At best, Oregon has suffered a setback in its NCAA investigation. At worst…well, things could get a lot worse.
Oregon’s problem today isn’t simply that it didn’t get the summary disposition it sought in the Will Lyles recruiting service fiasco. Oregon’s problem is that individuals involved with Lyles will now likely have to answer questions in front of the NCAA’s committee on infractions. Which means when Oregon goes to its NCAA hearing, the subject will focus sharply on the “why” of Oregon’s actions.
• Why was Will Lyles paid $25,000?
• Why was Lyles facilitating recruiting visits for the program?
• Why did Lyles aid Oregon’s staff in getting a letter of intent signed by a recruit?
• Why did Oregon wait almost 11 months to request written scouting reports from Lyles after paying him $25,000?
Now close your eyes and imagine Ducks coach Chip Kelly answering those questions - or any others stemming from Lyles' allegations - in front of a committee on infractions panel. Frankly, Oregon might have reasonable answers for all of questions. And it might be looking forward to stating its case before a committee.
But there’s a flip-side, too. Hearings before the NCAA’s committee on infractions are unpredictable. The back-and-forth nature of follow-up questions can be tricky. Bottom line, it’s far different for a coach or staffer to answer questions on the fly, rather than through a dust-busting multimillion-dollar law firm.
For most schools – and almost all involved in major infractions cases – that’s the point of seeking summary disposition. The school and its lawyers can defend itself in a drawn out, measured legal response. It’s akin to an out-of-court settlement. Both sides know there is fault, and both would rather minimize unpredictable variables. At times, summary disposition can even be a good thing for the NCAA, particularly in instances when its findings or investigative process might not hold up to the scrutiny of a hearing.
To date, Oregon hasn’t spoken out about why it sought summary disposition. But for many schools, it’s often to minimize exposure or scrutiny to individuals inside the program. Schools hire lawyers who specialize in beating back the NCAA and then task them with protecting both the institution and the coaches and staffers that work for it.
Whatever Oregon’s reasons – and whatever the reason for failing to reach a summary disposition – the Ducks took a tactical route in their NCAA case and lost. It doesn’t mean Oregon doesn’t have a good and reasonable explanation for its relationship with Lyles. It merely means the less time-consuming and painless route has been closed off.
Now we’ll wait and see the fallout. At least one thing is clear at this stage: this is a “battleground” case for the NCAA. It has placed a great deal of focus on recruiting services and how colleges pay for – and potentially abuse – the information and influence provided.
Over the last few years, the NCAA has watched developmental football (7-on-7 camps … skills camps … scouting showcases) multiply on a scale that will eventually eclipse the grassroots basketball supernova of the 1980s and 1990s. And much like the explosion in basketball, prep football exposure has created a space where the accessibility of talent is financially lucrative to whomever controls it.
This case will say a lot to football powerhouses about a line being drawn in recruiting, and provide clarity to some of the actions that constitute crossing it.
Contact Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson at WindyCityScribe@yahoo.com.