July 21, 2011
If you ask Willie Lyles, he's more than willing to tell you that he's an honest man trying to run an honest business, whose biggest mistake was … maybe caring a little too much, you know? Ask anyone who's actually reviewed his products, and it's increasingly clear Lyles is either inept, a charlatan or a willing accomplice.
Not that there were many other options even before ESPN's "Outside the Lines" launched the latest salvo against Lyles' work as a scout on Wednesday night. When the Oregonian got ahold of the "national" scouting reports Lyles sent Oregon in exchange for $25,000 last year, they turned out to be shoddy, obsolete and generally worthless. His reputation in tatters, Lyles subsequently admitted to Yahoo! Sports that he sent the Ducks whatever he had lying around at their request to cover for his real value, as a middle man with access to a few coveted Texas recruits with whom he'd developed close relationships, and insisted those materials weren't reflective of his "body of work" as a legitimate source of information.
An "Outside the Lines" review of video scouting reports purchased by the LSU football program last fall from talent scout Willie Lyles has found they contain highlights of players who already were playing Division I football at other programs and poor-quality, full-game shoots that did not isolate or identify any players at all.
The analysis of video footage obtained by "Outside the Lines" through a public-records request concludes that the information would likely be of little use during the recruiting process.
Some of the clips did identify and show current junior college players who could be recruited, but some of the highlight packages appear to have been used without permission from online sports-video companies that assembled them, and at least four players' clips can be found on public video sites like YouTube.
For all that, LSU paid a mere $6,000, part of the $26,000 it's paid Lyles altogether since 2008. A bargain, really, compared to Oregon's fee for a single "report," and especially compared to the kind of money Lyles has been accused of directly soliciting for the services of certain other recruits in the past.
Yet somehow, the NCAA seems less likely to be interested in the Tigers' thrift than it is in their recruitment of 2011 signee Trevon Randle, a three-star linebacker from the suburbs of Houston who not only has a relationship with Lyles, but whose high school coach actually barred Lyles from campus after he reportedly showed up to scout Randle with assistant coaches from — wait for it — Oregon and LSU.
To review: Two prominent schools paid thousands of dollars to a businessman, ostensibly for materials that, as it turns out, any layman can recognize as worthless. Both payments came within months of both schools signing a player who counted the businessman as an advisor or "mentor." The businessman later admitted on the record that one of the schools paid him for his connections and his help (though he claims it was unwitting help) in landing the players' signatures, not his information about new recruits. The NCAA is well aware of all of this.
The remaining question: Just how smart does the NCAA have to be to connect the dots in a way that makes the underlying implication — that, for all intents and purposes, Oregon and LSU paid for specific recruits through a "representative of athletic interests" — explicit enough to bring formal charges? With the payments, materials and interviews already in the public domain, I don't think it's going to take very long to find out.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.