June 20, 2011
I know, I know, the way the last 12 months have gone, it's getting hard to keep all the dangling threads connected to various NCAA cases straight. But maybe this one rings a bell: Back in March, the NCAA requested documents from Oregon concerning a pair of overpriced recruiting services the Ducks had purchased from suspiciously connected sources in Texas and Southern California. Monday, the contents of those documents — including the complete scouting report Oregon purchased from Houston-based "scout" Willie Lyles for a whopping $25,000 — was released to the public.
And as far as NCAA violations are concerned, frankly, it seems there's not a whole lot to see there: Oregon paid its money, and received its materials, as do many other schools that use recruiting services within NCAA rules. In fact, if the Ducks have anything to hang their heads over in the document dump, it's not the possibility that they broke rules, but rather the apparent realization that they vastly overpaid for egregiously outdated information:
A national recruiting package purchased by Oregon in February 2010 that included the player profiles for 140 players with the heading "Player Profile 2011" is made up of virtually all 2009 high school graduates.
Amid the documents released by Oregon related to the football scouting services inquiry were 140 recruiting profiles of high school players under the heading "2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet." Above each individual profile, however, reads "Player Profile 2011." The related invoice cites the "2011 National Package."
A search of all the players listed revealed that virtually all graduated from high school in 2009 with a few graduating in 2010 or 2008.
In short, Oregon paid $25,000 — significantly above the going market rate — for the names of recruits it could not recruit because they had already graduated from high school. As the Eugene Register-Guard's George Schroeder notes, the "2011 package" purchased from Willie Lyles appears to contain information on exactly zero 2011 recruits.
For a service with an allegedly national scope, Lyles' package is limited geographically, too: The Oregonian counts just five of 140 players in the report from outside the state of Texas (two from South Carolina, one each from California, Louisiana and Oklahoma), and a significant portion of the players are described as "Low Division I/Division IAA" or just "Division I AA," well below the standard of athlete who might plausibly wind up at a program like Oregon. One report evaluates a player as "an intelligent QB that does not make many mistakes" and "a great student in the classroom," followed immediately by a coach's comment that the same player "needs to work harder in the classroom." The verdict: Division I AA/II. (That player, Dallas Skyline quarterback Chris Frazier, committed to SMU in the summer of 2008, and signed with the Mustangs the following January, more than a year before Lyles sent his profile to Eugene.) One player who "plays with a huge heart" is listed as a "Division II/ JUCO" prospect.
For another example, the "2011" profile pictured to the right belongs to Kolby Gray, a Houston-area quarterback who committed to Pittsburgh in January 2009, spent two seasons there as a safety and is now looking to transfer to Baylor while also pursuing a country music career. Based on the purported timeline of the scouting report, Oregon learned about Gray, after he'd already been at Pitt for an entire year, for the purpose of potentially recruiting him for the upcoming season this fall ... when in reality he'll be a junior already on his second D-I school.
If this sounds too stupid to believe, well, that's because it probably is. The merely unflattering explanation is that Oregon was ripped off by a con man who stuck the Ducks with a shoddy product — embarrassing, maybe, but there's no NCAA rule against being gullible. The more cynical assumption is the same as it was when Lyles' name first slithered up from the gutter of the recruiting trail in the spring: That Oregon found a loophole in the system that allowed it to "legally" funnel money to a middle man (Lyles) in exchange for access to certain recruits it already knew more than enough about.
In Lyles' case, he served as a friend and "mentor" to a pair of current Duck speedsters from East Texas, a) Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James, who invited Lyles to Orlando — on Lyles' dime — as a guest at the Home Depot Awards Show last December, and b) former five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk, with whom Lyles reportedly lived in the same house on at least a part-time basis during Seastrunk's senior year in high school. Those two, the Ducks kept pretty effective tabs on despite the distance. (Starting quarterback/Houston native Darron Thomas, too.)
The rest of Lyles' offerings? As far as legitimate recruiting is concerned, they were just ghosts. But that doesn't necessarily mean Oregon didn't get from them exactly what it paid for.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.