Will Lyles: Oregon ‘paid for… my access and influence with recruits’

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UO?  Try uh-oh.  In all-caps.  With multiple, multiple exclamation points.

And Chip Kelly may want to study up on the fate of Jim Tressel as it’s the same thing currently in his rear-view and gaining fast.

In early March, a Yahoo! Sports article raised many questions regarding Oregon’s financial ties to recruiting services, particularly the $25,000 paid to Will Lyles of Complete Scouting Services for what was described as a “2011 National Package”.  Prompted by open-records requests from multiple media outlets, UO released documents last month pertaining to what they received in Lyles’ national package in exchange for the $25K.  As the package consisted mainly of players from the 2009 recruiting class — and 135 of the 140 profiles were for players from Texas — even more questions were raised.

Unfortunately for the Oregon football program in general and Kelly in particular, those questions may have been answered today in yet another outstanding investigative piece by Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo!.

In extensive on-the-record conversations that took place over the course of several days, Lyles claims he was paid the $25K by the university because of the influence he carried over recruits, particularly high-profile 2010 UO signee Lache Seastrunk.  Additionally, Lyles claimed that Kelly and others contacted him shortly before Yahoo!’s March story was published, saying “they were on my ass” to get the written reports on recruits he had never provided them despite the $25K payment.

Those demands for the written reports on purported members of the 2011 recruiting class came at least three weeks after National Signing Day in February, well beyond their “expiration” date even if the fact that they were for ’09 recruits isn’t factored in.

Lyles said Kelly “scrambled” in late February and asked Lyles to submit retroactive player profiles to justify the $25,000 payment to his company, just days before the transaction was revealed in a March 3 Yahoo! Sports report. …

Lyles insists Oregon did not make a direct request or payment to steer recruits to Eugene. However, he now says Oregon did not pay him for his work as a traditional scout, but for his influence with top recruits and their families and his ability to usher prospects through the signing and eligibility process. That dual role as mentor to prospects and paid contractor to Oregon is believed to be a focus of the NCAA probe.

“I look back at it now and they paid for what they saw as my access and influence with recruits,” Lyles said. “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.” …

(It should be noted that, in early May, Lyles labeled as “unequivocally false” reports that he steered recruits to universities.)

In the expansive and lengthy piece, which should be read in full and can be accessed again by clicking HERE, Lyles claimed that Kelly personally provided, in essence, a blank check for his “recruiting service”.  And, once again, the conversation turned back around to the appearance that Kelly and the Ducks scrambled to fill in the holes created by the $25K that’s more and more taking on the appearance of a payment for a player.

Lyles said Kelly and Oregon committed to becoming the first client for CSS prior to Lyles aiding Seastrunk with the letter-of-intent issue. Then, just after the guardianship switch, Lyles said Kelly instructed him to “find out what the best paying service is” and to bill Oregon that amount. When Lyles settled on the $25,000 figure, he said he called Kelly and Kelly personally approved it.

Eleven months passed – from March 2010 until February 2011 – before the Ducks requested a single written recruiting profile, Lyles said. And when that moment came, Lyles said the demand for the reports was sudden and emphatic, leading him to believe Oregon was “scrambling” to establish that he’d provided legitimate traditional scouting services because they were aware of a Yahoo! Sports investigation. Previously, Lyles said he had provided scouting reports verbally in frequent calls with Oregon coaches.

“They said they just needed anything,” Lyles said of the embarrassingly thin recruiting profiles that Oregon made public earlier this month. “They asked for last-minute [stuff]. So I gave them last-minute [stuff] … I gave them, like, old stuff that I still had on my computer because I never thought that stuff would see the light of day.”

Lyles added that he spoke to the NCAA for several hours in early May, but “didn’t reveal the stories concerning Kelly, [LaMichael] James and Seastrunk to investigators because the specific topics never came up in questioning.”

We’re guessing that, after this expose’ finds its way to the NCAA and if — if — it has any validity, The Association will want to discuss the specific topics Lyles broached in what could prove to be the most explosive piece of journalism this offseason.  Yes, more so than the Tressel/OSU allegations.  And, yes, it’s that bad.

So much so, in fact, that it would be hard to see Kelly surviving the damning accusations leveled against him.  Or the university standing behind/beside him in the face of the latest round of allegations.

Again, if Lyles can be believed.  And the NCAA can prove he’s to be believed.

Spinal condition forces Northwestern’s leading rusher to retire

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Harsh and decidedly unexpected news coming out of Evanston Monday afternoon will have a significant impact on Northwestern’s football team moving forward.

The football program confirmed earlier today that Jeremy Larkin will be forced to retire from the game of football as a result of a recent diagnosis of cervical stenosis.  The good news is that the condition is not considered life-threatening even as it precludes any future participation in the sport.

Obviously, the sophomore running back’s decision to retire, which came as the football program was coming off its one bye weekend of the season, is effective immediately.

“Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won’t be on that field again, given I’ve played this game since I was five years old,” said Larkin in a statement. “I’m extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first. I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline.”

“This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete,” head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. “But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him. The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can’t wait to see the impact he makes in our world.”

Through three games, Larkin’s 346 yards rushing were easily tops on the Wildcats.  In fact, Larkin currently accounts for an astounding 98.6 percent of the Wildcats’ 351 rushing yards as a team.  Additionally, he has five of their seven rushing touchdowns on the season.

Northwestern will open up Big Ten play this weekend as they host No. 14 Michigan.

Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson set for surgery, out indefinitely

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Virginia Tech’s embarrassing weekend came with a rather substantial personnel loss.

This past Saturday, starting quarterback Josh Jackson went down with a lower-leg injury in then-No. 13 Tech’s historic loss to Old Dominion; it was the Conference USA program’s first-ever win over a Power Five school after nine straight such losses over the last decade.

Monday, the Hokies’ worst fears were realized as Justin Fuente confirmed that Jackson suffered a fractured left fibula during the game and will be sidelined indefinitely.  The signal-caller is set to undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair the damage.

This season prior to the injury, Jackson completed a little over 62 percent of his 58 passes for 575 yards, five touchdowns and an interception.  His 170.3 pass efficiency rating is currently 18th nationally and second among ACC quarterbacks (Boston College’s Anthony Brown, 175.5).

With Jackson sidelined for the foreseeable future, the keys to Tech’s offense will be handed off to Ryan Willis.  The Kansas transfer had to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, and has attempted 25 passes for the Hokies this season.  In that limited action thus far, he has thrown for 195 yards and a touchdown.

The good news is that Willis isn’t exactly new to the starting game at the collegiate level.

Willis started two games during the 2016 season; after throwing three interceptions in each of those mid-October starts, Willis was benched and never played another down for the Jayhawks. In his first season in Lawrence in 2015, Willis set a KU freshman record by throwing for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns as part of his eight starts.

“I feel badly for Josh,” Fuente said in comments distributed by the school earlier today. “He’s a competitive, tough young man. He just kind of got landed on wrong on the play, but know he’ll come back better than ever.

“We turn to Ryan Willis and he performed pretty well last week when he went in there. He’s competitive and he’s been training and working for this opportunity and it’s up to everyone else to step up their game as well and help him out and support him.”

Nick Bosa’s parents indicate star Ohio State DE won’t even be reevaluated until November

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Instead of when will Ohio State gets it’s star defensive end back, perhaps the question should be will they.

Nick Bosa suffered a core muscle injury in the Week 3 win over TCU, with surgery subsequently confirmed by head coach Urban Meyer that left the All-American defensive lineman’s availability in the near future up in the air.  Not long after Meyer confirmed Monday that Bosa would indeed miss this weekend’s huge matchup with Penn State, both of the third-year junior’s parents indicated that it could be quite a while, if at all, before their son returns to the playing field — at least at the collegiate level.

John Bosa told the Columbus Dispatch “the reality of what’s going on [is that] Nick won’t be evaluated by the surgeon until November”; Cheryl Bosa stated as much to ESPN.com as well.

While Bosa’s head coach stated that “we expect him back” this season, his mom intimated there’s a chance her son, widely expected to be a Top Five pick in the 2019 NFL draft if/when he leaves OSU early, could opt not to return at all in 2018.

“Cheryl said her son wants to return for Ohio State this season,” ESPN.com wrote, “but that they’ll discuss his situation (NFL) as a family before making a decision.”

Regardless of whether he returns to the Buckeyes or not, the good news is that, per the father, the injury “is 100-percent fixable.”

OSU will play four regular season games in the month of November: Nebraska (Nov. 3), at Michigan State (Nov. 10), at Maryland (Nov. 17) and Michigan (Nov. 24).  The Big Ten championship game is set for Dec. 1.

It’s unclear if Bosa’s decision will be impacted by the Buckeyes qualifying for the conference title game or, further down the road, the College Football Playoffs if they’re one of the four semifinalists.

Larry Scott defends Pac-12’s late night TV schedule

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Judging from the outsider’s perspective, the Pac-12 seems like the angriest of the Power 5 conferences right now. Or at least the most angst-ridden. The league is angsty about the state of its product on the field after going 1-8 in bowl games and missing the College Football Playoff last year. It’s angsty about its place in the world, literally and metaphorically, isolated from the other four Power 5 leagues. And it’s especially angsty about its TV contract.

Twenty-four of the league’s 80 conference games started at or after 7 p.m. local time in 2017, 30 percent. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but that feels like a higher number than the other conferences (and Pac-12 coaches and fans would likely agree).

There’s one reason for that: TV. In 2011, the Pac-12 announced a joint 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox worth a collective $3 billion. At the time, it felt like a game-changer. In time, we’ve learned that it wasn’t. The Pac-12 is still the only Power 5 conference in the Pacific time zone, and as such, it’s the only conference the networks are going to schedule in the 10:30 p.m. ET time slot.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was asked about the TV deal on Saturday:

“The reason we play almost a third of our games at night is that was a way to unlock significant value from television in our last negations,” Scott said, via The Oregonian. “ESPN and Fox placed a high value on us giving them a little more flexibility and being willing to play more night games.”

Translated from businesspeak to English, here’s what Scott is saying: Look, you like all that money, don’t you? The only way ESPN and Fox were paying us all those billions was if we played at 10:30 Eastern, because they’re certainly not playing SEC games at that time.

The economics here is simple: ESPN and Fox draw higher ratings for live college football games than they do for SportsCenter (or whatever the FS1 equivalent is). The Washington-Utah game drew 1.589 million viewers for ESPN on Sept. 15, while Fresno State-UCLA drew 301,000 for FS1. Both of those numbers are higher than anything else those networks could show at that time. As such, ESPN and Fox can charge higher prices for advertising, and then share some of that money with the conference. If there were no #Pac12AfterDark games there would be no (or significantly less) #Pac12AfterDark money. And everyone likes money, especially when they’ve already spent it it on coaching salaries and new facilities.

And, let’s face it, given the chance to show, say, Alabama-Ole Miss or Washington-Utah at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN is going to pick Alabama-Ole Miss every time. In fact, ESPN did that exact thing on Sept. 15, and Alabama-Ole Miss drew 4.109 million viewers.

The Pac-12 does own its own network, so if the league’s fans and coaches are truly that miserable in their current arrangement, the option to go it alone and pick its kickoff times will become available to the conference starting in 2024. In fact, the Pac-12 stands more to gain than any other conference by placing most or all of its TV inventory on its own network. The Pac-12 wholly owns all of Pac-12 Network, which means it would stand to keep all of the profits in the event its carriage fees skyrocket by putting every USC, Washington, Oregon, etc., football game on its network. But, of course, it would stand to take all of the losses the conference passed on the guaranteed money from ESPN and Fox and the carriage fees didn’t skyrocket.

The guess here is the Pac-12 will take the guaranteed money again.