Documents: Oregon, NCAA agree ‘major violations’ committed

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Chip Kelly may be off to the NFL, but the NCAA cloud that formed on his watch still looms over the Oregon football program.

In documents released to both The Oregonian and KATU-TV, both Oregon and the NCAA agreed that the school’s football program had committed what the television station describes as “several major violations” in its use of so-called recruiting services.  The documents were provided to the media entities following open records requests that were several months in the making.

The vast majority of the allegations — which in addition to utilizing suspect recruiting services include impermissible phone calls and too many coaches on the recruiting trail — occurred under Kelly, who left shortly after the first of the year for the Philadelphia Eagles.

One of the more significant takeaways from the released documents is that the NCAA’s enforcement staff made “no finding of lack of institutional control and no finding of unethical conduct.”  Such a development, if it holds through the next couple of steps in the process, could be a signal that the Ducks will avoid significant sanctions.

For its part, Oregon released a lengthy “no comment” in response to the reports.

“The review is ongoing until the NCAA Committee on Infractions issues its final report,” the school’s statement began. “The integrity of the process and our continued full cooperation with the NCAA prohibits us from publicly discussing the specifics of this matter.”

In March of 2011, both Yahoo! and ESPN.com published reports that called into question the financial relationship between Oregon and a pair of so-called recruiting services.  One of those services was/is Complete Scouting Services, solely owned and operated by purported “street agent” Willie Lyles.

In late February of 2010, Oregon purchased for $25,000 from Lyles’ scouting service what was described as a “2011 National Package” that detailed recruits from several states.  One of the biggest problems with that? The package for 2011 purchased by UO contained zero recruits that would make up the following year’s recruiting class.  Instead, the vast majority of players highlighted in the 143-page book UO received from Lyles contained data on members of the 2009 recruiting class.

In the midst of rumors that Lyles had steered recruits such as Lache Seastrunk to the Ducks — and that he was paid handsomely for said steering (allegedly) — the man at the center of the controversy claimed in July of 2011 that UO “paid for what they saw as my access and influence with recruits. The service I provided went beyond what a scouting service should … I made a mistake and I’m big enough of a man to admit I was wrong.”

That claim came a couple of months after Lyles, who has spoken to the NCAA on multiple occasions, labeled as ““unequivocally false” reports that he steered recruits to universities.

It was reported in late December that UO will appear in front of NCAA’s Committee on Infractions at some point this year, likely in the spring, after the school’s attempt at a summary disposition failed.  That failure apparently stemmed from the severity of one of the allegations involving Lyles.  From The Oregonian:

Oregon and the NCAA, however, reached an impasse late in 2012 while attempting to agree on the severity of one violation concerning the Ducks’ $25,000 payment to Texas-based talent scout Willie Lyles.  The Ducks believe the impermissible “oral reports” delivered from Lyles constitute a secondary violation; NCAA enforcement officials believe them to be another “major violation.”

Because the summary disposition fell through, the television station writes, “the findings discussed in this draft document will not necessarily be binding.”

According to the document dump late Monday night, the school has already proposed two self-imposed sanctions: two-year probation and a reduction of one scholarship for each of the next three seasons.  Following the hearing in front of the COI, sanctions will be handed down on the football program, at which point UO can either accept the punitive measures or appeal all or part of the sanctions.

UPDATED 11:38 a.m. ET: In response to the document dump, former Ducks and current Eagles head coach Chip Kelly released a statement that echoed comments made last December.  For what it’s worth, here it is.

“I am aware of the recent reports and of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the NCAA and the University of Oregon. While at Oregon, I know we were fully cooperative with all aspects of the investigation and I will continue to contribute in any way that I can. But until the NCAA rules on the matter, I will have no further comment.”

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.