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."