- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The central issue with Oregon's paying Willie Lyles $25,000 always has been what the Ducks football program expected in return.
Was it a recruiting service -- film, profiles, video, phone numbers, insight -- which falls within NCAA rules. Or something else, which is where things get murky.
When Oregon released the Lyles' recruiting package June 20th -- comically useless and outdated material -- it became clear Oregon didn't get $25,000 worth of recruiting service work.
Then the question became: Was Oregon ripped off by Lyles? Or did it expect something else, which is where things, yes, get murky.
On Friday, a Yahoo! Sports report made it fairly clear Oregon is in the murk with Lyles.
Lyles opened up in a wide-ranging interview, telling Yahoo! Oregon "paid for influence and access to players, not for scouting data" and that coach Chip Kelly "scrambled" to get Lyles to submit retroactive player profiles to justify the payment.
That's where things get complicated and could leave Oregon exposed. The NCAA, which interviewed Lyles for six hours in early May, according to the report, could find that Lyles was representing Oregon's athletic interests in recruiting, most notably with sophomore running back Lache Seastrunk. Yahoo! notes: "NCAA bylaw 13.02.14 defines a representative of athletic interests as someone 'who is known [or who should have been known] by a member of the institution’s executive or athletics administration to be assisting or to have been requested [by the athletics department staff] to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes.'"
That said, Lyles also insisted he didn't steer prospects to Oregon, or any other school.
According to Yahoo!:
“There was no quid pro quo,” Lyles said, claiming no school, including Oregon, ever asked him to direct a player. “Never. It wouldn’t make sense for me to help one school. I was trying to get every school to buy my service. That was my business.”
Lyles produced letters and phone records to support his contention that his relationship with Kelly was more than a passing, business acquaintance.
Lyles obviously had a business relationship with Oregon. He terms his relationships with Seastrunk and prep stars -- including Ducks All-American running back LaMichael James -- as "mentorships."
How will the NCAA view the blending of those two sorts of relationships? How will the NCAA view Oregon's responses to questions about those relationships? We are still operating in a gray area, though one that is trending more toward charcoal for Oregon.
Of course, Oregon and the NCAA are not commenting, which means Oregon is not countering Lyles' version of events. Or providing an explanation/defense if Lyles' version is accurate.
Lyles is fighting back after feeling as though he has been unfairly demonized. He sees himself as a guy who tried to help disadvantaged young athletes who didn't have authority figures in their lives who could offer good counsel.
But in the end, Lyles admits he didn't care much about NCAA rules.
According to Yahoo!:
Lyles said the past four months have provided clarity on the situation. While he said he never thought he was acting improperly, he understands lines may have been crossed. Whether any NCAA rules were broken that could affect Oregon hardly matters to him. Lyles has lost his business and reputation.
“But those aren’t my rules,” Lyles said. “Those are the NCAA’s rules. Those are Oregon’s rules.”
And Lyles' feelings there are the problem. For him, and for Oregon.