Kelly gets minor sanction in Oregon scandal

Posted: June 28, 2013

WHAT DO the NCAA sanctions of the Oregon football program announced yesterday mean for Eagles fans?

Probably nothing, but we can't be entirely sure of that.

There was a time when an NCAA penalty involving a coach who'd gone on to the NFL was about as meaningful as a Ruben Amaro Jr. bullpen acquisition. But in 2011, after the Colts hired Jim Tressel as a "game-day consultant," right after the NCAA announced heavy sanctions for Tressel's Ohio State program, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ventured into uncharted waters. Goodell made it known that he intended to suspend Tressel, whereupon the Colts then took it upon themselves to suspend him for six games.

Tressel had been fired by Ohio State and given a 5-year show-cause sanction by the NCAA. That means he was effectively barred from coaching a college team for 5 years, after being found guilty of repeatedly lying to NCAA investigators. Kelly was not fired by Oregon and got an 18-month show-cause penalty from the NCAA, which means he won't be fleeing the Eagles to return to the college game this year or next. Kelly was found to have not been proactive enough in ensuring compliance with NCAA rules regarding a recruiting service run by a Texas man named Willie Lyles, and in monitoring whether his staff was making too many recruiting-related phone calls. That's not quite the same thing as repeatedly lying to investigators.

The year before the Colts-Tressel hoopla, Seattle hired Pete Carroll as head coach, just ahead of sanctions handed down to Carroll's USC program that included a 3-year bowl ban and forfeiture of victories. Goodell did not suspend Carroll.

It seems unlikely the NFL will suspend a head coach for what did not turn out to be a big-penalty case - Oregon didn't even get a bowl ban, will endure some minor scholarship and recruiting restrictions - but an NFL spokesman yesterday wouldn't clear that up. The spokesman said the league was unfamiliar with the details of the NCAA findings and would have no comment.

The NCAA issued a 1-year show-cause ban to former Oregon assistant director of operations Josh Gibson, who now is the Eagles' assistant chief of staff.

Kelly issued a statement through the Eagles:

"Now that the NCAA has concluded their investigation and penalized the University of Oregon and its football program, I want to apologize to the University of Oregon, all of its current and former players and their fans. I accept my share of responsibility for the actions that led to the penalties.

"As I have I stated before, the NCAA investigation and subsequent ruling had no impact on my decision to leave Oregon for Philadelphia. I have also maintained throughout that I had every intention to cooperate with the NCAA's investigation, which I did.

"I do expect the University of Oregon and its football program to continue to thrive at a high level. They are a talented and resilient group of coaches and players and I'm sure they will attempt to put today's news behind them very quickly and move forward as they prepare for the 2013 season."

A lot of people snickered in January when Kelly said leaving Oregon had nothing to do with the NCAA investigation. We'll probably never know for sure, but it would have been interesting to see what the NCAA would have announced yesterday had Kelly remained the Ducks' coach, if the sanctions would have been harsher. What was announced yesterday certainly didn't amount to a compelling reason to leave. Many observers had predicted a much more potent penalty.

Parsing Kelly's statement, it seems relevant that Kelly takes his "share" of responsibility, but not total responsibility, and that he stresses his cooperation with the NCAA.

Oregon will lose one initial scholarship, from a maximum of 25, in each of the next two academic years. Its total number of scholarships will be reduced by one, from a total maximum of 85, each of the next three seasons.

The NCAA also reduced Oregon's official paid visits from 56 to 37 for the next three academic years, reduced its evaluation days for each of the next three seasons and banned the program from using recruiting services during the probation period. Oh, and the Ducks can't be involved with Lyles anymore, which seemed kind of a given.

The report of the sanctions on states: "While Kelly was unaware that the involvement of the representative [Lyles] in the recruiting process, the staff's recruiting calls and the lack of recruiting service reports all violated NCAA rules, the committee noted that it is the head coach's responsibility to know NCAA rules and ensure that every coach and staff member complies with those rules. Because of this, Kelly agreed that he failed to monitor the football program."

Oregon is now coached by Mark Helfrich, who was Kelly's offensive coordinator.

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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