Sunday Reading: Will the NCAA Make An Example of Oregon?

Sandwiched in between the minute-by-minute updates of the NFL's labor negotiations, breakdown of the BYU Honor Code and the start of college basketball's conference tournaments have been reports that the NCAA is showing an interest in the recruiting practices for the University of Oregon's football program.

Just in case you hadn't heard - and considering most of America's media has been swimming in Charlie Sheen's Tiger Blood all week, it's understandable - the short version of the story is that Oregon paid $28,000 to two men with close ties to a pair players who committed to the school. The university says the money was paid for recruiting services, including video tapes of the players. You can read about it in-depth here.

Oregon has been forthcoming about its payment of the middle men involved in the story. Since the expenditures can be found on the state's website, it's pretty hard to deny it. On the surface it all looks pretty shady, but whether any NCAA rules were broken isn't clear.

But as George Schroeder of the Register-Guard points out, this could be the beginning of some uncertain times in Eugene.
When it comes to the NCAA, this isn’t so much about hammering Oregon. The Ducks have simply provided the opening the NCAA has been waiting for: the chance to send a message about the expanding influence of street agents in football recruiting.
At best, Oregon is guilty of nothing more than being bad comparison shoppers. Anyone involved in any aspect of college recruiting (or just anyone with good sense) will tell you that paying $25,000 for tapes is ludicrous. But financial irresponsibility isn't necessarily against NCAA rules.

What is against the rules is paying someone considered to be a street agent to funnel athletes to your institution. In the worst case scenario, that's what Oregon could be found guilty of. It's a possibility that gains legitimacy when the mother of one of the players in question expresses concern that the man her son considered a friend and mentor was paid by the school he eventually chose.

In between the two extremes is a large, murky Purgatory of NCAA investigation. As Schroeder points out (and as any USC fan can tell you), it's hard for any athletic department to hold up under deep NCAA scrutiny. Even if Oregon is cleared of any of these latest recruiting issues, what else might come up in a deep investigation.

But there is another issue at work. The scourge of street agents and AAU coaches has left a stain on college basketball recruiting and appears to be spreading to football. As such, the NCAA believes it has a chance to nip the problem in the bud. That could mean bad news to the people in Eugene (and College Station, Clemson and elsewhere). If there is a touch of impropriety, does the infraction committee drop the hammer on the schools involved?

This time, Lyles delivers NCAA's full attention

With the ongoing investigation into Cam Newton's recruitment to Auburn (and other places), the potential of having the BCS runner-up under scrutiny is the last thing college football needs.

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