Oregon’s financial ties to recruiting services questioned

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And now it’s all starting to take on some semblance of sense.

With speculation swirling that “a major publication is about to unseat a major college football power on recruiting violations“, both Yahoo! and ESPN.com have released reports this evening that call into question the financial relationship between Oregon and a pair of so-called recruiting services.

Each websites obtained financial documents that showed Oregon paid $25,000 to Will Lyles of Complete Scouting Services in Houston, and $3,745 to Baron Flenory of New Level Athletics.  The money was reportedly paid by the school for recruiting services.

At issue, however, is whether either Lyles or Flenory steered players under their direction to the Ducks.  In particular, the NCAA is very interested in the former individual.

Lyles has a close relationship with Lache Seastrunk, one of the top high school running backs in the country in 2009 and a 2010 Oregon signee.  Seastrunk’s recruitment, ESPN.com reports, is something the NCAA is taking a closer look at, in part because Lyles received his $25,000 from Oregon shortly after Seastrunk signed his Letter of Intent with the school.

Additionally, the NCAA is examining Lyles’ relationship with Seastrunk’s teammate and 2010 Heisman runner-up LaMichael James.  Lyles described himself as James’ trainer and advisor when he was a guest of the back at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show last December.

Oregon has confirmed the payment was made to Lyles, but says everything they’ve done regarding utilizing that particular service was above-board.

Yeah, we made the payment,” UO spokesman Dave Williford told The Oregonian. “Everybody does it. This all has been run through our compliance office. We have nothing to hide.”

“Most programs purchase recruiting services,” head coach Chip Kelly told ESPN.com Thursday. “Our compliance office is aware of it. Will has a recruiting service that met NCAA rules and we used him in 2010.”

To offer perspective on the amount of money involved, ESPN.com wrote that recruiting services typically charge $5,000 or less per season for video footage and information about high school prospects.  In offering further context, the same website writes that the $25,000 payment exceeded the $16,500 Oregon paid the recruiting service for its work during the previous two years combined.

Yahoo! notes the ramifications for Oregon if its found that Lyles or Flenory were paid money in exchange for steering recruits to the school.

If Lyles and Flenory aided in or were involved in any way in the recruitment of student athletes to Oregon, they would be classified as boosters by the NCAA, and any payment to them from the school would be considered a violation of Bylaw 13. Bylaw 13 prohibits boosters from directing a recruit to a school.

Oregon might not be alone in this Lyles boat, however.  According to ESPN.com, Lyles has ties to players who eventually signed with schools such as Auburn, Baylor, LSU, Oklahoma State, USC and Texas A&M.  Of those schools mentioned, Auburn may have the most reason for concern.

Two weeks ago, it was reported that NCAA investigators were dispatched to Louisiana to speak to individuals regarding the recruitment of two players who ultimately signed with the Tigers.  Specifically, the reports stated, the NCAA is interested in the involvement of Sean Nelson, who accompanied the then-recruits on unofficial visits to the school on multiple occasions.

Per ESPN.com, the NCAA is examining Lyles’ relationship with Nelson.

With all that said, the fact that Oregon has been very upfront and forthright with the media regarding the payments would make a reasonable person think there’s a whole helluva lot of smoke but very little fire here.  However, once the NCAA starts digging, they normally don’t stop until they find something.

For all of the schools involved, and based on the word on the street, they’d better hope that the rumored skeletons in one individual’s closet are cleaned out before the NCAA opens that particular door.

UPDATED 9:52 p.m. ET: Oregon has released an official statement in response to this evening’s reports.  Here it is, in its entirety.

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.

Michael Oher: Hugh Freeze is ‘man of God, man full of integrity’

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Hugh Freeze may have been blindsided by his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, but at least one of his former players has his back.

Homeless for stretches of his teenage life, Michael Oher was taken in by the Freeze family — a 2014 Bleacher Report article notes that “Oher spent one to two nights a week at their house” — while Freeze was the head coach at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis.  Oher went on to play football for Freeze in high school, with his compelling life story forming the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side.”

The player and the coach have formed a deep bond that stretches back more than a decade, a bond that hasn’t been broken despite the latter’s resignation as Ole Miss head coach under a cloud of controversy.

“He is a man of God and a man full of integrity,’’ Oher told USA Today Sports of his former coach. “I don’t know the full story but I’m willing to bet that everyone in the world had made a mistake that they have wanted someone to forgive them for.”

The offensive lineman added that without Freeze, “there is no Michael Oher and no “The Blind Side.'”

The news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.  Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze said earlier this week in his first public comments since his departure. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” he added.

On the same day Freeze resigned, coincidentally, Oher was cut by the Carolina Panthers.  Earlier this offseason, Oher was arrested after an altercation with an Uber driver in which the player allegedly bit the driver on the back.

LSU still can’t say Arden Key will be available for opener vs. BYU

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The Magical Mystery Tour that has been Arden Key‘s offseason continues.

In mid-February, LSU announced that Key had “decided to take some time away from football… for personal reasons.” Four months later, the football program announced the defensive end had rejoined the team; at the same time, it was announced that Key had recently undergone shoulder surgery.

Thursday, first-year head coach Ed Orgeron indicated that Key will not be available for the start of summer camp because of the ongoing rehab — and couldn’t commit to the player being available for the opener as well.

“We don’t know when he’s going to be ready, but obviously we expect him to play this year and have a great year. We won’t know (his playing status) until the end of camp,” Orgeron said according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I’m going to listen to the doctors. Some days he’s able to get into uniform and practice, he’s going to do that, but I don’t see that happening in the next couple of weeks.”

When it comes to playing against BYU Sept. 2 in Houston? “There is a chance,” Orgeron allowed.

A four-star 2015 signee, Key was a consensus Freshman All-American his first season with the Tigers after starting nine games.  Last season as a true sophomore, he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.  The latter total set a school record.

Following that breakout campaign, he was named second-team All-SEC.

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano progressing from foot surgery, but might miss Oregon’s opener

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There was good news and potentially not-so-good news on the Scott Pagano front Thursday for Oregon.

A transfer from Clemson this offseason, Pagano suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Tigers’ mid-November win over Pitt that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season.  After moving on to the Ducks as a graduate transfer in mid-April, UO’s medical staff decided he needed to undergo surgery to repair the damage in his foot.

First-year head coach Willie Taggart Thursday declared the defensive lineman ahead of schedule in his recovery from the medical procedure, but didn’t guarantee he’d be on the field for the 2017 opener.

“Something he had that he needed to be corrected,” Taggart said of the surgery according to oregonlive.com. “He’s ahead of schedule right now. I don’t like putting certain weeks on guys because everybody heals differently.

“He’s one of those kids that has been rehabbing his tail off and is itching to get back out there. He’s ahead of schedule right now. Hopefully he’s there for the Southern Utah game.”

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. He started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Before opting for UO, Pagano had taken an official visit to Oklahoma as he had whittled his to-do list down to those two. Arkansas, Notre Dame and Texas were also among the lineman’s five allotted official visits in his second round of collegiate recruiting.

CB Ryan Mayes no longer part of Miami football team

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There’s been a slight tweak to Miami’s defensive secondary ahead of the start of summer camp.

In a press release that consisted all of two sentences, the Hurricanes announced that Ryan Mayes is no longer a member of Mark Richt’s football program.  No reason was given for the separation, nor is it known whether the move was voluntary or involuntary.

A three-star member of The U’s 2014 recruiting class, Mayes was rated as the No. 48 cornerback in the country and the No. 92 player at any position in the state of Florida.  He held offers from, among others, Boston College and Syracuse.

As a true freshman, Mayes played in three games, then saw action in just one game the following season as he took a redshirt.  In 2016, the defensive back played in 11 games, mainly on special teams.

Prior to his departure, the redshirt junior was expected to fill a reserve role in the Hurricanes’ secondary.