Houston, we have a problem. And that problem, if you’re the fan of the Oregon Ducks (or several other college programs) is named Will Lyles.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing rumblings that a “major” story was about to break, one that would shake college football. Colin Cowherd even referred to it, saying that there was a “top 10-12″ program that looked to be in trouble. Once Sports Illustrated’s “some college students have had problems with the law” story broke on Wednesday, a lot of people assumed that this was the source of the rumors and that there was more smoke than fire. However, Cowherd stated that the school he was hearing about was the University of Oregon; in fact, the University even released a statement saying that it had not been in contact with the NCAA.
Tonight, the other shoe dropped and several news sources have revealed that the Ducks are under significant scrutiny regarding payments made to a recruiting service headed by the aforementioned Will Lyles; particularly a $25,000 check to Mr. Lyles shortly following Temple Texas’ Lache Seastrunk’s signing to commit to the University of Oregon. Seastrunk followed current Duck and Heisman finalist Houston’s LeMichael James in making the trek from Texas to the Northwest; and yes, there are ties between Lyles and James as well.
Before we give you a bit more coverage after the break, we need to recognize the fantastic work done by independent bloggers and Yahoo Sports to bring this story to light. In a media climate where “investigative journalism” is being done by networks that may be hampered by significant conflict of interest due to television contracts and revenue, it’s good to see that there are still entities that look to find the story behind the story. As you might remember, it was Yahoo Sports that were the driving force behind the coverage of the Reggie Bush story which led to USC’s current probation.
In summary, the facts are as follows: Will Lyles was paid $25,000 by the University of Oregon for “recruiting services”, as evidenced by financial disclosures from the State of Oregon. The payment was made shortly after NLOID, and (according to some) exceeded the $16,000 that the University paid Lyles’ service for the previous two years. Sports Illustrated looked closer at the services provided and found that
His Web site features a “JUCO price list” that offers videos for a particular state for $3,000. A multi-state region costs $5,000. A “trifecta package” that includes any three states costs $8,000, while a “national package” costs $15,000. No single service is priced at $25,000.
Additionally, Lyles was alleged to have not been employed by the recruiting service at the time of the payment.
Also revealed by financial disclosures was a payment of $3,745 to Baron Flenory, a former player for Chip Kelly during his tenure at New Hampshire. Flenory has, in the past, coordinated conditioning and training services for student athletes under the name of Speed Dynamics. More recently, though, he’s been involved in running 7-7 tournaments at various college campuses. He has stated that he no longer runs recruiting services, and has found that the tournament coordination is much more lucrative.
Here’s the official statement from the University, released this evening-
The athletics department paid for services rendered by a pair of scouting services that were processed through the athletics department business office to Complete Scouting Services and New Level Athletics. This is no different than services purchased by a number of colleges and universities throughout the country.
This is something we remain confident that is within the acceptable guidelines allowed by the NCAA and occurred with the knowledge of the department’s compliance office.
We have previously stated that we have not been in contact with anyone from the NCAA or Pacific-10 Conference in regards to these practices and that situation remains unchanged.
According to Sports By Brooks, that will change on Friday, when the NCAA will visit Eugene to begin a formal inquiry into this matter.
To fully understand this story, you have to remember the summer of 2010. During that time, a number of student athletes were being investigated for contacts with “agents”, including Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Alabama teammate Marcel Dareus (who was suspended for two games and fined $1700 for his involvement), and several players from North Carolina and South Carolina teams. While this contact with “agents” was with persons hoping to represent these athletes during their pro career, the idea of “agent” does not begin once a student enters college.
According to this great article by the staff at Barking Carnival, “agents” begin working young adults while they are in junior high and high school; hoping to assist them in their transition to college. This may look like helping student athletes prepare and train during the summer, or getting them involved in 7-7 passing camps and traveling teams. For some, this assistance means coordinating the recruiting process for the family- serving as a point of contact for coaches who are interested in connecting with the student athlete… and some times, that connection comes with a price. From the Barking Carnival article above,
Going rates at some places are rumored to be $3000 for a camp visit. $12,000 for a commitment. $36,000 for the signature.
An agent in this final role that folks may be familiar with is Kenny Rogers, the alleged intermediary in the Cam Newton situation at Mississippi State.
If “training” and “facilitating 7-7 tournaments” and “coordinating recruiting” sounds familiar, then you’ve connected the same dots that this Recruitocosm article did regarding Baron Flenory, although it implies that Flenory was working in opposition to Lyles, while the Oregon situation might indicate that they were more closely connected. To be fair, it could also be due to Flenory’s connection with Oregon commitment Anthony Wallace (LB, Dallas) that led to this financial exchange.
The article by writer “Jesus Shuttlesworth” mentioned above is a must read for anyone following this story; not only for its insight into the world of Texas recruiting, but because it identified the issues currently under scrutiny back in early December- well before Auburn and Oregon met for the National Championship game. Of particular interest to Buckeye fans would be the following-
For every Anthony Wallace, there’s a Tajh Boyd. Flenory got to know the 5 star QB out of Virginia very well while working at Scout. After Flenory posted on Oregon message boards that Boyd was a lock to the Ducks, a few days later he commited to Clemson, admitting somewhat innocently at the press conference he had no idea where he was going until ten minutes before the announcement, when presumably a call came in. It’s not unlike an NFL agent calling his client from the draft to tell him what team he’ll be playing for.
If you’ll remember, Boyd was a “silent verbal”(according to experts) to three schools on signing day- Oregon, Clemson, and Ohio State. There have not been any connections between this investigation and the Buckeyes; on the contrary, this would help explain what many Ohio State recruiting experts found so inexplicable on Boyd’s NLOID decision.
Teams that should be concerned, though, are Auburn, Baylor, LSU, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, and Texas A&M, all who have been tied to Lyles’ service according to ESPN’s Joe Schad. Yup, you read that first team right; even though Oregon is the surprising winner of the “National Championship Candidate Under Investigation” contest, this may end up being the first National Championship that’s vacated and who’s chairman is also in jail.
For many, this is not a surprising connection- after all the college basketball AAU scene has been impacted because of these types of agents for years. The traveling 7-7 teams have created an environment for greater exposure and greater possibility for corruption at this level. For example, having these events, teams, and all star games sponsored by apparel companies might lead a player on an Under Armour team to go to Under Armour events and then enroll at a school with Under Armour ties. If this seems unrealistic, you’ve never heard of Sonny Vaccaro, the former basketball tournament coordinator turned shoe impresario turned collegiate adviser.
Combined with the growing exposure of the sport, the huge dollars being made on television and marketing and merchandising, as well as a move toward professionalism and away from the “student athlete” ideal, the temptation may just be too great for these young adults and persons affiliated with them.
We’ll keep you updated as this story develops.
Update: This is from a USC fansite, but it’s still interesting-
- December 19, 2009 – Lache Seastrunk visits Oregon
- December 28, 2009 – dba paperwork is filed on the new “business” – Complete Scouting by Willie J. Lyle who is “handling” Seastrunk’s recruitment.
- January 27, 2010 – Seastrunk verbals to U of O.
- February 3, 2010 – Seastrunk signs with U of O.
- “soon after” – ka ching – U of O sends a check for $25,000 to Willie J. Lyles, which – according to their own records from 2009 and 2010 – seems to make him their highest paid individual scout in their history.
- March 16, 2010 – website address for completescouting.com is registered (whois lookup)