How much drama is too much for Oregon football program?
Issue with Texas scout is latest in a series of off-field problems under coach Chip Kelly.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
From the start, Chip Kelly seemed to be a step ahead of his rivals. The Oregon football coach ran practices differently, he exhausted defenses with his relentlessly brisk offense, he defied convention when his teams made two-point conversions with ridiculous ease.
Apparently, he's been imaginative off the field too.
Until last week's provocative Yahoo.com report, there was considerable belief that in their murky dealings with Texas scout Will Lyles, the Ducks were merely operating in a gray area — exploiting another loophole, as it were. They've claimed, in essence, to be country hicks for paying Lyles $25,000 for his scouting service, and getting a steaming mound of outdated boiler plate in return (right, the school that's cutting edge in marketing, uniform design and facilities was merely naïve in dishing 25 large to Lyles).
Still, that's plausible deniability, and these days, it goes a long way.
But today, even if Lyles' contention can be assailed that he was more influence-peddler than scout to the Ducks, it can't be comforting to Oregon to see that he provided to Yahoo phone records of 38 calls in an 11-day period in January 2010 when he connected with UO coaches and staffers.
That was when Lyles was orchestrating the end run of legal guardianship from running back Lache Seastrunk's mother to his grandmother. Mom didn't approve of his signing with Oregon, but Grandma did. And there's an email from an Oregon compliance officer proving the Ducks were eminently aware, even helpful.
There are several possible descriptions of Lyles — scout, agent, football gadabout. The one that has to chill the Ducks to the bone is: Oregon booster. That's what the NCAA will be sorting out. If the conclusion isn't favorable to Oregon, they could come to find that the NCAA hoosegow isn't nearly to the standard of their own facilities.
If I'm an Oregon administrator, there's a bigger issue here, bigger even than what the NCAA might do to the Ducks. As in, how much drama can you stand with your football program?
When the Ducks turned into the dictionary definition of a nouveau riche college-football program, there were murmurs of unrest from precincts like some of the Oregon faculty. But those were drowned out with the reality that athletic success is too important to too many people — university presidents, among them — to apply the brakes.
That much is understandable. It's not as easily sloughed off when you take stock of the legal issues and other indiscretions that have mounted in the Kelly regime:
• The infamous LeGarrette Blount punch.
• Jeremiah Masoli's conviction for misdemeanor second-degree burglary.
• LaMichael James' physical-harassment misdemeanor against a female.
• Involvement by a couple of players in a campus brawl in early 2010.
• The case of linebacker Kiko Alonso, who, after a season's suspension for DUI in 2010, got whacked in May with criminal trespass and criminal mischief for trying, in a stupor, to enter a house he mistakenly believed was his.
• Cornerback Cliff Harris' June citation for going 118 miles an hour on I-5, in a vehicle rented by a university employee.
Harris was going fast, much like the Ducks the past couple of years. The only thing more breathtaking than the Oregon offense is Kelly's plea to Lyles last winter, begging him to ship scouting materials, posthaste, when he knew media outlets were onto the $25,000 payment.
I wonder who's running the show at Oregon these days — besides Phil Knight, I mean. Including Bill Moos, who left in 2007, Oregon has been through a dizzying five athletic directors, none of whom gives the impression he's anything but intoxicated with the football program's success.
Last Friday, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was in Salt Lake City, welcoming Utah into the conference. But with the latest revelations in Eugene, it was hardly a feel-good day for the league.
In his two years on the job, Scott has worked at blinding speed. So too, Chip Kelly in his two, not always in a good way.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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