s verdict in this case.
The Oregon Ducks screwed up. They played a game they weren’t familiar with and due to such played it poorly. What they did wasn’t an isolated incident by a program gone rogue, but rather an attempt by a “little” efforting to play in the big-boy game. But the “big-boys” know how to play it, while Oregon was learning on the job. If you’re a Duck fan you take solace; the NCAA picked through your program with a fine-toothed-comb for the better part of 2 years and found very little. Sure, they found one-too-many coaches on the recruiting staff, one too many coaches making phone calls pertaining to recruiting, and the head coach allowed it all to happen … call me a cynic. But if you released the NCAA hounds on every other FBS school’s football program for the better part of 2 years, I suspect they’d find similar if not more damning breaches than they found at the University of Oregon.
Willie Lyles is out of the business, and Oregon is out of the business that was Willie Lyles. But while he may be gone, there are countless others operating under the same pretense either in or soon-to-be in the very same business Willie left behind. There will always be a “Willie,” always be an “Oregon” trying to get ahead, and always be a “ruling body” like the NCAA trying to keep it all in line. But for now we say goodbye to Mr. Lyles, and good riddance to an NCAA investigation which has been poisoning our games for more than 2 years … it hardly seemed worth it.