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Oregon Football's Probation From A Wildcat's Perspective

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It’s official – shortly before noon today, the NCAA announced that the Oregon football program’s recruiting practices had landed it in three years of probation. And while there was no truly painful sanction (the Ducks were able to avoid losing bowl eligibility), it’s obvious the infractions were more than mere oversights. Here’s the rundown of punishments, courtesy USA Today:

  • Public reprimand and censure.
  • Three years of probation from June 26, 2013 through June 25, 2016.
  • An 18-month show cause order for the former head coach.
  • A one-year show-cause order for former assistant director of operations Josh Gibson.
  • A reduction of initial football scholarships by one from the maximum allowed (25) during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years (imposed by the university).
  • A reduction of total football scholarships by one from the maximum allowed (85) during the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years (imposed by the university).
  • A reduction of official paid football visits to from 56 to 37 for the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.
  • A reduction of permissible football evaluation days from 42 to 36 in the fall of 2013, 2014 and 2015 and permissible football evaluation days from 168 to 144 in the spring of 2014, 2015 and 2016.
  • A ban on the subscription to recruiting services during the probation period.
  • A disassociation of the recruiting service provider, Will Lyles.

I can’t say I’m too surprised by any of this – coach Chip Kelly jumped ship for a reason, because he left a good thing for what I don’t see as a good fit with the Philadelphia Eagles. What’s done is done, but athletes and sports fans alike are always haunted by the “what-ifs” of competition (what if I cut just a second sooner; what if I pushed the tempo on that first lap a little faster, what if I didn’t hesitate before charging that bunt…). We’re driven by the desire to know if there’s something that could have been done to change the outcome. And in some cases, we wonder what if the opponent had performed differently.

Oregon’s special teams unit was decisively better in all facets (return game, kicking game) than it had been all season during the Fiesta Bowl, although that’s not quite what that paragraph above alludes to. The question is what if Oregon had played by the same rules as K-State? Could the Wildcats have claimed a Fiesta Bowl victory if they played by the same recruiting rules?

Maybe so. Then again, maybe K-State would have won if De’Anthony Thomas doesn’t manage a freak opening kickoff return for a touchdown and the defense manages a stop on the opening drive. Unfortunately, these what-ifs don’t do anyone much good. What I will say is that only one team in that game had the potential to end up on probation six months later. I’ve stated it before and will again – I’m proud of the high character program Bill Snyder runs.

One knock on programs that consistently bring in JUCO transfers is that they bring in problems, but coaches are willing to gamble NCAA punishment for talent (Cam Newton to Auburn being a prime example). You don’t see this problem manifesting itself in Manhattan. There was a JUCO player that broke Cam Newton’s passing efficiency record last year. His name is Jake Waters, he doesn’t carry any of the baggage that Newton did, and is going to be a Wildcat this fall. Bill Snyder makes integrity a paramount part of his program. He personally signs off on every player before allowing assistants to recruit them. He’s also not afraid to discipline players that get their heads stuck in dark parts of their anatomy.

A prime example is Andre McDonald, who owned a pit bull that bit someone last year and got in trouble two years ago for underage drinking and hitting someone. At Texas, McDonald’s actions would be grounds for suspension the first game against Directional State University. In the SEC the guy that got bit would probably be reprimanded by a local judge for endangering McDonald’s eligibility status. And Oregon never would have recruited him in the first place because 1. he’s huge and not that fast; and 2. there was no recruiting service to pay to convince him to become a Duck. Yet at K-State he was told to stay away from the team, and come back next year for an evaluation to see if he’d cleaned up his act. His issues with the law did not endanger the team’s standing with the NCAA, but Snyder was more concerned with his actions as a person, not as a jersey.

Do kids on K-State’s football team get in trouble? Absolutely they do. They’re kids faced with nearly unbridled opportunities for fun due to the hero worship they’re adorned with in Aggieville. You try to stay on the straight and narrow when all you want is to hang out, but everyone at the bar either wants to buy you a shot, fight you, sleep with you, or see how hard you can punch a wall. It’s a difficult expectation for a 20-year-old to stay clean in the face of it all. Hell, I got in more trouble than half the football team in college and didn’t have any of those opportunities. But every one of those kids came to K-State under honest pretenses. No one was bought. This isn’t Miami, where boosters take recruits for rides on yachts with babes in bikinis. Or Oklahoma, where the kids are paid thousands for no-show jobs by alumni (yet we beat both this year). The KSU basketball program has forced me to raise my eyebrows in the past, but there are few football teams in the nation that bring the same integrity and success as K-State. And that’s why I’d rather root for the 2012 Fiesta Bowl loser than the winner – because I’m confident they’ll have the same chance make a return trip in three years. I can’t say the same for Oregon.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this entry incorrectly identified the Fiesta Bowl as the Rose Bowl.

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