The “scouting services” of Willie Lyles (pictured, middle) has already landed Oregon a Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA and significant scrutiny from the same organization for LSU. Now, Tennessee has reportedly become the latest to be Willie’d as well.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Lyles paid nearly $1,500 for airplane tickets for then-recruit Lache Seastrunk (pictured, right) and his mother to take an unofficial visit to Tennessee in June of 2009. Lyles alleges he was then reimbursed by Willie Mack Garza, who was an assistant on Lane Kiffin‘s UT staff at the time and the man responsible for setting up the visit by Seastrunk according to Lyles.
Garza joined Kiffin at USC when the coach left the Vols after just one season for the Trojans job. Two days before the start of the 2011 season, Garza abruptly resigned his job as USC’s secondary coach, saying in a statement that he had “some personal issues unrelated to USC that I need to address.”
Two days prior to Garza’s announcement, Lyles had met with NCAA investigators and provided them with receipts that showed he had been reimbursed by Garza. Lyles also told Yahoo! that this latest NCAA investigation into the UT football program is “a wide-ranging look into Tennessee recruiting practices” under Kiffin.
“We are aware of the situation as is the conference office,” UT associate athletic director for communications Jimmy Stanton said in a statement. “We’ve been verbally contacted by the NCAA enforcement staff regarding a recruiting issue in 2009 related to the former coaching staff and a student-athlete who never attended Tennessee.”
School’s are permitted under NCAA bylaws to provide airfare for potential recruits for official visits, provided those visits occur after the player has started his senior year of high school. Paying for unofficial visits prior to the start of a recruit’s senior year would be considered a major NCAA violation.
Seastrunk ultimately signed with Oregon in February of 2010, but transferred to Baylor earlier this year. The NCAA’s LOI to the Ducks pertains to $25,000 the program paid Lyles, the owner of Houston-based Complete Scouting Services, for outdated recruiting material. Lyles has claimed the UO program paid him for his influence on recruits, including Seastrunk, a native of Temple, Tex.
Lyles said Seastrunk was granted immunity by the NCAA and has already spoken to The Association regarding the Garza allegations.
“I’m so sick and tired of this ‘Willie Lyles said this and Willie Lyles said that,’” Evelyn Seastrunk told Yahoo!. “I don’t care what Willie Lyles says. I don’t care as long as my son is OK.
“Whatever undercover dirty stuff that they’re doing, I’m pretty sure that Willie Lyles is not the only person. He’s just the only one that’s been caught. This is something that they’ve been doing forever.”
Just last month, the NCAA announced that it had accepted UT’s self-imposed sanctions for violations committed by the football program during Kiffin’s brief stay in Knoxville. The school said in its statement to Yahoo! that “[w]e believe, as does the conference office, that this matter is not subject to the repeat offender provision.”
The school placed itself on probation from August 24, 2011, through August 23, 2013. Because this alleged violation occurred prior to the 24th of last month, UT will likely not be in danger of being labeled a repeat offender, which would have put the program in jeopardy of facing significant sanctions from the NCAA.