First, take a look at the picture, this is Oregon running back LaMichael James enjoying some pre-Rose Bowl activities:
Now answer the poll question:
Cecil Newton, please step aside, college football’s new public enemy #1 is Willie Lyles. Sorry Cecil, but you had your time in the sun, the Joe Schads and Mark Schlabachs or the world are now interested in whether or not Willie may have taken cash in return for getting blue chip recruit Lache Seastrunk to sign with Oregon.
In the piece I put out yesterday, I provided some background on how Oregon paid a $25,000 fee last year to Lyles’ recruiting business, Complete Scouting Services. NCAA investigators have now requested more documentation from the school related to that payment. Obviously, they have some doubts as to the legitimacy of CSS.
Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard tweeted about some unusual activity on the CSS web site in the last few days:
He went into much greater detail in a piece he wrote yesterday:
No doubt among the documents requested by the NCAA were two invoices released Friday by the university in response to a public records request from The Register-Guard. The invoices show the payment of $25,000 to Complete Scouting Services and another of $3,745 to New Level Athletics, which is co-owned by a former player under Kelly at New Hampshire and which hosts training camps several Oregon players attended while in high school.
The payment to Complete Scouting Services was made in March 2010, a little more than a month after Seastrunk signed with Oregon.
It specifies, however, that the payment is for services rendered in the following year’s recruiting cycle, specifically a “2011 National Package” of information on prospective recruits.
The invoice notes that the package “includes Game Film and Highlight Film from Texas, Florida, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, California, Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and Washington.”
The website for Complete Scouting Services on Friday evening listed just such a “national package” of high school recruiting information at a price of $25,000.
Earlier in the day, however, there was no reference to prices for high school information, only junior colleges, at a cost of $15,000 for a national package. (Eugene Register-Guard)
So if the national package offered by CSS apparently didn’t exist until last night, what exactly did Oregon pay for last year?
According to the CSS web site, here’s how their national packages are broken down:
High School Price Listing
Film Package: Texas, Florida, California and Georgia $5000 each state. Every other state $2500 per state.
State Package: $5000 per state.
Regional Packages include West, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast and the Mid West: $10000 per region
The “Trifecta” Package: Choose any three states that you want coverage: $14000 per custom package
National Package: $25,000
Each package includes monthly profiles with evaluations, access to the Complete Scouting website and extensive spreadsheets with player information from the states that are purchased. The National Package includes film from every state. (CompleteScouting.com)
Obviously, the onus is now on Oregon to provide the scouting materials and videos that Lyles supposedly sold to them. And with a $25,000 price tag attached to the stuff, I’m guessing the NCAA expects to see something more substantial than a bunch of links to prospect videos at Rivals.com.
The CSS web site, though, does provide an example of what it supposedly has to offer:
Fair enough, this example features 10 recruits in video clips that appear to be of decent quality. Here’s the thing, though: how comprehensive is the “national” database that Lyles offers? I ask that because CSS appears to be a solo endeavor:
The one-person Complete Scouting Services operation is, according to Harris County property tax records, located at Lyles’ home address in Houston. (SportsByBrooks.com)
For $25,000, I would expect to see a package that provides clips and detailed scouting reports for literally hundreds of prospects, not just 10. And staying on top of an enterprise like that would take a lot of effort, which in my mind wouldn’t leave much time for Lyles to serve as a direct mentor to any specific recruit.
But instead of encoding videos and spending countless hours scouting, Lyles did in fact spend a great deal of time with Seastrunk. And that seems mighty curious to the NCAA.
So this past Tuesday on his radio show, Colin Cowherd took time away from criticizing all the black athletes that he’s so deathly afraid of to drop the following cryptic remarks:
I received an interesting text about 10 days ago, and this should be very frightening if you’re a fan of college football, that a major program in this country is going to be outed very soon for major recruiting violations. It is a top 10-12 program. I know what I think it is according to both my sources; I received another tip last night. I went to Vince Doria, who is sort of the journalistic editor at this company. He had heard the exact same thing. We are pursuing this story with vigor. A major publication is about to unseat a major college football power on recruiting violations. I will tell you from my source, it is not — it is not — Auburn. I will leave it at that. It is a major program and a major publication. (The Herd with Colin Cowherd)
Sure enough, stories started to appear yesterday about Oregon’s involvement with recruiting services:
Sources close to the inquiry told ESPN.com that NCAA officials are taking a closer look at Oregon’s recruitment of running back Lache Seastrunk, a redshirt freshman from Temple, Texas, who was one of the country’s most highly recruited prospects in 2010. Specifically, the NCAA is asking what role Texas-based trainer Willie Lyles played in Seastrunk’s decision to attend Oregon, the sources said.
Oregon athletics department spokesman Dave Williford confirmed to ESPN.com on Thursday that Oregon paid Lyles $25,000 for his recruiting services. Oregon’s payment to Lyles was made shortly after Seastrunk signed a national letter of intent in February 2010 to play football for the Ducks, choosing them over California, LSU and USC. (ESPN.com)
Around the same time these stories started hitting, word also got out about a tweet from Oregon recruit De’Anthony Thomas that said the following:
Since that tweet, Thomas has given a couple of different accounts of what happened, one being that he never met with the NCAA and another being that he did but that the meeting concerned his dealings with USC. Thomas was committed to USC for quite some time before a last minute change of heart led him to sign with Oregon.
With all this stuff suddenly swirling about, many are eager to take back the black hat they gave to Auburn last year and hand it over to Oregon. These holier than thou types need to have a super villain lurking out there in the shadows, and today it happens to be a Duck.
Hey, all this stuff going on in Eugene sounds pretty disturbing, but let’s not make it out to be more than it is just yet. That’s because this isn’t as obvious a violation as that Emery Worldwide package full of money that was addressed to Chris Mills’ father.
That’s because almost every FBS program of note pays money to some sort of recruiting service. By and large these tend to be film services that provide a bunch of clips of a bunch of high school and junior college athletes. One such service is the California-based Scouting Evaluation Association run by Dick Lascola. For a fee he’s happy to provide colleges with game video of literally dozens of Southern California’s best high school players.
But the problem with Oregon’s involvement with Willie Lyles is that the guy doesn’t appear to be as harmless as Lascola. In fact, the dreaded “street agent” label has been applied to him, and when that happens, you’re pretty much the devil incarnate in the eyes of the NCAA. It’s also interesting to note that not only did Lyles mentor Seastrunk, he also wielded a great deal of influence with Oregon’s star tailback LaMichael James.
If you’ll recall, Seastrunk was similar to De’Anthony Thomas in that he also had a change of heart late in the recruiting process last year. For months, Seastrunk was considered an Auburn lean, with LSU also being very much in the mix.
Seastrunk appeared to be extremely enamored with Auburn in the summer of 2009, with Charles Goldberg providing some details:
What’s up, Lache Seastrunk?
Something classy, cause the high school running back called Alabama coach Nick Saban and apologized for getting a little carried away at last weekend’s Big Cat recruiting weekend in Auburn, according to our friends with this good story at AuburnSports.com.
He was caught on video saying, among other things, “What’s up Nick Saban?” while generally having a good time talking up Auburn. The Saban part bothered Seastrunk.
“I called and apologized to him,” Seastrunk told the website. “I wanted him to know I was sorry. I got caught up in the moment and Coach Saban understood that.
“That’s not what I’m about. That’s not what I stand for. I got caught up in the atmosphere, the environment, and did something I truly regret.” (The Gold Mine)
Damn, nothing screams “Auburn man” like calling out the head coach of the Crimson Tide. But at the time you also couldn’t blame Seastrunk for having a ton of interest in LSU as well. His cousin, Michael Ford, plays running back for the Bayou Bengals.
However, come January of 2010, both Auburn and LSU had stopped recruiting Seastrunk according to Mike Farrell of Rivals:
Seastrunk, from Temple (Texas) High, is interested in USC. However, USC apparently isn’t returning the interest. What’s intriguing about this is that on a spring visit to Knoxville, Seastrunk told Kiffin that he would have committed to Tennessee had Bryce Brown not already been in the fold. While there was a previous relationship and comfort level between Kiffin and Seastrunk, that has changed. Oregon could be the big beneficiary, as the Ducks are now thought to be the team to beat. Auburn and LSU have pretty much backed off him, as has USC. Memphis is now a possibility with former LSU running backs coach Larry Porter in charge. (Rivals.com)
Around that time, internet rumors started to fly that Seastrunk was being shopped around by Lyles and that was the reason why both Auburn and LSU had dropped the kid like a bad habit. Oregon didn’t back off and got a signature out of him.
In the aftermath of all of that I chalked it up as being nothing more than message board fodder. That is until I saw this video of Seastrunk being interviewed before Oregon’s BCS title game tilt with Auburn:
That sounds like a guy who’s not exactly brimming with joy to be an Oregon Duck. “I love all the guys at Auburn.” Hell, I’m surprised he didn’t shout “War Eagle!” repeatedly during that interview.
Was Willie Lyles serving as Seastrunk’s street agent and lining his own pockets as a result? What exactly are the “recruiting services” that he charges schools so much for? Oregon had better have some damn good answers when the NCAA shows up asking those questions.
If you think Cecil Newton is the root of all evil, well, here’s a guy in Lyles who appears to be profiting off of kids that aren’t even his. And this time, there’s an actual paper trail.