For the second time in a decade, the football program at the University of Oregon has been cited by the NCAA for rules violations stemming from improper recruiting practices.
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions handed down their ruling earlier this week, hampering the Ducks' ability to conduct business as usual through June of 2016. The penalties include a three-year probationary period, the loss of one scholarship each year, a reduction in the number of paid visits from potential recruits from 56 to 37, and a ban on the use of any recruiting service.
However, Oregon avoided a bowl ban and a major loss of scholarships, allowing the team to continue to compete for both the Pac-12 Conference and national championships.
The NCAA's findings and penalties were in line with what the university itself had suggested during its own investigation, as it was apparent from the outset that the use of a recruiting service run by Willie Lyles by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly had run afoul of NCAA regulations.
In May of 2008, Lyles began working with the university's football team and apparently provided a recruit with several improper benefits, including lodging and monetary compensation. He also engaged in phone calls and off- campus contact with potential prospects, their families and high school coaches, all of which were impermissible.
Kelly, whom the NCAA said was unaware of the extent of Lyles' involvement in recruiting, left the program earlier this year to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. A curious move at the time considering his statements less than two weeks prior that he was staying in Eugene, but understandable now knowing that the heavy hand of the NCAA would come crashing down soon enough.
Fortunately for Oregon and new head coach Mark Helfrich, the governing body of all things related to college athletics levied a softer blow. The punishment in fact is tantamount to little more than a slap on the wrist, thus allowing the native Oregonian to keep the Ducks in national title contention for years to come.
At his introductory news conference in January, Helfrich was genuinely moved to be chosen to lead the team for which he served as offensive coordinator the previous three seasons, and has been rooting for all his life.
"As a lifelong Duck fan, this is a responsibility that I welcome and accept the undertaking that stands before me to carry on the legacy of success that has been created by my many predecessors."
He continued, "I have been fortunate to have worked with a number of great football coaches and mentors throughout my career and have utilized that knowledge to help make me a better coach."
Oregon fans everywhere hope the lessons he has learned from Kelly, at least the ones involving X's and O's, will help lead the Ducks to another banner year.
While Kelly was exonerated to a certain extent, the committee noted it is the head coach's responsibility to know the rules and make sure that his staff complies with them. As a result, the NCAA also placed an 18-month show-cause order on Kelly, which would require any school wishing to hire him to show cause why it should not be penalized for doing so.
Oregon Director of Athletics Rob Mullens expressed his deep appreciation to the Infractions Committee for the professional and fair evaluation it came to after conducting its investigation.
"Since the outset of this lengthy inquiry, we have worked diligently to cooperate with the NCAA Enforcement Staff to ascertain the facts and we have abided by NCAA confidentiality rules in discussing this matter. As we have stated from the beginning, we are fully committed to operating within NCAA Bylaws and accept responsibility for any violations committed by current or former members of our staff."
Oregon was previously penalized by the NCAA in 2004 for a major violation involving the improper recruitment of a junior college player. The university was put on probation for two years and the unidentified assistant coach involved was suspended without pay for a week.
The Ducks remained eligible for postseason play and did not lose any scholarships because of that violation, which occurred in 2003.
While the punishment doled out by the NCAA this time around also isn't likely to cause much of a ripple in terms of production on the football field, the fact that twice in the last 10 years Oregon has been subject to a major investigation is cause for concern.
Let's hope that in this age of electronic media where everyone knows everyone else's business almost at the moment it happens, the Ducks fly the straight and narrow, thus not ruffling the feathers of the NCAA any further.