Birnbach: University of Oregon penalty was barely a slap on the wrist

Slap on the wrist? I think it’s more of a “tsk tsk, don’t do it again” for the Ducks.

Oregon Fans were put through two years of worry and speculation only to learn that they didn’t have anything to worry about all along. The NCAA decided that Chip Kelly’s rule breaking relationship with the Texas-based Willie Lyles ended up costing the school three total scholarships; that’s one per year for three years, including one they self-imposed last season. The only person that will really hurt will be the walk-on player who was hoping to earn that extra available scholarship that is usually still available in August of his senior year.

Chip Kelly got hammered in the report, which means to me that the NCAA knows Kelly knew that he was on shady ground giving Lyles $25,000 for “scouting services.” In reality, those services didn’t really exist. Even Lyles admitted that he felt he was paid to help influence Texas high-schoolers, such as Lache Seastrunk, to go to Oregon.  So Chip Kelly was given an 18 month “show-cause” penalty, I am sure that will really affect him when he is planning for the Giants in his Eagles office. I don’t think he was thinking of jumping back into the college game anytime soon.

The NCAA’s biggest problem was that they didn’t have a rule that schools can’t pay $25,000 for a scouting service, so the University technically didn’t do anything wrong when they cut the check for Kelly to pay Lyles. They were only faulted for not getting the proper reports. That’s probably why the penalties are so weak. My guess, there will be new, more defined NCAA rules in the near future that will spell out exactly what defines a “legal” relationship with a scouting service. The Ducks are lucky that they are the ones that proved the lines were gray because they will soon be more black and white.

People love to blame the NCAA for dragging their feet, making mistakes, and making ridiculous rules.  That’s all pretty accurate. But remember, it’s the schools that break the rules and hire the lawyers rather than just admitting fault. The rules would be much simpler if coaches, like Kelly, didn’t look for every available loop hole in every rule in the book.

Bottom line, it’s hard to argue that whatever Chip Kelly did wrong wasn’t worth it.  Despite breaking the rules, Kelly, got a huge contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, the fans got to cheer for a program that suddenly became a real contender for a national championship and the University of Oregon got a ridiculous amount of money from the football team’s success. It’s not what you want to teach the kids, but in this instance, the ends seem to justify the means, don’t they?

Let’s just hope that under Coach Mark Helfrich, the only defending the football program will have to do is on the field.

Craig Birnbach is KATU’s sports director. You can watch him daily on KATU News at 6 and 11 p.m.