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Will Lyles: Recruiting Whistleblower

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Is this another case of Yahoo! Sports doing what the NCAA is supposed to be doing? Perhaps, but either way Will Lyles has gone on the record at length with Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, detailing at length his relationship with Oregon and Chip Kelly. By all means go and read the entire piece, which is very lengthy, but for now just a few money quotes:

Embattled scouting service owner Will Lyles told Yahoo! Sports that University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly personally approved a controversial $25,000 fee that sparked an ongoing NCAA investigation and was in constant contact as Lyles provided the Ducks with recruiting assistance that may have violated NCAA rules.

In a wide-ranging, multi-day interview, 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.

The mood began to change on Feb. 17 when Lyles said Kelly and assistant coach Gibson called him and expressed concern about the lack of printed scouting material he had provided to the school. Lyles said they requested printed reports on Class of 2011 prep prospects, ones that had already signed letters of intent, as soon as possible. Lyles’ phone records show a 12-minute call from Kelly and an eight-minute call from Gibson that day.

“It was like, ‘Hey Will, we need to get some player evaluations and send it as soon as you can,’” Lyles said. “I didn’t really know why, but they were like, ‘Get everything you have and turn it in.’ They were on my ass about it.

Give credit to Lyles, I suppose, for fessing up. He sat down for a five-hour interview with a major media publication, welcomed any follow-up questions, and provided a forest's worth of documents -- letters, e-mails, phone records, business files, etc. -- all to substantiate his claims. For all of the countless number of people involved in recruiting scandals in the years gone by, I cannot recall off-hand anyone who was this open to the media in the immediate aftermath of

Having said that, though, he still doesn't strike me as very genuine. Did Lyles legitimately believe Oregon was ever interested in his evaluation abilities, much less interested to the point that they effectively handed him a blank check? That's a hard proposition to accept, and I imagine, despite what he contends now, he most likely knew the source of their interest all along. And, admittedly, it's much easier for Lyles to speak openly now and play the victim destroyed. With his business and career already destroyed, and his access being denied to programs and players, he really has nothing else to lose and no one left to protect. At the very best, Lyles was an extremely gullible character who never even remotely grasped the environment he was working in.

For Oregon, though, this is just plain damn ugly, and it's easy to see why they recently secured the services of a high-end boutique law firm that specializes in NCAA enforcement issues. It's almost impossible to read any of this and legitimately believe Oregon AD Rob Mullen's contentions that they are doing everything the right way. If it looks like thinly-veiled pay-for-play and smells like thinly-veiled pay-for-play, well... you know how this ends. How can you legitimately defend handwritten letters and e-mails from key institutional figures? It's possible, to be sure, but exceedingly difficult.

And for Chip Kelly, this one may not make him Jim Tressel just yet, but to use the Mercury Morris analogy he's at least getting close to his neighborhood. Regardless of which specific rules may or may not have been broken, not only did Kelly actively engage, use, and pay a large sum of money to a known middleman who manipulated the recruitment of prep prospects in order to steer recruits to Oregon, he conspired with said individual after the fact in what was by all accounts a lame cover-up once it become apparent that this story was going to be released publicly. Good luck defending against that, Chip.