The NCAA decided that Oregon must face an NCAA hearing regarding their Willie Lyles affiliation, but this does not mean coach Chip Kelly is packing his bags for the NFL just yet.
After Oregon was denied a chance to solve the controversy regarding their relationship with Willie Lyles via a summary disposition, they must now face the NCAA Committee on Infractions. But fans of the Oregon Ducks need to take a breath before presuming that this means an inevitable trip to the NFL for the Oregon head coach.
Perhaps it may be best to look at the layman’s context as to what’s happening to the Oregon Ducks in this unusual case, and why it may not make sense for Kelly to abandon ship for this case, which will be settled in either February, April, June or August.
In 2010, the report says that Oregon paid Texas scout Willie Lyles $25,000, which was an alleged recruiting violation due to a speculated attempt to use his influence to sway certain recruits (e.g. Lache Seastrunk) to Oregon.
At the beginning of this year, Oregon filed for a summary disposition settlement that would end the dispute via the punitive requests of their own accord.
In the original settlement disposition, Oregon officials claimed that they received oral reports, and blamed Lyles for the lack of written reports. According to David Piper, the NCAA disagreed with that explanation and denied the disposition.
And considering this is the first time there has been a major program under review under the new recruiting violation rules, it was improbable for the settlement to be reached quite yet.
“Summary disposition in this case was always going to be unlikely,” explains John Infante. “Even if [the school and the NCAA] did agree, it is hard to see the Committee on Infractions passing up the opportunity to rule on essentially the first case in a new area.”
There are, however, plenty of reasons why Oregon fans may not be as troubled as they first thought they were.
First and foremost, USC and Ohio State both received a “Notice of Allegation” before they received their violation punishments. However, Oregon has yet to receive one, and the program plans to announce such a decision by the NCAA if that were to happen.
Additionally, programs such as LSU, Cal, Tennessee, Texas A&M, etc. all used Willie Lyles as well, and it would be hard to argue that Lyles is a booster for one without deciding that he was a booster for all.
For example, Tennessee and the NCAA recently reached an agreement via summary disposition that ended with probation and recruiting limitations for the program. In that case, a Tennessee assistant coach wired Lyles $1,500.
When the NCAA ultimately rules on Oregon, it may be safe to say that the program could look at a slightly more drastic but similar punitive measure than Tennessee received. Much of this is evidenced by the lack of severity in the result of the alleged infraction.
The individual under the most investigation for Oregon is running back Lache Seastrunk.
However, Seastrunk never played a down at Oregon and ultimately transferred away from the program before he began his freshman year. Once the COI is decided, it would be hard to argue that there should be any wins vacated due to his lack of play.
Additionally, Houston recruits who may be affiliated with Lyles—LaMichael James and Josh Huff—were not highly touted recruits when they received looks from scouts at Oregon. Their best offers included less prestigious programs like Baylor and Houston, so it would be difficult to prove that they didn’t just want to play for Oregon more.
Ultimately, it may not be the worst thing for Oregon to face the COI after all.
“All that being said for Oregon, recent COI seems somewhat lenient given most recent rulings for major cases (see UNC, UCF among others),” writes Bryan Fischer.
This leads many to wonder why the NCAA denied the summary disposition in the first place.
“If they did come to an agreement and the COI did not sign off, that suggests that lecturing Oregon is part of why the COI wants a hearing,” says Infante.
If a lenient COI is in play for the Ducks, then Kelly would have much more reason to stay and attempt to validate his coaching credentials with a run at a BCS title or an attempt at glory with the soon-to-be-implemented BCS playoffs system.
At this point, many sources believe that Oregon will not receive a bowl ban, which would arguably be the most severe punishment for a program that has benefited from four consecutive BCS appearances.
One source told The Oregonian that the NCAA had initially taken a bowl ban “off the table” and Oregon would agree to both recruiting penalties and scholarship reductions, but with the denial of the summary disposition, it is unclear what will actually happen.
What could really hurt Oregon would be if Chip Kelly did decide to go to the NFL and thus unable to speak and defend himself in front of the NCAA COI. This would show a total lack of interest in the empire that he helped create at the University of Oregon, and a lack of integrity to the validity of the program in the first place.
“If Chip Kelly has not talked to the NCAA and left for the NFL, the circumstantial evidence the NCAA is left with is not good for Oregon,” continues Infante. “You'd have the handwritten thank you notes plus whatever Lyles told the NCAA about their relationship.”
According to Yahoo! Sports, Lyles told the NCAA that Kelly asked how to pay and to send a bill for that amount. Kelly then approved a check for $25,000. Considering Oregon chose to pay via a check rather than cash and ultimately leave a very traceable tail, this either proves circumstantial innocence or blatant ignorance in a potential violation.
“Oregon needs Kelly to be interviewed and give a plausible explanation to reduce the possibility of more severe violations,” explains Infante.
If Chip Kelly were to follow in the footsteps of former Pac-12 colleague Pete Carroll and dash to the NFL in the face of allegation rumors, it could severely hurt Oregon’s chances of success in an NCAA hearing.
But many believe that this is not in the character of Chip Kelly, who still may seek the "unfinished business" that brought him back to Eugene, Oregon rather than Tampa Bay for this season to begin with.
I imagine that his "unfinished business" had a lot more to do with Alabama, LSU and Florida and the National Championship than it did with Kansas State and the Fiesta Bowl.
For those into reading the lea leaves, when Jake Zivin asked Chip Kelly about Kyle Long’s NFL prospects, the coach’s response proved to be particularly interesting.
"I don't know,” said Kelly. “I'm not a next-level guy.”
Bryan Kalbrosky is a student of journalism at the University of Oregon, and a Featured Columnist for the Oregon Ducks on Bleacher Report. Follow his other stories and adventures on Twitter, and feel to contact him with any questions or opportunities.
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