Oregon Ducks Football: Mark Helfrich's Program Dodged Bullet in NCAA Sanctions

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJune 26, 2013

Apr, 27, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks helmet during the spring game at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Losing scholarships and going on probation hurts any program, but there's no doubting the fact that the Oregon Ducks got out of their most recent NCAA investigation with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

One of the winningest college football programs of the past few seasons has been in the midst of an investigation into recruiting practices for 27 months. It ended Wednesday morning with the announcement of a handful of minor penalties. And when I say minor, I mean hardly noticeable and insignificant.

Per a report from ESPN news services:

The NCAA has placed Oregon's football program on probation for three years and taken away one scholarship for each of those seasons for recruiting violations under previous coach Chip Kelly.

The committee decided against hitting Oregon with a bowl ban or other major penalties, handing down sanctions that mostly fell in line with those proposed earlier by the university.

That's not all. The NCAA also reduced recruiting visits and punished recently departed former head coach Chip Kelly.

The NCAA reduced Oregon's official paid visits from 56 to 37 for the next three academic years, reduced its evaluation days for each of the next three seasons and banned the program from using recruiting services during the probation period.

It also placed an 18-month show-cause order for Kelly, which would require schools wishing to hire him to appear before the Committee on Infractions to determine if the school should be subject to the show-cause procedures. Kelly left Oregon this year to become the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Nothing, nothing and nothing. That's what these "sanctions" look like upon second glance. 

Okay, losing a scholarship is always something and the reduced visits will hurt. But let's take it back to where this all began to really assess how the punishments line up.

This all began so long ago that it's awfully hard to remember. Back on March 3, 2011, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Ducks paid $28,000 to two men with ties to Oregon recruits and signees. If these recipients were in any way involved with the recruitment (which they were), it would be a direct violation of NCAA bylaws prohibiting boosters from contacting recruits.

The NCAA has puffed out its chest for punishments such as these over the past half decade, most notably the University of Southern California scandal (per Associated Press via Fox Sports). The Trojans were stripped of a year of wins and had two years of bowl eligibility revoked.

Of course, each scandal was different and deserved a different outcome. Nobody is arguing the $25,000 paid to Will Lyles trumped the significance of the lavish gifts and dollars Reggie Bush received during his Heisman campaign. 

But the fact of the matter is, each scandal centered around a head coach who had just fled to the NFL. Both instances involved coaches neglecting to adhere to very serious NCAA bylaws. 

USC's program took the hit of actions that occurred years and years prior, keeping student athletes who were hardly teenagers at the time of the actions out of competing for a bowl game. Former head coach Pete Carroll didn't have a finger laid on him. 

Meanwhile, the NCAA opted to put the brunt of the punishment onto Kelly's shoulders in the Oregon case, with an 18-month show-cause penalty that won't make a lick of difference since he's the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

The only conceivable way the NCAA can justify its light sentencing is to say that the payments had no impact on the on-field results. 

Lyles was a mentor for former Oregon great LaMichael James. Who knows what would've happened had Oregon not been slipping Lyles these funds? Who knows how many payments were made that didn't conveniently appear on the university's official transcripts?

Apparently, the NCAA knows, and it wasn't impressed.

Apparently, blatantly ignoring the rules with a university checkbook and using it to influence high schoolers to play at your school is grounds for a slap on the wrist.

Apparently, a future NFLer (USC's Bush) collecting handsome sums of cash with one foot already out of the door is grounds to erase history and knock achievements while ruining the aspirations of future seasons. 

If Lyles impacted the signing of some of Oregon's current and former players, how were wins not taken away when USC's wins were? Doesn't illegally tampering with recruiting impact the game results more than paying a player who already is in the system?

That's a debate for a different day. But the comparisons simply don't add up or come anywhere close to making sense. 

From an organization that has used scandals at USC, Ohio State, Penn State and many more to build its reputation of being sticklers for the rules, the NCAA's ruling on Wednesday was nothing short of a shock.

Oregon is really going to suffer with 84 scholarships instead of 85. Chip Kelly is really going to wish he hadn't messed up when he's suspended from coaching in a league that he just left. 

Boy, did Oregon dodge a 27-month-old bullet on Wednesday. 


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