NCF Nation: Willie Lyles

Oregon (NCAA) demise exaggerated

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
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You know the final scene of the classic 1978 horror film "Halloween," when Dr. Loomis thinks he has gunned down inexorable slasher Michael Myers, knocking him through a second-story window into the yard below? Only when he looks down after consoling Jamie Lee Curtis -- "Was that the boogeyman?" she asks -- he sees ... nothing.

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.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas is one of many reasons the Ducks are considered contenders in 2013.
The Ducks are not only alive, saddled with a single scholarship deduction the next two years after already surrendering one last season, but their recruiting might actually improve. That's despite a handful of restrictions handed down by the NCAA, including a reduction in official visits and evaluation days.

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.
For Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, the seemingly light penalties his football program incurred from the NCAA on Wednesday in connection to the Willie Lyles investigation is a case of the facts setting the Ducks free. Or just about.

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."

Oregon Ducks are full speed ahead

June, 26, 2013
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During his teleconference with reporters Wednesday, NCAA committee on infractions spokesman Greg Sankey was asked whether the NCAA penalties against Oregon were "toothless." Without dispensing his seemingly self-conscious monotone that made the Q-and-A an unenlightening affair, Sankey replied, "I'm not going to go through a dental exam."

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.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly, who has a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, was given an 18-month show cause ruling.
Most notable: No postseason ban for a budding national title contender.

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 19.5.2.2 (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.

Didn't happen.

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.

Complete list of Oregon penalties

June, 26, 2013
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We'll have much more as the day wears on the NCAA ruling Wednesday on the 27-month-old Oregon case, but here are the complete sanctions from the NCAA's official release.

You can read the entire scintillating report here.

The penalties include:
  • Public reprimand and censure.
  • Three years of probation from June 26, 2013 through June 25, 2016.
  • An 18-month show cause order for the former head coach. The public report contains further details.
  • A one-year show-cause order for the former assistant director of operations. The public report contains further details.
  • A reduction of initial football scholarships by one from the maximum allowed (25) during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years (imposed by the university).
  • A reduction of total football scholarships by one from the maximum allowed (85) during the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years (imposed by the university).
  • 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.
  • A disassociation of the recruiting service provider. Details of the disassociation are included in the public report (imposed by the university).

NCAA hands Oregon Ducks 3-year probation

June, 26, 2013
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The NCAA has placed Oregon's football program on probation for three years and taken away a scholarship for recruiting violations under previous coach Chip Kelly.

The NCAA's Division I Infractions Committee released a report on Wednesday that found Kelly and the university failed to monitor the program.

The NCAA has been looking into Oregon's recruiting practices since questions arose over a 2010 payment of $25,000 to Willie Lyles and his Houston-based recruiting service, Complete Scouting Services. Lyles had a connection with an Oregon recruit.

The NCAA also reduced Oregon's official paid visits from 56 to 37 for the next three academic years, reduced its evaluation days for each of the next three seasons and banned the program from using recruiting services during the probation period.

It also placed an 18-month show-cause order for Kelly, which would require schools wishing to hire him to appear before the infractions committee to determine if the school should be subject to the show-cause procedures. Kelly left Oregon this year to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here's the rest of this story on ESPN.com.
And on the 27th month, the NCAA shall speak on Oregon, Chip Kelly and L'Affaire de Willie Lyles.

And those pronouncement will produce... what?

Will the sanctions prove harsher than expected, thereby poleaxing the Ducks off their newfound perch among the nation's elite? Or will the sanctions prove manageable, perhaps causing discomfort but not ending the Ducks' quasi-dynastic run in the Pac-12?

We shall see. Folks in Eugene have been consistently optimistic, and it would rate a surprise if Oregon is hammered. Still, you never know with the NCAA.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) will announce its findings in a teleconference with reporters at 11 a.m. ET. The man who shall describe the Ducks' sanction fate will be Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC.

SEC? Uh oh. (Of course, we kid!)

The committee's full report will be released to the media 30 minutes before the teleconference.

Oregon's troubles began in March 2011 when Yahoo! reported the Ducks made payments to dubious Texas-based scouting service operator Willie Lyles, who had close ties to several Ducks recruits, most notably running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk. Things got murkier when it was discovered that Oregon apparently received very little of value for its $25,000.

Yet the NCAA rules on the use of scouting services at the time were vague enough that Oregon could claim it was operating in a gray area. This became one of the complicating elements as the school attempted to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA. That and the fact Lyles had significant relationships with several other schools, schools that had not been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

Oregon agreed to seven major rules violations, and in October offered to self-impose several penalties, including the loss of three scholarships over three years, recruiting limitations and two years of probation.

The COI, however, rejected the attempt to reach a summary judgment, which forced Oregon officials, including former coach Chip Kelly, to appear before the committee in late April in Dallas.

"We have been informed by the NCAA that the Committee on Infractions report on the University of Oregon will be released tomorrow," the Oregon athletic department wrote in a statement. "Until we have received and reviewed the report we will not comment."

Oregon will have 15 days in which to file an appeal if it is unhappy with the ruling.

As for the severity of the penalties, it's difficult to guess, but Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard makes a good point here:
In a statement that accompanied the October 2012 summary disposition proposal, the Ducks acknowledged that “errors were made and that we will improve” but also that “our coaches did nothing to intentionally gain unfair advantages.”

The NCAA’s enforcement staff -- essentially the prosecutor, while the Committee on Infractions was judge and jury -- agreed during the summary disposition attempt that “the violations were not intentional in nature.” But it also argued that the Ducks nevertheless had “an obligation to ensure that the activities being engaged in comply with NCAA legislation.”

"Intention" matters, and finding a lack thereof is good for Oregon.

It's also notable that the NCAA enforcement staff didn't yoke Oregon with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, instead going with the less worrisome "failure to monitor."

On the other hand, Oregon may fall under repeat violator status due to a 2004 case that was ruled a major violation after assistant coach Gary Campbell, who is still on staff, had improper conduct in the recruitment of running back J.J. Arrington.

Oregon folks would contend the NCAA taking more than two years to resolve this matter is a penalty in itself, with the glacial pace of an investigation allowing a dark cloud of the unknown to shadow the school for an extended period of time.

That dark cloud of the unknown, however, will be removed Wednesday. Whether it gives way to a tornado of sanctions or sunny skies -- or something in between -- remains to be seen.
The Pac-12 features three new coaches: California's Sonny Dykes, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and Oregon's Mark Helfrich.

Each faces distinct challenges. We break those challenges down.

CALIFORNIA: Sonny Dykes

Who he replaced: Jeff Tedford (82-57, 11 years)

Who is he? Dykes, 43, went 22-15 in three years at Louisiana Tech, where he was hired after coordinating Arizona's offense for three seasons.

Why he's there: After Tedford built Cal into a Pac-12 and national power, the Bears plateaued and then regressed his final three seasons, going 15-22. It's also noteworthy that the team declined significantly on the academic side of things.

What's the good news? Dykes didn't inherit a team devoid of talent or one that can't remember winning. Further, he's going to benefit from massive facilities upgrades that were only completed last year. The Bay Area is a pretty fair place to live.

What's the bad news? Well, Dykes inherited perhaps the nation's toughest schedule, which will make it tough to produce an immediate turnaround, even if the Bears play much better. It's also tough playing in the Pac-12 North where Oregon and Stanford have dominated play of late. Oh, and it's an issue that Big Game partner, Stanford, shows no signs of slowing down.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? If Dykes can somehow squeeze six wins out of this schedule, thereby earning a bowl berth, his fans should be thrilled.

COLORADO: Mike MacIntyre

Who he replaced: Jon Embree (4-21, 2 years)

Who is he? MacIntyre, 48, went 16-21 in three years at San Jose State, resurrecting the Spartans to a 10-2 finish in 2012. Before that, he was defensive coordinator at Duke for two years.

Why he's there: Look at Embree's record.

What's the good news? Sorry for saying this again, Buffs, but MacIntyre would be hard-pressed to make things any worse. The roster also looks stronger than the 2012 version, most notably the return of receiver Paul Richardson. Last year, the Buffs played a lot of young players, who weren't ready for Pac-12 play. Those youngsters should be better and more prepared this fall.

What's the bad news? This team isn't big enough or fast enough to compete in the Pac-12. The fan base is put off by the program's slide over the past decade. Oh, and athletic director Mike Bohn was just controversially fired.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? The bar isn't very high for MacIntyre in Year 1. He could double the Buffs' win total and that would just mean two victories. The biggest thing is being more competitive. Going 3-9 wouldn't be a disaster if those nine games aren't dropped by an average of 30 points. It's also important to win at least one conference game.

OREGON: Mark Helfrich

Who he replaced: Chip Kelly (46-7, 4 years)

Who is he? Helfrich, 39, was the Ducks' offensive coordinator for the past four years under Kelly. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Why he's there: After leading the best run in school history -- four consecutive BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles -- Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles. Helfrich then was promoted, as Kelly had been under Mike Bellotti, and Bellotti had been under Rich Brooks.

What's the good news? Helfrich inherited a well-oiled machine with a lot of talent, starting with quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks are widely viewed as national title contenders, even without Kelly. They are favored to win every game. Further, Helfrich knows his school, his team and his staff, considering eight of nine assistant coaches are back.

What's the bad news? The bar couldn't be higher. A disappointing season for Oregon now is two losses. The only way Helfrich can exceed Kelly is by winning a national title. He falls short by going 11-2 and winning the Alamo Bowl. Oh, and there's the pending ruling from the NCAA on L'Affair de Willie Lyles.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? There's only one way he can thrill them: 14-0. They'd settle for 13-1 if that includes a national title. A Rose Bowl win would be considered OK.
Oregon decided this week to release its formal notice of allegations from the NCAA concerning the Willie Lyles investigation, which it received Dec. 5.

Yes, the school is notoriously tardy with releasing information to the media.

The notice, released in response to public-records requests and first reported by The Register-Guard, follows reports that Oregon already met with the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) on April 20.

Much of what is included mirrors what was in a summary disposition that Oregon submitted to the NCAA last October. In other words, there's not really any new information here because Oregon wouldn't have had a COI hearing if it hadn't previously received a notice of allegations.

A couple of interesting notes from the Register-Guard:
  • The notice released today states that “all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary.” None is designated as such; Oregon argued in the summary disposition proposal that violations related to the use of scouting services should not be considered major.
  • The notice of allegations does note that Oregon is subject to penalties under repeat-violator rules. The most recent allegations began within five years of the Ducks’ most recent major violation, the J.J. Arrington letter of intent scandal, which was resolved in 2004.
  • According to the Dec. 5 letter, Oregon was to submit a response to the notice of allegations by Jan. 4, and was invited to appear Feb. 23 at an initial meeting of the Committee on Infractions at which the UO response would be considered

The NCAA, even more opaque and glacially paced than Oregon, will not comment on ongoing investigations. It is not known when a decision might be announced, but the odds are good the NCAA will rule before the 2013 season.

But, as with all things with the NCAA, you never know.

You can read the Register-Guard story and the document itself here.

100-days checklist: Pac-12

May, 21, 2013
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Here are five things the Pac-12, its players and its teams need to focus on with 100 days until the 2013 season begins.

1. Oregon needs to put the NCAA in its rearview mirror: Oregon and former coach Chip Kelly appeared before the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI) on April 20 (it was incorrectly reported that the meeting happened a day earlier). That means the odds are good the Ducks will know their fate before the beginning of the season. Moreover, the odds are favorable that the Ducks won't lose their 2013 postseason. That's nice for the program, considering Oregon is again a top national title contender, and the pressure is on new coach Mark Helfrich to make sure it stays that way. Getting the Willie Lyles matter resolved will make for one fewer distraction for the Ducks to claim they haven't even noticed.

2. New QBs are sometimes crowned in the offseason: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC still have wide-open QB competitions. While coaches can't watch offseason workouts, players are gathering on a near-daily basis for conditioning and 7-on-7 work. That means aspirants for starting jobs are working with their teammates, the guys they need to win over to the notion of their stepping into cockpit of the offense. How a QB carries himself matters. How he leads these "voluntary" sessions matters. And a QB sure as heck can substantially improve between May and August. Just look at Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who went from worst to first in the Sun Devils' 2012 QB race after spring practices.

3. Larry Scott & Co. need to send an SOS: Off-field issues are big-time this offseason. The college football powers are setting up a new four-team playoff to begin in 2014, and the Pac-12's interests are simple: Strength of schedule. The selection committee must create an unforgiving system that demands tough scheduling or functionally disqualifies teams that willfully play weak schedules. First off, there needs to be an agreement on conference scheduling. Every conference participating in the new playoff needs to play the same number of conference games, either eight or nine. If that proves unworkable, which it shouldn't, then the conferences that choose to play eight conference games should be required to play two nonconference games against AQ conference foes. This would fall under the title of "Standing up to the SEC."

4. Get bigger, stronger, faster, and do so without getting hurt: Injuries are the biggest drag in college football. Summer injuries are even worse because they: (1) Happen without full-go contact; (2) Are more likely to take a big or entire bite out of the season, depending on how late in the offseason they occur. Still, players need to work. The offseason can be physically transformative, particularly for younger players. A guy can put on 10 to 15 pounds. Or lose them. Quickness can be boosted and a power-clean total can rise. The best-conditioned team may not always win, but at least it knows it did all it could when the final whistle blows. So: Lots of sweat but no knee injuries.

5. Stay out of trouble: All work and no play makes Pac-12 players dull boys. These guys need to have fun. They deserve it. And the Pac-12 blog is no prude. But, golly, fellas, stay on the right side of the law. If you drink, you cannot drive. Period. No matter how annoying that guy is being at the bar/beach/party, you cannot punch him. Be wary of social entanglements that seem just a bit too eager. If something is not yours, don't take it. While it's entertaining to watch the Hulk smash things, it's not the same with you. Yes, have fun. Just don't be stupid and hurt yourself and your team with your poor decision-making.
Oregon may learn its fate from the NCAA in advance of the 2013 season.

Oregon and former coach Chip Kelly appeared before the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI) last Friday, according to an SI.com report.

SI.com's Thayer Evans reported that Kelly said Oregon used Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services "the same way other schools do."

Last week, Oregon acknowledged major NCAA violations in connection with recruiting and proposed a two-year probation with the loss of one scholarship in each of the next three years, according to documents released by the school. Those documents, which were part of an abortive attempt for Oregon to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA, also stated that the NCAA enforcement staff had not found Oregon guilty of a lack of institutional control or unethical conduct.

That doesn't mean the COI won't -- and those documents were months old -- but those are the two most worrisome charges, which tend to lead to the most severe penalties.

The NCAA began looking into possible violations following reports about payments Oregon made to recruiting services, including a $25,000 payment to Lyles and Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had connections with Oregon recruits.

When the COI rules, Oregon will have the option to appeal. If the Ducks opt to go that direction, that could extend the process through the 2013 season.

The quote attributed to Kelly is meaningful. Oregon wasn't the only school that used Lyles, who was termed a "booster" by the NCAA. That complicates the NCAA's position, particularly with the Ducks football program operating at this time under vague rules about recruiting services.

Oregon's athletic department released a statement after the SI report.

“Regardless of when or where the hearing occurs, review is ongoing until the NCAA Committee in Infractions issues its final report,” it said. “The integrity of the process and our continued full cooperation with the NCAA prohibits us from publicly discussing the specifics of this matter.”
1. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, speaking on the Longhorn Network, sounded genuinely excited about the new college football playoff. “I really feel like we are close to getting it right,” Bowlsby said. And here’s a nugget for those of us old enough to remember the special feeling of the New Year’s Day bowls. With the semifinals, Bowlsby said, “We will recapture December 31 and January 1 for college football. And that’s going to be a special festival.”

2. The relationship between the University of Oregon and Willie Lyles, the Texas-based talent spotter, wedged itself into the space between the lines of the NCAA Manual the moment that Oregon paid Lyles $25,000 for outdated, slapdash evaluations. But according to the media reports on the document dump executed by Oregon this week, the gray area is more light than dark. If the NCAA didn’t find a lack of institutional control, then Oregon is guilty of a misdemeanor, not a felony. That makes all the difference.

3. The Alabama football team made its third trip to the White House in the past four years. In 2010, President Obama hosted the Crimson Tide in the East Room; in 2012, on the South Lawn, and on Monday, on the South Portico. “They are starting to learn their way around the White House,” the President said. “I was thinking about just having some cots for them here, they’re here so often -- except we couldn’t find any that were big enough.” The Alabama traveling party left the White House just 20 minutes before the explosions in Boston.

Bad news, good news for Oregon

April, 16, 2013
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Oregon and the NCAA agree: The football program committed major violations in connection to the Willie Lyles case, The Oregonian and Portland, Ore., television station KATU reported Monday.

The disagreement, however, that prevented Oregon and the NCAA from reaching a summary judgment is this, from The Oregonian:
Oregon and the NCAA, however, reached an impasse late in 2012 while attempting to agree on the severity of one violation concerning the Ducks' $25,000 payment to Texas-based talent scout Willie Lyles. The Ducks believe the impermissible "oral reports" delivered from Lyles constitute a secondary violation; NCAA enforcement officials believe them to be another "major violation."

It makes sense that's at issue, although the Pac-12 blog is of the mind that this impasse was more about the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI), which demanded a hearing, than the NCAA's enforcement staff, which seemed to be in accord with Oregon.

The strength of Oregon's position is the way the NCAA reacted to other recent cases, as well as the gray area with NCAA rules on recruiting services.

The strength of the NCAA's position is that it can do what it wants, then justify it after the fact, such as when former Miami athletic director Paul Dee said about USC's Reggie Bush, "High-profile athletes require high-profile compliance," which he just spun together for reporters because it doesn't exist in the NCAA rulebook.

Still, there is good news for Oregon from these reports, and it might be more important than what led the story:
However, the documents also state NCAA enforcement staff said they had "no finding of lack of institutional control and no finding of unethical conduct," key points when it comes time for punishment to be considered, KATU reported. Oregon is expected to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions sometime this year.

"Lack of institutional control" and "unethical conduct" are the killers when it comes to penalties. Those quash postseasons and handfuls of scholarships. Of course, these documents are dated, so it's possible, if unlikely, the COI could up the ante.

Further, Oregon's case is probably helped by the program's big news this year: The departure of coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Violations connected to Lyles came on Kelly's watch. He's gone. That should soften the eventual blow to some extent.

To show you the university's thinking, it "proposed to self-impose a two-year probation for the football program and a reduction of one scholarship for each of the next three seasons."

It wanted to be whipped by a wet noodle three times.

Yet even if you doubled that -- four years of probation and two scholarships for each of the next three seasons -- you're not talking about a major hit to the program. Signing just 23 and maxing out at 83 scholarships for the next three years won't knock the Ducks out of the nation's top 10.

Mullens: No 'leader in the clubhouse'

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
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All indications are that Mark Helfrich will be promoted from Oregon's offensive coordinator to head coach, but athletic director Rob Mullens isn't showing his cards just yet.

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."
Chip Kelly is not one to do things the conventional way, even leaving Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles. He plays football by a different tempo and he lives by a different tempo. When you think he will zig, he zags. And he has a flair for the dramatic.

The big news on Jan. 7 was that Kelly had turned down his NFL suitors, including the Eagles. He didn't feel the need to comment then, which might be telling as to his reversal of course that would send shock waves across the Pac-12 and college football less than 10 days later.

Kelly went for the double shocker. It was shocking to learn he had decided to stay at Oregon after a flurry of interviews following a Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State. And now, three weeks before national signing day, it's shocking that ESPN's Chris Mortensen broke the news of his departure to the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, the heir apparent to Chip Kelly, doesn't have head-coaching experience.
Every indication is that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will be promoted to replace Kelly after the school negotiates some bureaucratic hiring hoops, as Oregon has a state law requiring public universities to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching positions. That was the word a year ago when Kelly nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and USA Today has already reported the passing of the torch to Helfrich in the event of Kelly's departure.

Kelly was 46-7 over four seasons at Oregon, leading the Ducks on their most successful run in program history. The Ducks have played in four consecutive BCS bowl games, winning the past two, including their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917. Oregon has finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons.

Kelly doesn't owe any more to Oregon. That success is enough. Fans shouldn't feel bitter or betrayed. Sure, the NCAA may shortly impose sanctions on the program over Kelly's involvement with street agent Willie Lyles. That is a black mark. But it's unlikely those penalties will be harsh enough to erase the brilliance that came before.

For Kelly, 49, this is an opportunity to test his considerable football acumen at the highest level. While he is known for his innovative, up-tempo, spread-option style of offense, know that Kelly is all about winning. He will adapt to his personnel and the differences in the NFL game. He won't, say, have his $18 million quarterback running the option 15 times a game.

And if things don't work out in the NFL, Kelly will have his pick of college jobs. It will be like Nick Saban's ill-fated tour in Miami. There's little risk for him in taking his NFL shot.

As for Oregon, there will be questions. While Helfrich will bring system and program continuity and should be able to retain a significant number of Ducks assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, he's not Kelly, nor does he have head-coaching experience.

Helfrich 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 at Fiesta Bowl media day when asked 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 former Oregon coach Rich Brooks gave Mike Bellotti and Bellotti gave him: "Be yourself. You can't be someone else."

While Helfrich has a lighter touch -- more of a polished, people person -- than Kelly, that could mean little on the field and in the locker room. The question will be whether he can command the same respect and dedication that Kelly did. Can he maintain the Ducks' "Win the day" culture that was as efficient and productive as any in the country?

After the Fiesta Bowl win, Oregon's players were asked about Kelly potentially leaving and Helfrich taking over. They seemed uniformly confident that Helfrich would be up to the task.

"Expect the same," All-American running back Kenjon Barner said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long, who is expected to be an early-round NFL draft choice this spring: "Seamless transition. [Kelly and Helfrich are] cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Kelly certainly left his successor a strong hand. The Ducks welcome back 15 position-player starters next fall, including star redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. When the 2012 season ended, the Ducks were widely viewed as a top-five team in 2013, perhaps as high as No. 2 behind two-time defending national champion Alabama.

While it's nice to have a good team coming back, Kelly's successor also will inherit high expectations. Ducks fans are no longer satisfied with a top-25 team that plays in a nice bowl game. They expect Pac-12 championships. They expect to compete for national titles. And more than one loss is a disappointment.

If the 2013 Ducks go 10-3, a record that was outstanding before Kelly arrived, there will be immediate grumbling.

While Oregon fans are probably wringing their hands with worry, fans of 11 other Pac-12 teams are elated, most particularly those at Oregon State and Washington, the Ducks' most bitter rivals. Kelly had built a juggernaut, even if it was toppled atop the conference this fall by Stanford. Now there is an opportunity to change the balance of power in both the Pac-12 North Division and the Northwest.

When it was reported that Kelly was returning to Oregon nine days ago (Kelly had not talked about it), college football retained its West Coast equilibrium. There seemed to be renewed clarity, at least in the short term.

His departure leaves an uncertain void. While many believe Helfrich can capably fill that void, the uncertainty will remain until toe meets leather and the Ducks continue to produce the fancy-pants, winning product that Kelly brought to Eugene.

Chip Kelly was gone, off to the NFL. It was Cleveland. Then Philly. And then he wasn't.

Kelly's second deep NFL flirtation -- recall last winter's "did-he-or-didn't-he?" with Tampa Bay -- ended with him back at Oregon, back atop the Pac-12's present superpower.

Why did Kelly stay? He has yet to comment, which is telling. He feels no need to announce no change, though he is completely aware it's major news. The Pac-12 blog believes, according to no sources whatsoever, that Kelly returned to his cavernous Eugene home Sunday and cranked up the Sinatra and sang along: "I did it myyyyyy waaaaaayyyy!"

Kelly is 46-7 overall at Oregon. He's led his team to four consecutive BCS bowl games, winning the last two. He won 12 games this year by at least 11 points. It's fair to say he's pretty good at leading a football team.

The immediate reaction in some quarters to Kelly's return -- other than surprise from just about everyone -- is that Kelly can't keep doing it like this, both with NFL folks and with Oregon.

Both sides, it is reasoned, will get tired of the fickleness. Does Kelly want to be Oregon's coach? Or does he want to be something else? He must decide!

No, he doesn't. Kelly can do what he wants as long as he keeps winning with panache. When everyone knows you are one of the best living football coaches, you can write your own ticket. Kelly could announce tomorrow that all Oregon fans will be required to change their underwear every half-hour and all underwear will be worn on the outside so Ducks officials can check, and everyone would go, "OK!"

Oregon fans might wish he'd just tell the NFL folks he's not interested, but they get over their frustration when they see he and his staff outcoach a Kansas State team that is as well coached as any in the nation.

NFL teams might get tired of being led on, but they get over that when they see the discipline, focus and offensive magic Kelly produces.

Let me make something clear: Kelly would be successful in the NFL. Of that I have almost no doubt. The analysis you keep hearing about his present systems not working in the NFL is superficial bunk. Kelly's "systems" are all about winning games. Give him Tom Brady, and Kelly would no longer call designed runs for his QB. He'd line up with three fullbacks tomorrow if that helped him win the day.

So know this, too: The NFL will be back. And Kelly is likely to talk to them. At some point, a team might foster an interview that wins Kelly over. But that hasn't happened yet and he, again, remains the Ducks coach.

As a result, Oregon's quiet recruiting season might get a bit louder. Expect some major prospects who were awaiting Kelly's plans to come a-calling.

The other layer to this is the NCAA. One of the potential harrumphs over Kelly leaving would have been expected NCAA sanctions over L'Affair de Willie Lyles. He would have looked like the second-coming of Pete Carroll, who bolted USC ahead of severe penalties.

Some might read into this Kelly's confidence that the sanctions won't be severe, and that's not unreasonable. But it also shows Kelly isn't one to run away from a potential problem. At least, not yet.

Oregon will be ranked in the preseason top five next year. It welcomes back eight starters on offense, including QB Marcus Mariota, a budding Heisman Trophy candidate, and seven on defense. The biggest questions are at linebacker, running back and offensive guard. If the Ducks avoid a postseason ban, they will be national title contenders. Again.

The allure of coaching that team kept Kelly in Eugene. That means nothing for 2014 and beyond. Yes, this could become an annual dance between Kelly and various suitors, one that fans breathlessly follow on Twitter -- "He's gone!" "He's staying!" -- as they learn to mock the term "sources."

It might be emotionally exhausting and generally frustrating for Ducks fans, but this is the annual tax a team pays for having a coach whom everyone else want to lead their team.

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