NCAA lets Oregon off the hook

If it walks like a duck, and if Willie Lyles says it can quack like a duck, it probably could run for 1,000 yards under Chip Kelly.

The NCAA released its sanctions against Oregon on Wednesday, and the report was a doozy.

According to the NCAA, is Oregon now a repeat offender? Yes. Did it pay Lyles — even though he never was mentioned by name in the report — $25,000 for phony-baloney scouting reports? Yes. Did Lyles give “player” money and benefits? Yeah, sort of. Did Oregon get punished in any meaningful way? No. Did it deserve to? Probably not, but that’s not the point. Does this open up things for a slew of major problems in the future? Hell yeah.

Why is this any different than if some booster gives a kid some money and politely suggests that student-athlete sign with a certain university?

Theoretically, now, why can’t some Jim Bob booster club create its own “recruiting service,” file all the necessary paperwork with the NCAA, and then roll the dice on giving players cash, lodging, etc.? What’s the worst that could happen? With this precedent, the school might lose a scholarship and get a finger-wagging, but technically, doing that would be even more kosher since the school itself isn’t paying the guy who’s paying the players.

And that’s the problem. According to the ruling, no, Oregon didn’t pay players to come to Eugene to play football, and the NCAA didn’t want to take the leap to say that A and B had something to do with C, but it could’ve in its own way — it has nailed other schools for far less.

These aren’t criminal investigations and it’s not a case of being innocent until proven guilty. In the same way it’s OK for people to lie to the NCAA — there’s no such thing as perjury here — it’s OK for the NCAA to make a ruling based on rational explanations. It proved in the Penn State case that it can find ways to hammer programs by twisting around the rulebook, and it nailed USC, basically, because it didn’t like the way Pete Carroll ran his shop, but in the Oregon case, NCAA Committee on Infractions mouthpiece Greg Sankey bent over backwards to gush about how much the school cooperated with the process and did everything it could to help out the investigation.

Apparently, full cooperation goes a long way, and because of that, if you’re a USC or Ohio State fan, you’re entitled to break something tasteful.

Yes, Oregon’s apples don’t compare to Ohio State’s or USC’s oranges, and they’re not even in the same supermarket as Penn State’s produce, but still, Buckeyes and Trojans fans have to be ticked.

USC got the coma penalty and it’s still trying to build up the depth back to national title snuff. Ohio State missed out on possibly playing for a national championship last season because Jim Tressel and company were naughty. That’s not to say that those two didn’t deserve to be punished, but there’s no consistency. It’s like an umpire in baseball; all the players want is for the game to be called the same way for both teams for all nine innings. The NCAA’s strike zone is all over the place, and along the way, it has to stop coming up with silly penalties.

No, it’s not a punishment to hit Kelly with some sort of “show cause” if he wants to get back into college coaching at some point within the next 18 months. He’s getting paid millions upon millions from the Philadelphia Eagles — around $9 million over the next year-and-a-half. If Kelly is trying to get back into college coaching at some point over the next 18 months, he’ll have bigger problems with the Philly fans than he will with the NCAA. This is like leaving your girlfriend to go date Kate Upton and then being “punished” by not being able to date anyone else for 18 months.

But Kelly is gone and isn’t a part of this anymore, and his legacy should be fine now that nothing really major happened. At the very least, Oregon could’ve been given the Ohio State treatment — scholarship loss and a one-year bowl ban — and everyone would’ve been on board thinking the NCAA was being even-handed with its rulings. That would’ve made a statement: screw up, fail to “monitor,” lose a bowl game. There, the precedent is set.

After this, though, good luck.