- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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 126.96.36.199 (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.
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