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Impact of Tennessee Case Unclear on Oregon Investigation

Today the NCAA released its report on additional violations in Tennessee’s major infractions case. The bulk of that case original centered around recruiting violations in the men’s basketball program (Bruce Pearl’s barbecue). The addition involves major violations committed with Willie Mack Garza repaid Willie Lyles for the expenses related to Lache Seastrunk’s unofficial visit to Tennessee.

Because the bulk of the controversy surrounding Lyles is focused on his relationship with Oregon, where Seastrunk eventually enrolled before transferring to Baylor, this case will be picked over for any indication about what might happen to Oregon. One passage is worth looking at.

In the discussion about the arrangements for Seastrunk’s visit, the Committee on Infractions gives the most complete explanation of how Lyles was labeled a representative of Tennessee’s athletics interests, a.k.a a Tennessee booster. After an explanation of the agreement between Garza and Lyles, the COI says this:

Additionally, following the time the former assistant coach and the representative made the arrangements for the prospect and his mother to visit, the representative continued to have telephone conversations and off-campus contacts with the prospect and his mother. Because he was by then classified as a representative of the institution’s athletics interests due to the recruiting assistance he was providing, the contacts and conversations were impermissible and constituted violations of NCAA recruiting legislation.

The COI could have been clearer about exactly when Lyles became a booster. Noting the specific activity or the exact date that caused the status to attach would be helpful. But it sure looks like Lyles’ status as a Tennessee booster was connected to the arrangement and/or front the money for Seastrunk’s visit.

If that is true, this allegation in one of Yahoo! Sports original reports would appear to take on more meaning:

Lyles orchestrated recent visits for multiple recruits to Oregon, including Seastrunk, eventual Oregon signee Dontae Williams, eventual Auburn signee Trovon Reed and recruit Matt Sherrard. Lyles chose an Oct. 31, 2009 game against USC for a visit by Williams, Reed, Sherrard and himself, reviewing and arranging the players’ schedules to ensure he and the players could make the trip together.

Here’s why it gets murky. If arranging Seastrunk’s visit to UT was what triggered booster status, then it stands to reason he will be considered an Oregon booster as well. The handwritten thank-you notes from Oregon are not helpful in this regard.

But if fronting the money for the visit is the key part, then Oregon may be in better shape. To date it has not been reported that Lyles paid for any of those prospects to take the October 2009 trip to Oregon.

Without knowing what exactly event tipped Lyles from a guy connected to a prospect to a Tennessee booster, or the full extent of his involvement with the visits to Oregon, it is hard to draw a meaningful insight into the Oregon case. It is also worth noting that the violation committed by Garza was part of making Lyles a booster, rather than Lyles’ booster status making Garza’s conduct a violation.

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