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July 26, 2011
LOS ANGELES – Dodging questions about the ongoing NCAA investigation entangling the Oregon program and referring reporters to a blanket statement released by the school shortly before Tuesday's Pac-12 Media Day, Ducks coach Chip Kelly did little to clarify the role recruiting services play in his program.
Specifically, Kelly sidestepped all questions regarding a $25,000 payment to Houston-based Will Lyles' recruiting service – Complete Scouting Services (CSS). Lyles has told Yahoo! Sports that Oregon did not make a direct request to him to steer recruits to the Ducks. But Lyles also has said Kelly personally approved the payment for his service and that Oregon paid for his influence with top recruits and his ability to aid prospects through the signing and eligibility process. That simultaneous role is believed to be a focus of the NCAA probe.
Knowing that questions would be coming, Kelly opened his scheduled period with the media by saying he would not comment on the investigation. He also said the school has cooperated with the NCAA and that an outside law firm, Bond Schoeneck & King, has been hired to conduct a review of the Ducks' recruiting practices.
"I'd love to answer all the questions and we will at the appropriate time," Kelly said. "When the outside law firm findings are made public I'd like to answer all the questions. There are a lot of misconceptions."
None of those misconceptions were outlined by Kelly, who maintained a calm demeanor as the questioning continued for about 16 minutes. Included were queries about how recruiting has been affected by the scandal, the future of redshirt freshman tailback Lache Seastrunk – a central figure in the investigation – and whether Kelly is upset that Oregon is being put in a bad light by the NCAA.
While Kelly remained collected, a Pac-12 moderator interrupted a reporter who asked whether the NCAA system is broken because coaches are handing out serious payments to people they've never met who run recruiting services. The reporter called the information Oregon received from Lyles "garbage."
The moderator interjected that Kelly and senior tight end David Paulson were only answering questions about the 2011 season and referred to Oregon's statement.
That line of questioning had dovetailed off California coach Jeff Tedford's earlier statement that the Golden Bears use a handful of recruiting services – including CSS – and that he wouldn't know Lyles if he were in the room.
"We deal with four to five recruiting services per year," Tedford said. "I wouldn't know Will Lyles if he was in this room right now. ... He provided us a service via lists of prospects and game tapes and things like that, and that's what we use all our recruiting services for. There are over 250 schools in the Houston area and the reason we use those services is to make sure we can be efficient with our time and resources.
"I have no concern whatsoever about it. We have the videos, we have the prospect lists, so I have absolutely no concern about it."
Kelly did not comment specifically on Tedford's statement but did say numerous programs have paid for Lyles' service.
"I can't speak to what any other school has done. I know [Lyles] deals with 80-some schools," Kelly said. "... I would love to talk about it. Once the report comes out, I'll deal with any questions anybody has about the situation."
The situation does not seem to have hampered Oregon's recruiting in the 2012 cycle. The Ducks have commitments from two four-star prospects in defensive end Alex Balducci and tight end Evan Baylis, and three-star quarterback Jake Rodrigues also has committed. Kelly said he hasn't been forced to address the NCAA investigation with prospects yet.
"We're coming off back-to-back Pac-10 championships and we move into a brand-new television contract," Kelly said. "It's a bright future for us. We went to the Rose Bowl two years ago and had a berth in the national championship game."
"Any time anything goes on in our world, as we find out about it, hear about it, it just becomes another source of education for us," Riley said. "There is always new stuff out there that can hit directly at home as far as learning about our world and how we have to handle our world."
As Kelly has found, handling that world can be tumultuous.