Jan. 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detail view of the Oregon Ducks helmet during the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ducks beats the Wildcats 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
A week and a half following the Oregon Ducks 2013 Fiesta Bowl win over the Kansas State Wildcats, head coach Chip Kelly bolted for the NFL, taking a job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly’s choice to leave at this time should have been viewed as strange. The NFL jobs that were open, the Bills, the Browns, and the Eagles, left much to be desired. Kelly inherited a team with no offensive line, major needs on defense, and a quarterback who can probably run Kelly’s system for half of the season before leaving with a devastating injury. Oregon, on the other hand, has a favorable schedule and returns enough talent to again be in the hunt for a national championship.
So why would Kelly leave? The answer is in the sanctions that Oregon proposed to the NCAA, obtained by excellent investigative journalism out of Portland television station KATU. The proposal suggests two years of probation and the loss of one scholarship for three years.
The violations primarily regard recruiting techniques at Oregon, though the NCAA apparently found that neither Kelly nor the university intentionally committed them. The NCAA found no loss of institutional control and no finding of unethical conduct, either of which could theoretically lead to a death penalty. Many of the violations surrounded Will Lyles, who ran a recruiting service. Lyles would essentially spend time recruiting high schoolers to go to Oregon while providing his recruiting service to Oregon Ducks coaches. The school paid Lyles’ service, as well as two others, $35,000 for their assistance. Oregon had other issues as well, including ones unreadable in the redacted report (apparently gifts to recruits from Lyles) and involving impermissible calls and failure to monitor recruiting activities. There is also a question regarding a cover-up of Lyles’ activities.
The findings and Oregon’s proposal are not the end result, as the NCAA and Oregon could not come to an agreement, primarily due to Oregon’s belief that its payments for Lyles’ services were merely secondary infractions, not major violations, as the NCAA believes. So Oregon’s violations will instead be tried to the NCAA’s Committed on Infractions, and owing to the lack of a plea deal, harsher punishments are likely if the findings are upheld. One possible problem area for Oregon would be if the NCAA found the Ducks to be a repeat offender, given its violations in 2004.
Jan 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly at press conference after the 2013 Fiesta Bowl against the Kansas State Wildcats at University of Phoenix Stadium. Oregon defeated Kansas 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
The problem is that Oregon will still hardly face any worthwhile punishment for its actions. As Ted Miller correctly points out, even if the NCAA doubled Oregon’s proposed punishment, to four years of probation and the loss of two scholarships for six years, Oregon’s roster would still be 83 men deep, and probation is pretty worthless if you ask Nick Saban, who won two national championships and prepared for a third while Alabama was on probation.
It is quite possible, after all, that Kelly left the Ducks just for a better job. Coaches often leave for the NFL when they get an opportunity. But Kelly’s actions, or lack of action as perhaps it were, hurt only the school and the current players. They do not hinder him at all. After all, it wasn’t like the NFL stopped calling him after he turned down the Tampa Bay job last year. The NCAA’s lack of teeth on many such matters, especially of its power programs, should be expected as well. No one should go into the NCAA trial process thinking that Oregon will be hammered.
As such, these recruiting advantages enjoyed by the Oregon Ducks and their discovery punishment will not help Arizona or any of the other Pac-12 teams at all. Short of an outright bowl ban, Oregon will brush off any punishment without a bit of scarring. And, heck, the only undefeated team in the 2012 season was Ohio State, whose inability to play in a bowl seemed to matter little.
Fans of football should be outraged that the Oregon Ducks could pay a booster who gave gifts to recruits and provided a massive recruiting advantage unenjoyed by teams who followed the rules. They should be outraged further by the fact that the Ducks will, in all likelihood, get off with a slap on the wrist even though the NCAA refused Oregon’s plea deal. And fans should be fed up with cheaters. But fans will still watch all the games, the recruiting violations will continue, and rule followers will continue to struggle to keep up.