Monday, September 12, 2011

Did Will Lyles Help or Hurt Players?

Late last month I received word from a source that is familiar with athletic department policy regarding potential sanctions for individual players. However, due to my inability to verify NCAA protocol in this instance, I chose not to report the information.

Today, however, I received confirmation about NCAA policy.

This is not regarding institutional sanctions. Rather, this information deals with individual players and the policy surrounding benefits that they may have received from third parties during the recruiting process.

I was told that players who received any monetary or other compensation from Will Lyles would be asked to pay back any funds he provided during their relationship two-fold to a charity of their choice. I could find no NCAA precedent regarding this type of benefit, so chose to not report such information until I could verify the accuracy of the information. Though the source was very trustworthy and I had no doubt that it was true to some extent, I still was not sure about how much would be required to be paid back under the circumstances.

Friday, however, it was revealed that Sharif Floyd, a standout Defensive Tackle for the University of Florida, would have to sit out at least 2 games and make arrangements to pay back over $2,700 of benefits he received from an organization called Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation which is a non-profit organization based in Delaware. Though Floyd, who lived in poverty after leaving home at the age of 15, used the money for necessary living expenses, the NCAA determined that his receipt of the money constituted “preferential treatment.”

From the perspective of the NCAA, they reduced a possible 4 game suspension in half due to the extenuating circumstances. In a statement Friday by the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs, Kevin Lennon said, "We examine each situation carefully and consider all elements related to a student-athlete's individual circumstances and the violation. This gives us the flexibility to tailor the conditions of reinstatement that take into account all details and are in the best interest of the involved student-athlete." This brings little consolation to Floyd and Florida coach Will Muschamp.

Unfortunately, this case has set the precedent and further explains much of the delay in the Will Lyles investigation. LSU receiver Russell Sheppard was suspended for four games for speaking to a teammate about the questions he was asked about Lyles. Trevon Randle, a 2011 LSU signee from League City, Texas, is known to have had a relationship with Lyles. Randle has been quoted as saying:

“He (Lyles) kept giving us info about different schools,” Randle told in January. “Made sure people wasn’t leaving. Types of coaches they had. Some of those coaches didn’t come down here. He would maybe call and talk to them because he knows a lot of coaches. … He was just the info guy.”

Later in the interview, Randle said, “He was looking after me.”

Sources have confirmed that Lyles provided assistance with unofficial trips to several students. In addition, Lyles provided meals and other benefits to these prospective student athletes during their recruiting processes. There is no indication that any school had direct knowledge that Lyles was paying for their trips or providing any other benefits to the athletes other than Lyles arriving with the athletes in tow. It is known that several players close to Will Lyles took unofficial visits to LSU, Auburn, USC, and Cal amongst other schools. 

Among the players known to have made unofficial visits to LSU it is known that Randle made two unofficial visits to LSU. His first visit, February 20, 2010 for LSU Junior Day proved enough for Randle to commit to play for LSU. Later Randle attended the summer camp for LSU in June.

The NCAA must look into each individual case and determine the level of benefit received and make individual determination regarding eligibility and reinstatement of each athlete on an individual basis. This will take quite some time for the NCAA to unravel as Lyles was involved with many players. Do not expect a quick resolution to this aspect of the investigation which is separate from the investigation of the schools that paid Lyles for his recruiting services.

From an Oregon perspective, what I have been told is that none of Lyles' clients were provided with funds for themselves or family members to visit Oregon. This does not, by itself, exonerate Oregon in the Will Lyles investigation, but it does ensure that there is little chance that Oregon will be implicated in providing extra benefits to players through Lyles for unofficial visits. Nonetheless, there is a very good chance that the very young men Lyles was attempting to help will end up paying a bigger price than any of them expected.

As the situation develops, and we receive more information, we will keep you updated.
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