NCF Nation: Rob Mullens
Cue eerie piano music.
Now substitute the Pac-12 and college football nation for Curtis, the NCAA for Dr. Loomis and the Oregon Duck for Myers.
Cue eerie piano music.
After the NCAA ruled on Oregon's infractions case Wednesday, we now know the Ducks' football program is alive and well, as its penalties were relatively minor and included no postseason ban. That favorable verdict essentially announced the Ducks as national title contenders in 2013 ... again.
For the past two-plus years, Oregon has recruited under a cloud of uncertainty. A-list recruits who followed the news would know that the NCAA was investigating the program, which brought into play the specter of a potential postseason ban and crippling scholarship reductions. Those, a recruit might reason, could make a college career less enjoyable. And if those recruits didn't follow the news and know of that dark cloud over Eugene, other schools competing for the affections of those said recruits would make sure to let them know.
As in a rival recruiter noting: "Hey, I know Oregon is on a roll, but look at how USC fell after the NCAA did its thing. Do you really want to play for a team that's on the slide, one that might not be able to play in bowl games while you are there?"
That was the sort of thing Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens was referring to Wednesday when he talked of Ducks football coaches battling "plenty of negative recruiting" during the 27-month investigation.
Oregon's latest recruiting class from February ranked 26th, fairly low for a team that had finished ranked in the top five three consecutive years. It was 18th the year before and 14th in 2011, the latter class being signed before news of the Willie Lyles inquiry broke.
It's fair to assume that the NCAA ruling might ease some worries among top recruits who were uncertain if they wanted to give Oregon a serious look. And if Oregon rolls this fall under new coach Mark Helfrich, that would ease concerns about the post-Chip Kelly transition.
That latter point is all Oregon can ask for after this NCAA ordeal: to be judged for the program itself and what it does on the field.
The program that Kelly left behind, by the way, looks pretty salty, and we're not going to even mention a new, blingy football operations center that is a further upgrade for already sparkling facilities.
The Ducks, who welcome back 15 starting position players from a team that finished 12-1 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama, are laden with star power on both sides of the ball.
On offense, there's quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas, also a Heisman candidate. Three starters are back on the offensive line, and each is an All-Pac-12 candidate. Josh Huff leads a solid crew of receivers, including multitalented tight end Colt Lyerla.
The defensive line is big, athletic and deep. The secondary is among the nation's best, with the elite cornerback tandem of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell.
Questions? Linebacker, kicker and running back depth. And, of course, the coaching transition.
Yet that transition doesn't seem so big when you consider that eight of nine assistants are back from a staff that has been notable for its continuity. Helfrich knows his team and its culture, and he intends to maintain the vast majority of the practices, principles and routines that have become the foundation of a four-year run of 46-7.
Kelly's promotion from offensive coordinator worked out well, just as the promotion of Mike Bellotti from offensive coordinator did before him.
The Oregon juggernaut showed no signs of abating on the field, so many were eager to see the NCAA defenestrate it, a la Dr. Loomis.
But the Duck got up after the NCAA ruling, set its bill into an evil grin and let out an eerie, "Quaaaaack!" And it's a lot quicker than Michael Myers.
While Mullens didn't leap up and click his heals together in front of reporters -- he betrayed no outward ebullience, though you could make a case it would be justified -- it's fair to say he is satisfied that Oregon avoided a postseason ban and major scholarship losses. He said that, in the end, the penalties matched the "facts."
"We worked tirelessly to get to the facts. And we worked cooperatively [with the NCAA]," Mullens said. "We're glad the facts are out today."
He later added: "I'm not going to be a judge of fair or unfair -- I think it fits what the facts were."
Many of Oregon's rivals and programs that have been hit harder by the NCAA in recent years, such as USC and Ohio State, are sure to feel frustrated with Oregon's penalties. More than a few national pundits are going to lash out at Oregon and the arguably toothless penalties handed out by the NCAA, which has suffered through several recent controversies that have cut away at its credibility. Yet Mullens said he has his own frustrations with the media and the national perception of what Oregon did or didn't do.
"It was frustrating," Mullens said. "Right from the very beginning from when the story broke, I think there was a sense that we were somehow acting in some inappropriate way to get players here. I don't think that was the case at all."
He later added, "My biggest frustration was some media members -- not all -- but some were trying to paint with a broad brush without having the facts."
Mullens made the point that only when the NCAA ruled scout Willie Lyles a representative of Oregon's athletic interests did that retroactively change how communication between Lyles and Ducks coaches could be perceived in terms of vague NCAA rules regarding scouting services.
He said, "When they were doing the things they were doing, they certainly weren't doing them knowing he was a representative of our interests."
Of course, Lyles was working with a number of other programs, including California, LSU and Tennessee. While Mullens wouldn't speculate on how the NCAA debated Lyles being deemed an Oregon booster when he was professionally connected with schools that could be even be considered Ducks rivals, he did admit, "That's something we raised."
Oregon has an option to appeal the penalties -- a loss of three scholarships, three years probation and recruiting restrictions -- but it won't, which isn't a surprise to anyone. The penalties essentially match what Oregon attempted to self-impose in its summary disposition, which was rejected by the NCAA.
While Mullens and other Oregon officials always projected confidence throughout the 27-month investigation, he admitted that rejection was unsettling, particularly considering that NCAA enforcement and Oregon agreed on just about everything.
"When it wasn't accepted, yeah, there was a concern," he said.
And his first reaction upon receiving the NCAA's Infractions Report was noting that it basically matched that same summary disposition.
Mullens said the length of the investigation was "punitive," noting the Ducks were victims of "plenty of negative recruiting."
He said that former coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, called to offer an "apology" that morning. Kelly received an 18-month "show cause" penalty, which means if any college program wants to hire Kelly before Christmas of 2014, he and the the program must appear before the committee on infractions, and then he and the program could face sanctions.
As for Oregon's penalties, Mullens said they were harsh enough to impact the program and put it at a competitive disadvantage.
"The penalties are in place to impact the program and they will impact the program," Mullens said. "It's a very competitive environment for elite level student athletes."
Mullens admitted, "Mistakes were made." He said Oregon has significantly upgraded its compliance staff and procedures.
He also wouldn't completely go along with the notion that this was a happy day for the football program.
"No one wants to be in this position, so I don't think anyone is happy," he said. "We're pleased to be at the end of the process."
Apologies to dentists everywhere, but Sankey and his committee's penalties against Oregon for its use of Willie Lyles' scouting services are about as painful as a dental exam.
A loss of one scholarship from two recruiting classes, including last year's class, and a maximum of 84 total scholarship players -- one below the limit -- through the 2015-16 academic year. Three years of probation ending June 25, 2016. A number of recruiting restrictions, including a ban on subscriptions to recruiting services during the probation period, believed to be a first for NCAA sanctions.
If anything, former coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was the fall guy for failing to properly monitor his football program, a charge to which he admitted. Except he fell onto a feather bed.
Kelly was given an 18-month show-cause ruling. That means if any college program wants to hire Kelly before Christmas of 2014, "it and the former head coach shall appear before the Committee on Infractions to consider which, if any, of the show-cause procedures of Bylaw 22.214.171.124 (l) should be imposed upon him."
So ... that's pretty meaningless. Kelly could return to college coaching in 2015.
Kelly released a statement, taking the high road:
“Now that the NCAA has concluded their investigation and penalized the University of Oregon and its football program, I want to apologize to the University of Oregon, all of its current and former players and their fans. I accept my share of responsibility for the actions that led to the penalties.
“As I have I stated before, the NCAA investigation and subsequent ruling had no impact on my decision to leave Oregon for Philadelphia. I have also maintained throughout that I had every intention to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation, which I did."
A few hours after the NCAA provided its ruling, Oregon sent out a gleeful news release: "NCAA FINDINGS CONSISTENT WITH OREGON’S RECOMMENDATIONS."
And there was some understandable gloating from the Ducks' athletic department.
“Throughout this process, there has been speculation and innuendo regarding the nature and severity of potential violations, much of which was unfounded," athletic director Rob Mullens said in the statement. "As stated by the NCAA Enforcement Staff, the violations committed in this case were unintentional. The University of Oregon remains committed to fair play, integrity and the best interests of our student-athletes. We have all learned from this experience and look forward to continuing the progress of broad-based excellence in Oregon athletics.”
What does this mean for Oregon's football program?
It means full speed ahead, which is pretty fast for a program that has a 46-7 record over the past four years and is a likely top-five team in the 2013 preseason polls. The big question for the program? It remains what it was before the ruling and is purely an on-field issue: How well will former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fill Kelly's vacated and very large Nike loafers?
Sure, Helfrich will see his style slightly cramped by some of the recruiting restrictions:
- A reduction of official paid football visits to from 56 to 37 for the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.
- A reduction of permissible football evaluation days from 42 to 36 in the fall of 2013, 2014 and 2015 and permissible football evaluation days from 168 to 144 in the spring of 2014, 2015 and 2016.
- A ban on the subscription to recruiting services during the probation period.
Those penalties can be overcome by the school continuing to win and continuing to be a "cool" destination for players. But they are not, well, completely toothless.
As for why Oregon seemingly got off easy, there are several reasons.
- There always was a substantial gray area with NCAA rules relating to the use of recruiting services. While some fans -- and reporters -- were blown away by Oregon's $25,000 payment to Lyles for essentially nothing of value, that transaction didn't rise to the level of buying recruits. Said Sankey, "The committee made its decision based on the information presented to it, not on other speculation and evaluation."
- A number of other schools had employed Lyles in similar ways to Oregon. That complicated viewing Lyles as purely a representative of Oregon's interests.
- Oregon was "fully cooperat[ive] throughout the entirety of the investigative stage," according to the NCAA ruling, which noted, "At the investigation's conclusion, the enforcement staff, the institution and the involved parties were in substantial agreement on the facts of the case and on the violations that had occurred."
- Oregon has not only changed football coaches since the violations occurred, it also has changed athletic directors and school presidents. In other words, those who "failed to monitor" are gone.
- The NCAA has had a tough few years, you might have heard. It has lost the high ground, which it often didn't deserve in any event. Those inside this investigation on the Oregon end never seemed too worried the football program was going to get hammered.
The fact is the 27-month investigation, in itself, was Oregon's most severe penalty. For one, it was costly. The school paid law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King $208,991.48 to represent its interests, according to The Oregonian, and the overall expenses for the investigation far exceed that.
Of course, the Ducks football team, unhindered by severe, USC-like sanctions, likely will recoup that. And quickly.
While Oregon operated under a dark cloud during the NCAA inquiry, there was much "You're going down!" hyperventilating from the Ducks' rivals, both within the Pac-12 and nationally. No one likes a winner, particularly when the losers believe the winner is cheating. There were high hopes in many places that the Ducks would get hammered.
Oregon? The clouds have parted. The NCAA failed to rain on Autzen Stadium.
The Oregon Duck is back, leaning easy and revving up his motorcycle: ludicrous speed ahead.
The salaries for Stanford’s Bernard Muir or USC’s Pat Haden are unavailable because they work for private schools.
Vanderbilt's David Williams tops the list at $3.24 million, but he's a special case. The "true" leader is Louisville's Tom Jurich at $1.412 million.
Nine athletic directors make more than $1 million a year, though none in the Pac-12. It's also notable that the cost of living is much higher in Pac-12 cities compared to cities in just about every other conference.
Guerrero's total pay of $715,211 ranks 18th in the nation.
During a news conference Wednesday after Chip Kelly suddenly decided to reverse course and take over the Philadelphia Eagles after saying Jan. 7 he would stay in Eugene, Mullens said there will be a full-on coaching search, meaning he will adhere to university policies and procedures as well as a state law that requires him to interview at least one minority candidate.
"We don't have a leader in the clubhouse," he said. "We will be interviewing multiple candidates."
Just don't bet against Helfrich getting the job.
Mullens admitted that he was as shocked as many fans about Kelly's reconsideration of the Eagles. Mullens said Kelly called him at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday to tell him of his change of heart.
"He said, 'I've thought long and hard over the last 10 days and I'm going to take the Eagles opportunity,'" Mullens said. "He said he's always been intrigued by the challenge of the NFL and this was the right time, and he didn't know if there would be another opportunity like this and he felt like he needed to do it."
Mullens said his impression was that Kelly simply had a change of heart since Jan. 7 and that Kelly had not engaged in a second, secret round of negotiations with the Eagles.
Mullens said the "timing was less than ideal," but he wouldn't be rushed into making a hire.
As for the popular idea among Oregon rivals that Kelly is leaving to escape NCAA sanctions, Mullens said, "I don't think that was a factor in his decision."
It was reported in mid-December that Oregon will have a hearing in front of the NCAA committee on infractions, likely this spring, after it failed to obtain a summary disposition from the NCAA for the investigation of the school's use of scout Willie Lyles. The odds that something new happened in that investigation between then and now are close to zero. That inquiry is in the exact same place it was on Jan. 7, when Kelly wanted to stay in Eugene.
Mullens seemed a bit frustrated with how things went down, but obviously Kelly's unprecedented success made the specter of other opportunities luring him away an annual reality for the program.
"Hey, it is what it is. We're here, moving forward," Mullens said. "We're not going to worry about what happened. He made a decision that was best for him. We wish him well. He's been great for Oregon football, and we're moving on."
Kelly, clearly anticipating the NFL questions, has fought off all inquires on the matter by saying he is only focused on the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday. He has emphasized that the NFL talk is not a distraction to him or his team, and that he and his players have not addressed it.
His players have been on message, too.
And offensive lineman Kyle Long: "There isn't really a lot of talk about that. You can control what you can control. What we can control is our attitude, our effort and our preparation."
And quarterback Marcus Mariota: "Whatever happens, happens. Coach Kelly will make a decision that is best suited for him. Whatever he does, this team will support him."
And center Hroniss Grasu: "He's our head coach right now. That's the only way I can look at it. I will play for whoever is our head coach right now. Right now, it's Coach Kelly. I won't look too far ahead."
As for Helfrich, he also is staking out a "wait-and-see" position: "I don't think [Kelly leaving for the NFL is] a slam-dunk like everyone else does. I hope he stays at Oregon forever," he said.
It's important to note there have been no concrete reports of contact with NFL teams, and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said he's received no courtesy calls from an interested NFL team. It's plausible -- and very, very Chip Kelly -- that Kelly's non-denials emerge from his enjoyment in making the media awkwardly tap dance in front of him.
Still, if Kelly's departure is just days away, it is reasonable to get an early measure of Helfrich, who has been a quarterback coach at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado -- he was the Buffs' offensive coordinator, too -- before Kelly hired him in 2009.
"He's really smart, really intelligent," Kelly said of why he made Helfrich his first offensive coordinator. "He brought a different perspective to our staff, because he had a different background. He wasn't a spread guy. I wanted to bring someone in who wasn't going to tell us what we already knew."
When asked what advice he'd give to Helfrich if he became a head coach, Kelly said he'd give him the same advice Rich Brooks gave Mike Bellotti and Bellotti gave him: "Be yourself. You can't be someone else."
Which is interesting in itself, because Helfrich is different than Kelly. Very different.
"Coach Kelly is the yin and he's the yang," Ducks senior running back Kenjon Barner said. "Coach Kelly is on you. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it out of you. Coach Helf is kind of that guy who brings you along smoothly, rather than rough. Good cop, bad cop. Sometimes they switch roles."
That said, continuity is a big reason to promote Helfrich. Oregon has a team culture, system of practicing and schemes on both sides of the ball that have been working fabulously over the past four years with Kelly. Helfrich wouldn't be expected to change much. Further, he'd likely be able to retain some of the Ducks' staff because Kelly probably will need to hire veteran NFL coaches to offset his lack of professional experience.
Still, Helfrich, as Kelly would advise, is unlikely to transform into a Kelly clone. He's worked with a number of successful coaches, so he'd likely put his own stamp on existing systems.
"You take a little bit of everybody with you," Helfrich said. "I've learned a ton from Chip."
While some players seemed -- for obvious reasons -- uncomfortable with the topic, there was a strong undercurrent of support for Helfrich, and not just with offensive players.
"He's a great guy and knows what he's doing," linebacker Michael Clay said. "Everyone respects him on the team and around the league. I think he'd do a great job as a head coach."
Helfrich is certain to be a head coach at some point. The big question to be answered after the Fiesta Bowl is whether that ascension is just days away.
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J.McAndrew, San Jose, Calif., writes: From your perspective Mr. Miller, why would MacIntyre take the job at Colorado and not California. Or to put reversely, why would Cal AD Barbour hire Sonny Dykes and not MacIntyre. Cal was in better position to win immediatley and Colorado is going to be a major building job. Colorado must have had questions about loyalty after firing an Alum with only two seasons to work with. From my standpoint, of reading Jon Wilner and the SJ Mercury news, Cal had a major issue with academics which made SJSU's Coach more suitable for righting the ship. So what gives? Does it all fall back on Sandy Barbour or was there some other incentive/issue why the coaches went where they went?
Ted Miller: I think California athletic director Sandy Barbour had her choice between San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre and Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes, and she simply preferred Dykes.
You can review her comments here.
Then Colorado jumped in and grabbed MacIntyre, a guy who seems like a perfect fit in Boulder after rebuilding a woebegone Spartans program.
If things don't work out with Dykes at Cal, and MacIntyre leads a football renaissance at Colorado, well, that won't go over well with the Old Blues. Or the young ones. Some view Dykes as a risky hire, and you are not the first with a MacIntyre query.
From our present perspective, my ever optimistic self sees both as good hires, though neither is the sort of blockbuster announcement that causes new-found enthusiasm to immediately boil over, as, say, Ohio State inspired when it hired Urban Meyer. But neither program is Ohio State, either.
As for why Barbour preferred Dykes specifically over MacIntyre, you'd be hard-pressed to get a detailed answer from Barbour that digs at MacIntyre.
It could have been a connection of personalities. It certainly seems Dykes made a strong impression during a three-hour interview that separated himself from the five other candidates who sat down with Barbour.
It could have been a preference for an offensive-minded guy over a defensive-minded guy, as MacIntyre is. It could have been Dykes' Pac-12 knowledge, having served three years as the offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09.
Maybe there's some minor, obscure and unreported red flag that gave Barbour pause of MacIntyre. Or just Barbour's own hunch/instincts on the decision.
If you've ever hired someone, you know that after reviewing a number of strong resumes and conducting interviews, your ultimate decision is often based on a personal quirk. For example, I would never hire someone who smacks when he eats. Drives me freaking crazy. It should be legal to punch someone who smacks when he eats ... anyone with me on that?
Or someone who eats steak well-done. I heard a guy the other day order a ribeye well-done and I wanted to cry.
As for Dykes and Barbour: What we can say for certain is there is now more pressure on Barbour for Dykes to be successful than there is on Dykes himself.
Chris from Penticton, B.C., writes: Mike Riley to Wisconsin? Say it ain't so, Mike!
Ted Miller: It ain't so.
Lou from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Ted, In response to your response post criticizing Mike Leach's effort this year - I agree with you that Leach should have done better with what he had, this seasons was dismal. However I find your comparison of him to Graham, Mora, and Rich-Rod to be way off-base. There are so many internal things that go on with each specific program that no fan, or the media are aware of. To say that Leach failed because new coaches in the conference did better than him is ridiculous. Each football team is dynamically different. With that said, I think your article blasting Leach may have come from personal disappointment due to your desire to see Leach's high-octane offense excel immediately, not that you really think he is that big of a failure.
Ted Miller: I don't agree. Comparing the conduct and results of Leach and the other three new coaches is certainly valid. It's not about asking why Leach didn't win nine games, as Jim Mora did, it's about asking why his team did worst than it should have while Mora, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez produced teams that overachieved in year one.
I think Mike Leach is a good football coach. I effused when he was hired. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of months actually trying to talk some of my Coug fan friends back from the ledge of despair. I still think he's going to win in Pullman.
But I think he did a bad job this season. I'm certainly not alone in thinking that. And I think a lot of Washington State fans agree with me. In fact, that column was basically a condensed version of what I've heard -- over and over and over -- from Washington State fans this fall.
The most common observation: Leach's repeated and harsh calling out of his players achieved nothing positive. Nothing.
The obvious negative of colorfully ripping your players, of course, is that a game with no national interest, such as the 49-6 loss to Utah, suddenly becomes negative national news for your program and a multi-day story. Probably doesn't help recruiting, either.
Leach is going to be himself. He's not much for filtering his thoughts as they flow from his brain to his mouth.
Perhaps he should reconsider that, at least in some part. Perhaps his New Year's resolution should be that, going forward, when things go wrong with his football team, he will first blame the guy who makes $2.25 million a year for them not to go wrong before he lays into unpaid college students.
Craig from Seattle writes: This past season . . . which was the better division . . . . SEC West or Pac-12 North?
Ted Miller: SEC West.
The SEC West was a little bit better at the top (12-1 Alabama, 10-2 LSU and 10-2 Texas A&M vs. 11-1 Oregon, 11-2 Stanford and 9-3 Oregon State) and bottom (4-8 Arkansas and 3-9 Auburn vs. 3-9 California and 3-9 Washington State).
But it's closer than a lot of folks in the Southeast would admit.
Richard from Phoenix writes: [Picked from my chat]
Tim (ATL) Conventional wisdom is that Helfrich is the guy if CK leaves Oregon... how surprised would you be if someone else is hired? Obviously Christ Petersen always gets talked about, but do you think it is as open/shut helfrich's job as the rumors suggest?
Ted Miller (3:38 PM) If Phil Knight & Pat Kilkenny want Helfrich, then he'll be the guy... I think Petersen comes up a lot because it makes sense, and there's always been scuttlebutt that Petersen has long held Eugene in high esteem. I never think something like this is simply open and shut, but I do know that Helfrich has good backing and is highly thought of.
Ted-I don't know if you have been corrected yet, but Pat Kilkenny no longer is the AD at Oregon. It's Rob Mullens. Otherwise keep up the good work.
Ted Miller: I do know that, and Mullen is a very good athletic director, one who is going to consult the athletic department's two most influential boosters before he picks the next Oregon football coach (should he have to pick the next Oregon football coach).
You do know why they call the baseball field "PK Park," right?
I hear the second choice was "Pac-12 Blog Field."
Does this surprise me? No.
Do you have kids in college? Do you think they smoke pot?
If you said, "No way, not my kid!" It's probably 50-50 whether you are wrong. For a lot of young people, pot has replaced alcohol as the first-choice recreational drug of choice.
First, let's deal with this: Smoking pot is not only illegal, it's also against the rules for, my educated guess posits, every college football team IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, including Oregon.
So, while many folks, most particularly ardent Ducks fans, will react with a shrug, it's important to note that Oregon players are -- allegedly -- breaking rules set down by coach Chip Kelly, as well as the United States of America. How often do you think Kelly overlooks players doing the opposite of what he requests?
No matter your opinion on marijuana laws, the allegation that many Oregon players are routinely breaking a team rule is not good, even if it's likely that many schools also see the same team rule frequently broken.
In Oregon's defense, its situation is different than most football programs, due to state laws that restrict drug testing. For one, there is no random testing, and probable cause can't just be just a "hunch" that a player who smells of sandalwood incense has been sucking some bowls -- and not Rose Bowls.
Here's a statement from athletic director Rob Mullens:
“Student-athlete welfare is of the utmost importance to the University of Oregon. Similar to many college campuses wrestling with the same issue, the University of Oregon actively works to address potential use of any illegal substance through a combination of education, prevention and enforcement activities. Student-athletes at the University of Oregon are tested for illegal substances to the full extent possible under existing Oregon state law, which prohibits random testing. We continue to work diligently to educate our student-athletes on the harmful impact of illegal substances. In addition, we have articulated our illegal substances policy to our student-athletes and have clearly defined sanctions for a positive test.”
As for the Ducks policy, the first two positive tests only get counseling. On a third positive test, "The student athlete will be immediately ineligible for competition. They will remain ineligible until they have missed the equivalent of 50% of a season," according to the school. A fourth positive test, and the athlete is dismissed from the team and loses his scholarship.
No, that doesn't sound very strict, particularly when you consider testing can't be random due to state law.
Now, after 430 words, comes my, "But."
As a sports writer with the latitude to opine on such matters, I often try to advise fans how they should "feel" about certain issues -- the option to take it or leave it being plainly available. If I were an Oregon fan, I would worry about this for 17 minutes. Perhaps 20. For a powerful booster with access to Kelly and Mullens, you would be perfectly justified expressing sentiments to them that "I'd rather not read a story like this again."
Question: Is Oregon graduating its players?
Question: Are Oregon's players among the best conditioned in all of college football?
Of course, breaking the law is breaking the law. It leads to plenty of embarrassing moments for a program -- hello, Cliff Harris.
That said, alcohol is legal, and it's the common denominator for a vast majority of bad headlines for college football programs -- such as this and this and this. How often do you read about someone under the influence of pot doing something like this?
You can legally purchase grain alcohol in this country while pot is illegal. Not to get too political, but that is nonsensical.
Yes, creating more reasonable drug laws lingers on the periphery of this conversation. Many folks in the 18-25-year-old bracket certainly no longer buy anti-marijuana arguments that have since been found to be medically untrue.
But that's the periphery. Today, the issue is a slightly embarrassing one for Oregon.
The Ducks player should know that they just made Kelly's life a little bit more difficult. It's possible he might shortly return the favor.
Oregon released Friday to the media a "proposed findings of violations" from the NCAA, which says the Ducks' football program broke NCAA rules through its use of three recruiting scouting services and by exceeding the permissible number of coaches participating in recruiting at any one time.
Further, the NCAA is proposing that Oregon agree that from 2008 through 2011 "the athletic department failed to establish policies and procedures to monitor the football program's use of recruiting or scouting services."
This is not a formal Notice of Allegations from the NCAA -- the investigation remains ongoing for both Oregon and the NCAA -- and four of the document's seven sections are redacted. So drawing specific conclusions as to what this means for Oregon's football program is impossible.
You can read the document here (what's not redacted by Oregon). And here is a note to Oregon fans from athletic director Rob Mullens on the document's release. Here's a story from the Eugene Register-Guard. And one from The Oregonian, which noted: "Until [the] internal inquiry concludes, UO general counsel Randy Geller said, 'the university is not necessarily agreeing with the findings.'"
What does this mean?
Here's an educated guess: Oregon will not get a wrist slap from the NCAA. And it won't get horribly bombed.
Yeah, I know, thanks a lot.
Oregon fans looking for good news should note that a "failure to monitor" charge, while it can carry burdensome sanctions, is not the dreaded "lack of institutional control."
Still, predictions at this point as to what the NCAA eventually will do remain pure guesswork. For one, there's a lot of stuff Oregon won't let us see. For another, as pointed out by CBS Sports' astute Bryan Fischer in a Tweet, "Reading Oregon/NCAA docs, never been a major infractions case involving 13.14.3 (recruiting/scouting services). So definitely new ground."
This is unexplored territory for an organization that often seems to make completely random, arbitrary rulings. Predict outcomes at your peril.
Many of the NCAA's specific allegations focus on the Ducks getting "oral reports" from scouting services. That's a no-no.
What about Willie Lyles? Nothing earth-shattering. From the document: "In 2010, the football program paid $25,000 for a subscription to Complete Scouting Services (CSS) and received oral reports from CSS representative Lyles. Additionally, the football program failed to gather recruiting or scouting information from CSS at least four times per calendar year, as required by NCAA recruiting or scouting legislation."
As for the failure to monitor:
Regarding the recruiting or scouting services, the athletic department failed to establish policies and procedures to monitor the football program's use of recruiting or scouting services. Additionally, athletics administrators with responsibilities in the football program failed to monitor the information provided by recruiting or scouting services to ensure compliance with recruiting or scouting service legislation. This collective failure partly resulted in the violations outlined in Finding 2.
Recall how all of us media sorts have kept bringing up the loopholes and gray areas that are in play here? It's meaningful, again, that NCAA investigators/infractions folks have little experience with cases like this. Alleged "street agents" in football, while long an issue in basketball, are a mostly new thing. And a new area of emphasis for the NCAA.
My general impression here is that Oregon, from the beginning, has tried to work with the NCAA instead of quibble over details. It lawyered up with attorney Michael Glazier, a partner in the firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, the go-to guys for NCAA investigations, in order to best present its position, yes, but also to make sure it didn't violate the NCAA's sense of etiquette in these matters. While it's often incorrectly stated or written that USC didn't cooperate with the NCAA during the Reggie Bush case, there's no question that USC aggressively fought the allegations against it. It appears that Oregon isn't doing that, that it's trying to reach accord with the NCAA.
George Schroeder of the Register-Guard speculated on Twitter -- insightfully, I think -- that Oregon might hope for a "summary disposition" that would allow it to avoid an infractions committee hearing altogether. A plea bargain, so to speak.
That said, don't expect this case to be quickly wrapped up in a few weeks. The wheels of NCAA justice almost always move slowly, and, again, the Notice of Allegations has yet to arrive.
But the Oregon case is moving forward, providing grounds for hope to parties on both sides of the aisle.
Those who want Oregon to get hit hard -- despite no "lack of institutional control" -- probably feel like there's a chance that still happens. And Ducks fans can reasonably cross their fingers that eventual sanctions won't be severe enough to put an ax wound in the middle of a budding Pac-12 superpower.
Scott, 47, has done more in two years than just about any of the five commissioners before him. Combined.
Which he did.
With a bang, see expansion from 10 to 12 teams, the addition of North and South Divisions and a conference championship game. See a 12-year, $3 billion TV deal. See the founding of the Pac-12 Network as well as six regional networks. See a transformation of the conference's personnel, corporate structure, way of doing business and top-to-bottom philosophy.
"He's transformed the Pac-12," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said before the 2011 football season. "He took an undervalued, underexposed asset and shined a light on it with these incredible TV deals."
Arizona, UCLA, Washington State and Arizona State all hired new head coaches and were able to pay them roughly $2 million a year. Washington hired five new staff members and will pay its assistants an SEC-ish $2.73 million in 2012, which is more than any Pac-12 staff was paid in 2011.
That's also on Scott.
Some have dismissed Scott landing the mega-TV deal with ESPN and Fox as serendipity. Scott got lucky with the timing, they say. Funny thing is: Not a single so-called pundit predicted the number Scott ended up getting. How often does a business deal exceed all expectations, particularly in a down economy? Remember that $2 million payout USC and UCLA negotiated for themselves if the total TV revenue's didn't eclipse $170 million a year?
The big question with Scott may be how long he will feel challenged by being Pac-12 commissioner. Is he a lifer? Will he stick around for 26 years, like his predecessor Tom Hansen did?
I doubt it. Scott strikes me as the sort who likes action, and things might be settling down a bit in the conference. The Pac-12 Networks will launch in August. Bowl contracts run through 2013. Further conference expansion -- or "contraction," as Scott calls it -- is possible, perhaps probable. Scott has an ambitious, high-tech global vision.
Still, what's ahead doesn't seem likely to be as frenetic as what is behind.
You'd expect Scott's performance maneuvering through multiple, highly complicated business transactions raised more than a few eyebrows out there in corporate America. How long before someone comes after him with an offer he can't refuse?
Contract terms weren't disclosed, but you'd expect Scott, who took over the Pac-12 after six years as head of the Women's Tennis Association, received a significant raise from a contract that paid him $1.5 million a year, not including incentive-based bonuses, which likely were substantial. Still, top CEOs who are accomplishing almost nothing have made a lot more money than the Pac-12 can pay Scott.
Where might Scott be in 2017? Maybe the head of a network's sports division.
Heck, maybe the head of a network.
Chip Kelly is staying at Oregon.
Oregon fans ... you can now breathe. By holding your breath, you turned purple and, well, you know that's not what you want to do.
This has been confirmed by the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were deep in the process of trying to lure Kelly out of Eugene and into the NFL this past weekend.
"His heart is with college football and Oregon and he's no longer being considered," Mark Dominik said Monday, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
A handful of news outlets had reported that Kelly was leaving Oregon. George Schroeder of the Eugene Register-Guard, however, was the first to report Kelly's change of heart.
This hullabaloo leads to two questions: 1. How long will Kelly stay at Oregon, as it is now evident the NFL intrigues him -- an idea that was just a theory before? 2. Does this provide the Ducks a boost of momentum -- he's staying because we are awesome! -- or is there some damage control to undertake?
Oregon fans got to experience what it would feel like to lose Kelly, who is 33-6 at the Ducks' helm after winning three consecutive conference titles. Some panicked. Some said, "We'll be OK." Some felt a little of both.
The first reaction of many will be that it's now clear that Kelly will eventually leave. That's not necessarily true. A flirtation that doesn't lead to a divorce can often lead to a renewed loyalty and sense of purpose. Recall that Joe Paterno was, in 1972, out the door at Penn State to coach the New England Patriots.
But Kelly is incredibly competitive, so the juice of competing at the highest level might eventually overcome him. And the non-coaching aspects of leading a major college football program also might wear him down.
Just not yet.
The immediate reaction among the Ducks' rivals was that perhaps some of Kelly's top recruits might waiver. And Oregon did lose a committed player over the weekend. Kelly reportedly missed a recruiting trip to Sacramento during his chats with the Bucs. The guess here is he'll be making a few phone calls today.
Are bridges rebuilt immediately, only with stronger materials? "He loves us, he really loves us!"
Or are questions going to linger? "He flirted once, which means his eyeballs are prone to wander."
The answer -- in some ways unsatisfying -- is "both."
Ah, but too much introspection and navel gazing won't lead to any permanent insight, though Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens now knows that his "Plan B" file needs to be kept updated.
The Pac-12 blog's advice to Oregon fans is to live in and enjoy the present, perhaps with even more appreciation for this golden age of Ducks football. Kelly isn't leaving. His 2012 team is loaded. His focus is back on winning a fourth consecutive conference title.
There will be plenty of time to fret about 2013 and beyond.
It was the summer of 2010, and there was a general feeling among the pooh-bahs of Oregon sports -- most notably Nike founder Phil Knight and millionaire former AD Pat Kilkenny -- that Kelly sticking around for the long term in Eugene was the best chance for the football program to experience long-term success, a condition that keeps a department with an $80 million budget afloat.
The endgame was a six-year deal worth $20.5 million. Kelly made $2.4 million last year. He's making $2.8 million this year and will make $3.5 million the next. In 2014 and 2015, he'll pocket $4 million, which is roughly what the nation's highest-paid coaches made this year.
"People can look at the numbers and say it's high, but it fits within the marketplace," Mullens said. "It fits with the results. We have the person we want at the helm of our football program."
No other team in the nation is riding a streak of three consecutive BCS bowl games. That's a big reason Oregon merchandising sales went up from $1.5 million in 2007 -- the year Kelly left New Hampshire to become the Ducks' offensive coordinator -- to $2.25 million in 2010.
While it's difficult to quantify the entire picture financially, Mullens points out that the unprecedented success Kelly has produced over the past three years has more than paid for his big-dollar contract, mostly notably in exposure and increased donations. That revenue flow has been particularly important in a tough economy that has many athletic programs struggling, including many in the Pac-12.
Or at least it did. When the conference signed a $3 billion, 12-year TV contract with ESPN and Fox, athletic directors across the Pac-12 leaped into the air and clicked their heels. They also started to spend that money. Some on new coaches.
Sure, Kelly will make $3.5 million next year. But new UCLA coach Jim Mora, with no college coaching experience, will pocket $2.4 million. Washington State will pay Mike Leach $2.25 million.
In a lot of ways, Kelly's compensation pencils out pretty well for Oregon on the cash-for-accomplishment curve.
"It pays [for Oregon] because, one, he's a great coach," Mullens said. "Two, he's a perfect fit. That combination, you can never guarantee that. He has delivered the results."
In addition, Oregon is paying extra for stability. When the school committed to Kelly with SEC-like money, Kelly also committed to Oregon. His buyout dropped from $4 million last year to $3.75 million this year, but that number is almost prohibitive for even the richest athletic departments. In 2015-16, it will be $2 million, which is still pretty large by industry standards.
What does that buyout mean? Well, it means Kelly doesn't have wandering eyeballs. Further, it mutes all but the most uninformed rumor mills: Despite chatter to the contrary, Mullens said he has not been contacted this year by any college or NFL team that wanted to talk to Kelly about a job.
Further -- as Ken Goe of The Oregonian pointed out when there were rumors in December 2010 that Florida might come after Kelly after Urban Meyer resigned -- Kelly's contract has clauses that will make it a pain in the rear for a team to pursue him.
And a clause in the contract stipulates that Kelly must give Oregon 15 days' written notice before leaving, and further stipulates that he cannot leave during the regular season or before a postseason bowl game in which Oregon is a participant.
The sum total of all this suggests that Kelly wants to remain in Eugene, and Oregon wants him to stick around. There are no guarantees, of course, but the feeling at the administrative level -- and among key boosters -- is that Kelly is the right guy at the nexus of an athletic department that has ambitious, expansionist visions for itself.
No FBS athletic program thrives without football success, and Kelly's presence provides a sense of security for Oregon's cash cow. And as of today, it appears the marriage remains strong.
“We have been asked to provide a series of documents by the NCAA and intend to fully cooperate,” athletic director Rob Mullens said in the statement. “I reiterate that it is our belief that the purchase of such services is within the allowable NCAA guidelines.”
Oregon provided the NCAA Bylaws with which it believes it is in compliance:
NCAA Bylaw 13.14.3 states that an “institution may subscribe to a recruiting or scouting service involving prospective student-athletes, provided the institution does not purchase more than one annual subscription to a particular service and the service: (Adopted: 1/1/02, Revised: 1/16/10)
(a) Is made available to all institutions desiring to subscribe and at the same fee rate for all subscribers;
(b) Publicly identifies all applicable rates;
(c) Disseminates information (e.g., reports, profiles) about prospective student-athletes at least four times per calendar year;
(d) Publicly identifies the geographical scope of the service (e.g., local, regional, national) and reflects broad-based coverage of the geographical area in the information it disseminates;
(e) Provides individual analysis beyond demographic information or rankings for each prospective student-athlete in the information it disseminates; (Revised: 4/13/10)
(f) Provides access to samples or previews of the information it disseminates before purchase of a subscription; and
(g) Provides video that is restricted to regularly scheduled (regular-season) high school, preparatory school or two-year college contests and for which the institution made no prior arrangements for recording. (Note: This provision is applicable only if the subscription includes video services.)
Oregon also released the invoices involved in the transactions with recruiting services.
ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman provide some perspective on the issue here.
They reported Thursday night that NCAA officials are examining whether or not a Texas man helped steer high school football prospects to Oregon, and Ducks officials said the school paid the man $25,000 in the spring of 2010 for recruiting services.
Oregon released a statement on the report:
The athletics department paid for services rendered by a pair of scouting services that were processed through the athletics department business office to Complete Scouting Services and New Level Athletics. This is no different than services purchased by a number of colleges and universities throughout the country.
This is something we remain confident that is within the acceptable guidelines allowed by the NCAA and occurred with the knowledge of the department’s compliance office.
We have previously stated that we have not been in contact with anyone from the NCAA or Pacific-10 Conference in regards to these practices and that situation remains unchanged.
The NCAA is specifically reviewing the recruiting of running back Lache Seastrunk, a redshirt freshman from Temple, Texas, sources told ESPN.com, and what role Texas-based trainer Willie Lyles played in Seastrunk's decision to attend Oregon.
Said the report:
Oregon athletics department spokesman Dave Williford confirmed to ESPN.com on Thursday that Oregon paid Lyles $25,000 for his recruiting services. Oregon's payment to Lyles was made shortly after Seastrunk signed a national letter of intent in February 2010 to play football for the Ducks, choosing them over California, LSU and USC.
The NCAA also is examining Lyles' relationship with Ducks tailback LaMichael James, according to the report. In December, Lyles was James' guest at the ESPNU Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The NCAA has been investigating the spread of "street agents" in college football -- third parties who insinuate themselves into the recruiting process, either as trainers, camp coaches or employees of recruiting services.
The key question is whether or not NCAA investigators find that any third parties specifically recruited for Oregon and then got paid for their services. That would violate NCAA rules.
On Wednesday, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said the school had not been contacted by the NCAA about any investigation.