After making a public records request in December, the Oregonian and KATU.com received over 500 pages of documents related to alleged NCAA violations committed by Oregon’s football program between 2008 and 2011. The documents detail findings related largely to Oregon’s payment to a recruiting service company, whose talent scout, Will Lyles, allegedly had impermissible contact with prospective Oregon student-athletes. While reports have focused upon Oregon’s payment of $25,000 to Lyles’ recruiting service agency, it appears that the bulk of the NCAA’s concern does not lie with that payment, but rather, practices that Lyles allegedly engaged in.
One such practice is that Lyles allegedly did not provide written or video reports about recruits to Oregon. Under NCAA bylaw 13.14.3, recruiting services must provide subscribers with written or video reports quarterly. Up until 2011, Lyles allegedly provided neither, but instead, provided Oregon with oral reports about prospective student-athletes. On the face, this practice seems like a minor issue and another instance of the NCAA making a mountain out of a molehill. However, the NCAA requires recruiting and scouting service companies to provide written or video reports to prevent institutions from gaining unfair advantages when it comes to gleaning information about recruits. Requiring written or video reports ensures that each institution subscribing to the service receives the same information.
Given that Lyles allegedly was providing oral reports to Oregon, the notion is that Oregon was getting information about recruits that other institutions using Lyles’ services were not receiving. It is unknown whether this was the case, but a number of recruits with ties to Lyles eventually signed with Oregon. This, however, does not in and of itself depict any impropriety by Oregon or Lyles.
Perhaps the biggest issue Oregon faces, though, is explaining allegations that upon the NCAA’s discovery that Lyles wasn’t providing Oregon with written or video reports, that Lyles allegedly provided “outdated” reports to Oregon. From the outside, this allegation depicts a cover-up of sorts. If a cover-up was in fact orchestrated, it is for the NCAA to decide who ordered the cover-up. Did Lyles earnestly provide written reports to save face with the NCAA in an honest attempt to continue being an NCAA-sanctioned recruiting service? Or, did Oregon ask him to do so after the NCAA realized that Lyles hadn’t provided the report? In the coming months, Oregon should prepare to answer this question. Should the NCAA find that the cover-up was upon Oregon’s request, the program will likely suffer stiffer penalties from the NCAA.
For now, the biggest issue Oregon faces is whether the football program’s alleged receipt of Lyles’ oral reports on recruits was a major or secondary NCAA violation. Secondary infractions are those isolated or inadvertent instances that only provide minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantages. Major infractions provide major recruiting or competitive advantages. Over the coming months, the NCAA’s committee on infractions will issue a final report on its findings related to whether a major or secondary violation was committed. Thereafter, sometime within the year, Oregon will have a hearing before the committee on infractions.
The good news, perhaps, for Oregon is that reports indicate that the NCAA found neither a lack of institutional control nor unethical conduct present. These factors should help Oregon avoid some of the NCAA’s harsher penalties. However, one issue Oregon continues to face is that the NCAA may determine it is a repeat violator, as the alleged violations came within five years of Oregon’s 2004 violations. Should Oregon be deemed to be a repeat violator of the NCAA bylaws, harsher penalties could be imposed on that ground.
Overall, Oregon must prepare the case as to why this alleged violation did not amount to a major violation. To do this, it must show that it did not receive major recruiting or competitive advantages. This may be difficult, given the recruits Lyles was allegedly tied to who committed to Oregon. Reports indicate that Lyles served as a “mentor” to LaMichael James, Tra Carson, Dontae Williams and Marcus Davis, all of whom committed to Oregon. Thus, Oregon must work to demonstrate that it would have recruited those student-athletes even without the information Lyles provided them with orally. Given the talent level of these players, this arguably won’t be difficult to accomplish. Additionally, Oregon must demonstrate that those recruits’ decisions to commit to Oregon were unattached to any relationship they may have had with Lyles. This may prove to be the more difficult task for Oregon. However, given the program’s offerings and success over recent years, it likely will not be impossible. Nonetheless, spring is shaping up to be a busy time for Oregon’s athletics department.