Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Duck Stops Here: Great rundown on the Oregon NCAA controvo

image Blogger Dale Newton from the awesomely awesome Duck Stops Here has a complete rundown of the different angles to the week’s big news in college football. The story, of course, would be the Charles Robinson (Yahoo! Sports) story on Oregon’s dealings with a pair of recruiting services.

When I first heard news of the story, I was incredulous. Oregon in the middle of an NCAA recruiting controversy? A pair of transactions that smell like pay-for-play deals for top recruits? At Oregon?

Come on, man. The Ducks are too nice to be wrapped up in the sleaze of the street agent scene. As a fan of SEC football, you can trust me. As a blogger and citizen journalist exposed to accounts of some of the nastiest recruiting tactics ever devised by “amateur athletics programs,” I can safely assure readers that (1) Oregon and Chip Kelly would be eaten alive by the folks down here and (2) The Ducks will walk away from this without severe sanctions for major NCAA violations.

Newton’s tone is woeful and apprehensive. I don’t think they have all that much to worry about; more after the block:

The concern is what happens next.  NCAA inquiries usually end in bloodshed, often of a sacrificial lamb.  One program has to suffer so the rest can appear to be clean.   Ohio State has paid for recruiting services, as has Oklahoma, Southern California, Auburn and LSU.  In the world of NCAA compliance and investigation, it's never good to be the program drawing heat, the program in the headlines.  Oregon has found itself directly in the path of a tweet and Internet tornado.  There is debris everywhere, and Indianapolis has called not to aid in the cleanup but to inspect the wreckage.  Disgruntled rivals, competing scouting services and discarded athletes will queue up to assist them.

Just a week or two ago we were marveling at how quiet and uneventful the off season had been.  The main stories of the winter had been the transfer of a fourth string running back and Darron Thomas switching his number.  No arrests, no headlines, no controversy, and little in the way of news.  It was delightfully boring and deliciously quiet, a time to catch up on winter reading and hit the treadmill.  We rarely appreciate being and nothingness when we have it.

Here are the links and background to a story that will hang like a cloud over spring practice and the 2011 season:

Aaron Fentress of has an interview with former Oregon recruiting coordinator Deryk Gilmore on the value of scouting services: it's all about information and access.

jtlight of Addicted to Quack notes Oregon's transparency may be an encouraging sign, perhaps even a saving grace:

While the NCAA will no doubt continue to look into these issues, the proactive nature of the Oregon athletic department is very encouraging. They obviously are not trying to hide anything that has happened in these transactions, and are going out of their way to provide information to the public, something we haven't seen happen often in recent years.

The university made the public record of the payments immediately available, and is fully cooperating with NCAA investigators.  Schools that have faced these situations in the past (notably USC) exacerbated their problems with denials and stonewalling.

In part, this seems to be a test case for the NCAA compliance people, who have been on the trail of  street agents for a while, believing them to be the silent assassins  on the artificially-turfed knoll of college football integrity.

Quite honestly, I don’t think this is going to result in a catastrophic hammering of the Ducks’ football program. What Newton and his fellow Duck fans should be encouraged by is the open nature of these transactions and the transparency of the school in producing the documentation. The Oregon Live story from Ken Goe makes it pretty clear that there is nothing behind the curtain. In fact, there’s no curtain here at all.

Dave Williford, a spokesman for the school, said Oregon doesn’t dispute the payments and says both transactions had been signed off by the UO compliance office. Unless the UO compliance office is staffed with a bunch of complete noobs, that tells me that somebody checked all of the boxes, dotted the appropriate i’s and crossed all the right t’s.

There’s nothing to see here, because everything has been shown already.

Usually, college athletic programs get hammered by the NCAA for stuff that the compliance nazis didn’t know about. Or, they get hammered for stuff they either that “knew or should have known” constituted violations of NCAA rules.

"We have nothing to hide," Williford said.

Newton notes Oregon’s cooperative stance as a saving grace. I think that likely results in this case closing quickly with no real bloodshed. Contrast it however, with the USC-Bush case. More recently, contrast it with Auburn’s lawyering up and huffy-puffy bravado over the Cam Newton recruiting scandal. “We’ll do whatever it takes to protect Auburn,” they said. “We have nothing to hide,” Oregon said.

Edit to add: The booster angle mentioned in Robinson’s Yahoo! Sports report still doesn’t sound like a danger to me. The agency issue is a more dangerous angle, but I believe it too gets quashed by the transparency of the transactions and the vetting by the compliance staff at UO.

Exit Question: Lache Seastrunk was one of the recruits involved in AU’s infamous “Big Cat Prowl” case, and there are reported ties between Seastrunk’s people and AU recruiting machine Trooper Taylor. Why do people associated with AU keep showing up in seedy, shady places?

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