A man who likely knows more about the NCAA than all of us combined, John Infante of the Bylaw Blog was nice enough to take the time to answer a bevy of questions on the ongoing NCAA investigation into Oregon's use of recruiting services and improper recruiting.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
*Note: This interview took place before yesterday's revelations regarding the Miami case.
Will Rubin: In layman's terms, what rules and bylaws is the NCAA accusing Oregon of being in violation of?
John Infante: The NCAA has for a long time had rules about what kinds of recruiting services or scouting services that schools could subscribe to, and within all that, one of the things that...I guess the other thing is that prior to 2009, that was pretty slim, what the requirements were.
In response to what was going on in men's basketball, the NCAA raised those requirements, and tried to distinguish between a recruiting service that was made in order to be an actual recruiting and scouting service versus one that was being used to funnel money, because what was happening in men's basketball was you would pay $5,000 to someone and you would get back xeroxed copies of something printed off Rivals.com, or you would get back the someone's height, weight, and then their evaluation would be 'high major,' 'mid major,' etc.
So what the NCAA did was they put all these additional requirements like if you're going to subscribe to this, it has to be the same price, it has to be more information than just demographics, it has to be sent out at least four times a year, so very technical requirements. Basically, what's come out is it appears that a lot of the service that Oregon bought from Willie Lyles did not appear to meet those requirements. So the question now is what did that mean, and how is the NCAA going to treat that violation?
WR: Is this a precedent setting case for the NCAA?
JI: Yeah, and I think that's why the reports came out right before Christmas that Oregon tried to get Summary Disposition, but couldn't come to an agreement, or came to an agreement with the enforcement staff but the Committee on Infractions refused to approve it. That jives with the idea that this is the first big case under this new regime of saying we're going to police recruiting services as something that might potentially be a way that schools were funneling money to people who had influence with recruits. So yeah, that definitely adds into the idea that part of what the NCAA is doing here is trying to decide how they're going to handle these kinds of cases in the future.
WR: One of the main rules Oregon potentially violated was instituted as a mid-year resolution. Is that something the NCAA normally does?
JI: It depends, generally something like this, they would have said...like basically they try to do things on a year-by-year basis and have August 1 be a uniform start date for new rules, but things that come down - especially like deregulation things - something like this they would have said we don't want someone to go and have 4-8 months to sort of get in one last go-round with this, so we're going to cut it off immediately. I'm almost certain there's something in that proposal that said you could finish out your contract (for the year).
Again, it was more of a basketball rule that got expanded to all sports, but mostly football, so it was less about the number of services popping up at the time, and more about 'we're seeing something significant, let's cut it off as soon as possible.'
WR: This case has been taking a really long time. Is this a normal time frame for an NCAA case?
JI: The NCAA's average for major infractions cases is 12 months or so, so this is on the longer end. Miami is in the two year range; that was reported after the Oregon accusations were made, but it appears that the NCAA and Miami had been working on that before the Yahoo! report came out. As for why it's taken so long, you can certainly look at some areas as to why it got delayed.
I think the attempt by Oregon and the willingness by the NCAA to talk about a Summary Disposition certainly set them back as you kind of go through that negotiated process rather than getting the Notice of Allegations and going to the committee...it looked like that process took most of last year, almost nine months, it was almost guaranteed that Oregon was going to go to a Committee on Infractions hearing.
I would say we could have potentially had this wrapped up sometime last year, but between that and now the fact that the Miami investigation, and the resources that had to be devoted to it, got ahead of Oregon as they were going through that process...Oregon's going to have to follow it.
WR: Why is Oregon at the forefront of the Willie Lyles case when other schools such as Cal and LSU were allegedly involved to some degree?
JI: A couple of things. First of all, I don't remember Cal or LSU ever saying 'the NCAA said we're in the clear,' and I think in a case like this, they certainly would have. The other thing is that they were all buying allegedly different products, and Cal and LSU paid different amounts of money and may have gotten different things.
I notice a lot of people have said the amount of money shouldn't matter, well here one of the elements of this is that the same amount of money be charged to everyone, so it actually does matter a lot. In addition, unless you've been digging through exactly what they got, and because it's because of the strength of Oregon's public records law, the attention they've been paid in the case - because they paid the most money, they were kind of the poster child for the issue, especially with this one guy - maybe they got what they paid for is what I'm trying to say, and Oregon didn't.
Again, what that means for Oregon is what the COI is going to decide, but the way the NCAA wrote that bylaw is so technical and so based on exactly what you paid, exactly what you got, it's highly possible, even probable that other schools bought something similar from the same guy, and Oregon bought something different, and that's the big reason why Oregon is now in a big infractions case and the other schools are in the clear.
WR: How big of a deal is the "extra coach recruiting" part of this case?
JI: I think it's less of a big deal...I think the problem with the Lyles allegation is that we don't really know how the NCAA is going to treat it because they've never really had a case before. So it could be anything from, 'we're going to say this is like paying someone off to get killed,' or 'it's just one of a number of violations that occurred, and it's a lot of money so we can't call it a secondary violation, but it's not going to be as big as a major violation."
With the other coach recruiting, the impact of that is understood. Certainly, as those violations add up, it brings up the possibility of a general failure to monitor charge or the charge of lack of institutional control, which is something we haven't seen - it certainly wasn't going to be in any Summary Disposition agreement, because if they'd gone to that level, A) Oregon wouldn't have agreed to it and B) I don't think the committee on infractions would have imposed it without a hearing.
In terms of the impact on Oregon going forward, it's pretty well established that they're going to have to reduce the number of coaches that can recruit or can be out at one time, the number of opportunities they have, it's a pretty formulaic penalty at that point. So, its bigger impact is going to be as to this cumulative fact of having this plus other violations going on at the same time.
WR: What sort of penalties might Oregon expect once this case is resolved, and where does a bowl ban stand in all of this?
JI: I would think it's back on the table. I wouldn't say it's really going to be...it's hard to guarantee or predict anything because I really don't know how the COI is going to handle the central violation in the case. The fact that they couldn't agree on that is not a good sign...in a normal case, I would say that's a pretty bad sign for Oregon, but in this case because you have this issue that you could really see the COI more so wanting to take their own look rather than letting the enforcement staff handle it, I think that's where ...I wouldn't say optimism, but those concerns should be tempered a bit.
Again, the biggest concern shouldn't necessarily be that you look at all of this and can add it up and can see a very big violation, the concern should be that you haven't seen something like this before, and it really could go one of two very radical directions. This could be one of those cases where it's just a bunch of little violations that came up at the same time, and the NCAA couldn't pass them all off as secondary violations and it's just minimal scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions, or it could be that the recruiting service violation is seen as very significant, then you add in the other violations, and the COI hammers Oregon to that point.
The fact that they couldn't come to that isn't the greatest sign because I think Oregon would have really liked to get out of there with Summary Disposition, but I don't think it's quite time to panic yet because it's still so uncertain about how they're going to handle this.
WR: Are the NCAA's recent snafus regarding investigations (not including Wednesday's Miami revelations) going to play any role?
JI: I don't think so, because both of those were cases where someone sort of went out of bounds with NCAA procedure. Stuff related to the Todd McNair case suggests that there was some communication that should have been happening, that they were sort of pre-disposing him, and the investigation of the Shabazz Muhammed case, that's about the information getting released in a case where it shouldn't ever leak out publicly.
The only thing it would really affect in this case is if it doesn't go Oregon's way and Oregon decides to fight it, and then something like that happens. I don't think it's going to change the way the NCAA decides a case where they are at least confident that everything went as planned, it's only going to come up if somebody is going to challenge the decision and argue that the NCAA's own rules and procedures weren't followed.
WR: Might Oregon try to attack Lyles' credibility?
JI: Yeah, I mean, again that's going to be central to the case just like the credibility of Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels in the USC case. In addition to the difficulty of...unless you have this smoking gun stuff like what's come out with Shabazz Muhammad, or what went on with Todd McNair in the USC case, the NCAA keeps a lot of that latitude in determining credibility, and they don't have the same sort of evidentiary procedures like you do in court.
In addition to that, it's also how far is Oregon willing to go. Are they willing to challenge the process? I would predict if there's a bowl ban, Oregon would appeal that penalty if not the whole thing. Would they go as far as a lawsuit, I don't know about that. Very few schools have done that, and it generally hasn't worked out well, in the sense that they didn't win.
I would say I guess it could have an impact, but it's probably way down the road in this case. It has a few months to go down the normal road it's going to take before it sort of gets into extraordinary things like what are these other issues, what are NCAA policies and whether they were followed.
*Email follow-up after the initial interview*
WR: There's been speculation from some fans of Oregon and elsewhere (and probably some media members here and there) that part of Chip Kelly's motivation for leaving is to skirt the NCAA. Do you see that being in the realm of likely?
JI: If it played a factor, I think it was a general sense of not wanting to middle through years of sanctions rather than some specific event triggering it. It's hard to see something so new and explosive coming out that he changed his mind, like receiving a worse than expected Notice of Allegations, but also went unreported up to now.