From the start of the Oregon-Willie Lyles fiasco, it’s been easy to portray Lyles as 1) a rogue who couldn’t be believed because he wasn’t exactly the best of character witnesses, and/or 2) a guy who might be somewhat legitimate, but a little bit incompetent, as the head of a scouting service.
Now we know what Willie Lyles really is, and we’re beginning to find out what the University of Oregon football program has really become.
Lyles admitted to Yahoo! Sports he was paid by Oregon for scouting reports and, as a throw-in, he just so happened to get a few star recruits to come up to the Pacific Northwest. Lache Seastrunk, a terrific running back prospect, is at the center of the controversy, as is Doak Walker winner LaMichael James, with Lyles serving as sort of a mentor and guidance counselor.
Lyles, who already provided his testimony to the NCAA, allegedly served as an agent for the players, and in the process, Oregon and head coach Chip Kelly supposedly had to piece together flimsy evidence to try to show that the payment of $25,000 for the “scouting service” was legit.
Lyles stated that Oregon didn’t explicitly say the money was to get players to come to the school, but like all things with this story, the excuses and explanations from all sides became paper thin. From the start, Oregon claimed the payment was for the bogus scouting service, but after Lyles bared his soul and said what the payment really was for, it’s not OK for the school to keep stating it didn’t do anything wrong and that it wasn’t merely a payment for lousy scouting reports.
Have we not learned anything from Anthony Weiner? You HAVE to come clean from the start or else the controversy gets exponentially worse.
It’s one thing to give away a few dumb trinkets for tattoos. It’s another thing to get nailed for accepting money from a sports marketing company before leaving the school. It’s another thing to not clear the cache and have damning e-mails sitting in the computer. It’s another thing to go to a party thrown by an agent. It’s another thing to get a bag of cash from some creepy booster or a car from a jock-sniffing dealer. All those things and all those recent problems fall under the umbrella of unfair and twisted NCAA rules that need to be changed. But this is different.
If what Lyles said is true, then no matter how many ways you want to cut it, make excuses for it, or try to explain it away, sounds a whole lot like the University of Oregon wrote a check to pay for an agent to make sure players went to the school, and that’s a whole bunch worse. Again, if it’s all true and Lyles is really telling the truth, this isn’t some booster on the periphery handing over a bag of cash. This is a school, for all intents and purposes, paying to get players.
Of course, every major football program of note is doing this in some way, shape or form, but Oregon appears to be mostly guilty of being galactically stupid enough to do this with real hard evidence.
Kelly actually sent Lyles a hand-written note to Lyles for “orchestrating everything” to get players to visit Oregon, and assistants also sent off thank you notes for everything done. Throw in the check, and because of sheer laziness the football program is all but begging to be tagged by the NCAA.
College players work with agents and marketing companies all the time when they’re not supposed to, but Reggie Bush got USC killed because there was proof of the transactions. Jim Tressel is now spending his days trying to sell his book on morality and integrity because of a few e-mails. Why isn’t Auburn getting nailed to the wall for Stanley McClover? No hard proof. Why didn’t Ohio State get crushed earlier when Maurice Clarett said what was going on? No paper.
Don’t write it if you can say it, and don’t say it if you don’t have to. It was amateur hour when it came to what Oregon allegedly did to get their players.
Oregon’s football program bungled the Lyles-gate controversy from the start, and now it has to respond, even though it’s waiting for the NCAA to have a say in the matter. The higher-ups and school administrators have to take control because this goes to the heart of the integrity of the athletic department and the university’s institutional control.
Take what happened at Ohio State and run with it. Oregon, make it look like your university has a football program instead of the other way around. Make it look like you really and truly want to make this right, and if you’re going to stick to your story that you did nothing wrong, then you’d better be ready to back it up and undo the damage Lyles just created.