Posted by Adam Jacobi
As reported earlier, controversial scouting service owner Willie Lyles told Yahoo! Sports that he received money from Oregon to indirectly steer recruits to Eugene, and that the infamous obsolete scouting report was sent in order to make the $25,000 payment appear more legitimate. Lyles also told Yahoo! that he met with the NCAA in March, and that he withheld details at that meeting that he would later reveal to Yahoo!.
Oregon's options at this point are simple: dispute heavily Lyles' version of events, or fire head coach Chip Kelly.
If Lyles isn't telling the truth, obviously, that's not Oregon's fault, nor should it necessitate any discipline for Kelly. That said, Oregon had better be on the offensive about that right now, and have a paper trail to back it up. Simply repeating that Oregon doesn't think it did anything wrong isn't going to fly anymore -- not with Lyles' statements out there and the litany of NCAA violations possible here. Lyles said what just about everybody was thinking -- that the "scouting report" was a sham, and that the money was really for some sort of indirect coercive influence -- and he's got the ambiguously worded cards from two different Oregon coaches (including Kelly) to back it up.
That all said, the existing evidence as of right now paints Kelly and Oregon as brazen flouters of NCAA rules, to the point that the best thing Lyles said about recruiting arrangement was that he wasn't directly influencing the prospects' decisions. That appears to be a distinction without much of a difference, however. Look at what Lyles said about getting five-star RB recruit Lache Seastrunk to Oregon:
Lyles said Oregon's assistant director of football operations, Josh Gibson, had direct knowledge – and played an ancillary role – in Lyles helping [...] Seastrunk petition to have his grandmother, rather than his mother, sign his national letter of intent with the Ducks in February 2010. Seastrunk's mother, who expressed opposition to her son about attending Oregon, otherwise could have blocked the signing.
Lyles then says outright that it was an indirect but pivotal role in getting Seastrunk to Oregon, but... that sounds pretty direct. And as for the amount of influence was involved here, Lyles basically says outright that Oregon went around the wishes of Seastrunk's mother. To see Seastrunk not only calling out Alabama head coach Nick Saban at Toomer's Corner while being recruited by Auburn in 2009, but still talking fondly of the Tigers in the lead up to the BCS Championship Game, it certainly appears that a significant amount of work was put into getting Seastrunk to Oregon instead of Auburn. Whether that was legal work is for the NCAA to decide.
Here's how bad the situation is for Oregon: the best argument Kelly and the Ducks can make is that the $25,000 couldn't have been used to land Seastrunk and the other recruits, because if there's one thing the Cam Newton ($180,000) and Patrick Peterson ($70,000) situations showed us, $25,000 is far below asking price for even one high-profile player. And they'd be right. It still doesn't answer the question of what the $25,000 was really playing for, though, and that's the question that may derail Oregon's program and Kelly's career right as both were getting good.