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.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.