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.

Georgia third string QB Stetson Bennett considering transfer

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Georgia lost quarterback Jacob Eason to a transfer, but gained a younger, more highly-regarded signal caller in Justin Fields with the 2018 recruiting class. With Fields on the roster and Jake Fromm not going anywhere, another Bulldog quarterback is considering leaving as well.

Stetson Bennett IV — who, outside of the current U.S. Attorney General, sports the best Southern name in circulation — has told Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart he might rather leave than spend his career as the No. 3 man in Athens.

“He’s looking at some different options,” Smart told the Macon Telegraph. “Stetson has done a tremendous job for us. We’re really excited what he has done for us. We’re exhausting every option to try to keep Stetson with us. We think he’s a very talented young man. I’ve spoke on behalf of that multiple times. We hope we keep him here. He has not made that decision yet.”

Listed at an even 6-foot-nothing and 172 pounds, Bennett was a successful quarterback at Pierce County High School and listed as a 2-star recruit before choosing to walk-on at Georgia rather than take scholarship offers from Group of 5 and FCS programs. Bennett redshirted as a freshman in 2017, sharing Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors with three other players.

Should Bennett transfer, his stature and walk-on status would draw easy comparisons to Baker Mayfield, which is ironic considering Bennett was tasked with mimicking the 2017 Heisman winner ahead of Georgia’s Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma.

Both of Bennett’s parents are Georgia graduates, so leaving would be a tough decision for the redshirt freshman.

“We need to keep Stetson there and help us,” Smart told the Telegraph. “We don’t really have many other guys to be honest. We have two young quarterbacks who will be walk-ons, who we think are good players. But we’ve invested a lot in Stetson with the development he took this spring, and with what he did in bowl practices. I’m excited to see what he can do. We’re encouraging him to stay so he gets that opportunity. I certainly respect what he has done this far for the University of Georgia and he’s a really good student as well. We’re selling him on the University of Georgia education.”

Tulane extends Willie Fritz through 2023

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Major news on the Kansas football front came down the pike Tuesday when Tulane announced it has extended head coach Willie Fritz through 2023.

Wait, what? Let’s back up a bit.

Kansas fired AD Sheahon Zenger on Monday, citing that a “change in leadership is necessary” because “progress in key areas has been elusive.” While Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod did not come out and say this move was related to football, he did feel the need to mention head coach David Beaty in his release announcing Zenger’s firing. “In addition, earlier today I spoke with Coach Beaty and shared my expectation that he will continue recruiting hard and getting his team ready for the season,” Girod said.

It doesn’t take Leonardo DiCaprio to read Girod’s thoughts here. Beaty is 3-33 in three seasons as KU’s head coach, including a 1-26 mark in Big 12 play. Coaches that average a win a year don’t typically last until Year 5. Just last year, Nebraska cleared out its AD so the new AD could fire the existing football coach and hire a new one, and it appears Kansas is headed down the same path later this year.

With Beaty apparently on his way out, I tweeted on Monday where Kansas should direct its incoming search.

Fritz-to-Kansas makes sense on a number of levels. Fritz is a proven program builder, a more-with-less guy that won at Blinn Junior College, Central Missouri, Sam Houston State, Georgia Southern and, now, Tulane. Overall, Fritz is 202-89-1 with two junior college national titles and conference championships in three separate leagues — all at places that have no business posting a collective .693 winning percentage. Simply put, Kansas is the rebuild job of the century, and there is not a more proven general contractor than Fritz.

And even better for Kansas, Fritz seems likely to take the job. He’s a Sunflower State native and at an age — 58 — where he’d likely take any Power 5 job offer that came his way, lest it be the last one.

All that said, it did not seem a coincidence that Tulane announced an extension for Fritz on Tuesday, who is 9-15 in two seasons with the Green Wave.

“I couldn’t be more excited with the direction in which our football program is headed,” Fritz said in a statement. “It is an absolute joy to coach at this institution. We have total buy-in from everyone on our staff to our administration, and I know we have a bright future.”

With Tulane being a private school, financial terms were not disclosed, but the key number will be the buyout.

Of course, Fritz could also pass on a potential Kansas offer. Or he may not get an offer. Or the job may not open at all. But even the prospect of an offer has already turned into a win for him.

DB Craig Watts leaves USF, lands at Div. II school

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With transfer season in full swing, South Florida is the latest to see its roster sustain a bit of attrition.

Craig Watts took to his personal Twitter account Monday to reveal that he will be transferring from Charlie Strong‘s USF program.  The defensive back also posted a photo of him signing paperwork for Valdosta State, indicating a move to the Division II school.

As he’s dropping down a couple of levels, Watts, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in 2018, will be eligible to play immediately this coming season.

After coming to the Bulls as a three-star recruit on 247Sports.com‘s composite board, Watts took a redshirt as a true freshman.  He played in 12 games last season and was credited with five tackles.

Nevada’s Devin Porter arrested for failure to appear

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After a dozen days, it’s time to, once again, flip the switch on a “Days Without An Arrest” reset.

The latest to do the off-field deed is Devin Porter, with the Reno Gazette Journal reporting that the Nevada linebacker was arrested over the weekend for failure to appear.  The redshirt junior had been scheduled to appear in court for a traffic citation.

From the Gazette Journal‘s report:

The charge is a misdemeanor. If a defendant skips a court date, a judge can issue a bench warrant for their arrest. If 30 days pass before a defendant surrenders himself, an additional charge for “failure to appear” can be issued. The maximum sentence for such issue includes four years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines, although both are rare.

Porter was issued a $415 bail, which he posted and was released.

Porter is a walk-on to the Wolf Pack football program who has yet to see any game action for the Mountain West Conference school.  According to the newspaper, “[h]is brother, Cliff, was a starter at left guard for Nevada as a sophomore last season before graduating early and giving up the rest of his eligibility.”

(Tip O’ the Cap: ArrestNation.com)