By Jim Weber
Life is good right now for Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
The Ducks are ranked No. 2 in the country and the Las Vegas favorites to win the school’s first national title. Kelly himself is among the hottest names for NFL head coaching jobs this offseason.
If the Ducks win it all and he bolts for the NFL, Kelly will do it all before being held accountable for the Willie Lyles recruiting scandal – and no one seems to notice or care. That would amount to the perfect getaway – intended or not – by the Ducks’ head man and a disgrace for NCAA president Mark Emmert.
I’ll spare you rehashing the entire scandal that has loomed over the Oregon program for the last 20 months and instead stick to the bare facts: Oregon and Kelly paid Lyles $25,000 for bogus recruiting information in February of 2010. That is indisputable. Lyles claims he was paid by Oregon for access to recruits such as LaMichael James and that the recruiting report was created retroactively at the request of Kelly to cover up their real relationship. Oregon’s only defense is that it was duped by a con man.
And yet, Oregon and Kelly’s plausible deniability was shredded to pieces when it was revealed Kelly’s relationship with Lyles dated back to 2007 and that Oregon coaches exchanged over 400 text messages with Lyles during that time frame. Certainly Oregon and Kelly wouldn’t have kept doing business with Lyles for four years if they had been conned by bogus reports since ’07. And to think Lyles just decided to pull a fast one after four years of doing business together would be extremely naive.
Look, I have nothing against Chip Kelly. I think he’s a great coach, good for college football and no less shady than the majority of college football head coaches when it comes to recruiting. Heck, LSU and Cal also paid for Lyles’ “services.” And many coaches subscribe to legitimate recruiting services more for the buddy-buddy relationship with the scouts as they do for the actual information on high school players.
This column is about fairness and the inconsistency with which Emmert has chosen to punish those who violate NCAA rules since becoming the association’s president in the fall of 2010.
The man who pledged to crack down on rule breakers before taking office had a hand in hammering USC with a two-year bowl ban, barred Ohio State from a bowl this year, crushed former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel with a five-year show cause penalty and, most notably, obliterated Penn State with unprecedented sanctions last July that included a $60 million fine and four-year bowl ban for the Jerry Sandusky scandal and cover-up in Happy Valley.
And yet, North Carolina recently went completely unpunished by the NCAA for blatant academic fraud and the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami (FL) that broke in August of 2011 also sits in limbo with no resolution in sight. Then there’s Kelly, who is on track for a national title and cushy NFL job without having to answer for what appears to be getting caught red handed.
The NCAA has taken its sweet time in investigating the Lyles scandal, issuing a preliminary “Notice of Inquiry” to Oregon last September – the first step in a four-part process by the infractions committee. Last February, Oregon was reportedly cooperating with the NCAA and hoping for a summary disposition, a hearing in which a school reports its own findings and proposes self-imposed punishments. The case was reportedly “close to resolution” at the time and yet over eight months have passed without any further known progress.
In comparison, Penn State was hit with its sanctions just one month after Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse because Emmert was reportedly tired of how slow and bureaucratic the NCAA had become. Emmert clearly stepped outside of his regular powers to send a message that there was a new sheriff in town that won’t tolerate the NCAA being embarrassed.
And yet, Emmert is now standing by and watching as Oregon marches to the BCS National Championship Game while the NCAA does nothing – despite the Lyles scandal breaking eight months before Jerry Sandusky was arrested. My best guess is that the NCAA will rule on this case before the start of next season, but who really knows?
As for how the NCAA will eventually rule on this case, Oregon at the very least paid for an invalid recruiting service. Sanctions will be much harsher if the NCAA can prove the recruiting information was created retroactively as part of a cover-up. The worst-case scenario is that the NCAA deems Lyles a booster that was paid by Oregon to influence recruits, something Lyles has denied.
My guess is the NCAA will only be able to prove the first two.
How harshly would Oregon be punished for that? If Ohio State was hit with a one-year bowl ban for “Tattoogate” that totaled $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for Ohio State player memorabilia, I don’t see how Oregon can receive anything less for paying $25,000 for deliberately bogus recruiting info and covering it up like Ohio State.
Which brings me to Kelly. Pete Carroll was villainized for leaving USC before the hammer came down on the Trojans, but his getaway would pale in comparison to Kelly bolting for the NFL while clutching a crystal ball and without even a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.
In what other job could you be accused of blatant wrongdoing but continue working for the next 20 months, then leave for a better job before being reprimanded?
And if you think it’s unfair that the current Penn State coaches and players are having to face crushing NCAA sanctions that no one currently associated with the program brought upon the Nittany Lions, imagine how unjust it would be if Kelly leaves his former players – none of which have any connection to Lyles – and a new coaching staff to be punished for his violations because the NCAA and Emmert haven’t acted in the 20 months since the scandal broke.
That would a huge crime in and of itself.
Photos: Scott Olmos, Kirby Lee, Bob Donnan/US Presswire