Helfrich Escapes, But There Is No Good In NCAA Outcome

It took more than two years, but the NCAA finally handed down their penalties to the University of Oregon Wednesday morning. It was a slap on the wrist, when it easily could have been a wrap on the knuckles.

The Ducks will lose one scholarship over the next two years, and the program has been put on probation for the next three. Chip Kelly was hit with a mean show-cause penalty, meaning if he wants to work in the NCAA again before Christmas Day, 2014, he’ll need to go before the NCAA to face penalties.

That one hurts for the former coach, who was found to have “…failed to monitor the football program”. In fact, Kelly will be making around nine million dollars in Philadelphia between now and the time when he’s in the clear with the NCAA. So yeah – that’s a real zinger.

Kelly did apologize to the University and its fans Wednesday morning, and that was the right move. After all, this was Kelly’s mess. Besides the probation and reduction of a single scholarship, Oregon will have to grapple with some minor recruiting inconveniences over the next few years, including a ban on the Ducks using scouting services.

All in all, the Ducks dodged a bullet. No bowl ban and no crippling sanctions. Oregon did everything right – they cooperated with the NCAA, they admitted some guilt while protesting they didn’t know exactly what Kelly was doing, and they paid their $200,000 for attorney help. After two years, with Kelly and the main protagonists departed, the understaffed NCAA infractions committee decided they have bigger fish to fry.

So Oregon can close the book on this muddying chapter of their history, and move on.

Is this outcome fair and just?

In a sense, absolutely not. Oregon hired a street-agent in Will Lyles who was paid handsomely for steering recruits to Eugene and, in some cases, paying those recruits, among other infractions. But in another sense, I’m happy for the people still at Oregon today.

Mark Helfrich, you have a clean bill of professional health.

USC-style sanctions would have hurt Helfrich more than anyone else. It’s Helfrich who has to establish that he has the chops for a major college football head coaching job, and if his team doesn’t perform in year one, there will be calls for his head. Helfrich won’t be afforded the kind of time Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, and even Kelly got to prove themselves. Oregon is in a different league today than it ever has been before.

At SC, Lane Kiffin had to take over a program hit hard with a bowl ban and major scholarship reductions. USC got hammered by the NCAA, and despite the fact that Kiffin did all he could while USC was bowl-banned, he never put up Pete-Carroll like numbers and has been riding the hot-seat for years in LA. Kiffin was poor last year, but before that? His hands were tied, and he did reasonably well.

If Helfrich’s program got nailed because of what Kelly did, he’d start with distinct disadvantages that he certainly didn’t deserve. And all the players who had nothing to do with Lyles and Lache Seastruck or weren’t even at Oregon when the saga unfolded didn’t deserved to be bowl-banned this year either.

So in a sense, justice was done yesterday. Helfrich and his team don’t have to pay for their predecessors sins.

Yet, Oregon cheated and didn’t pay real consequences. Kelly’s a hotter property than ever in Philly, Seastrunk is a star at Baylor, and Josh Gibson, the other former Oregon coach with a show-cause penalty, went to the Eagles with Kelly – but that’s the system we have. It’s lamentable, but it’s where we’re at with the broken state of the NCAA. They didn’t have a leg to stand on today – they couldn’t even agree on their own bylaws.

But Oregon fans shouldn’t celebrate. They didn’t win anything today. Helfrich and his team got relief, but there’s no good in this situation. Kelly and others cheated; the NCAA couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything meaningful about it. Show me where the good is in that.

In many ways, yesterday was a sad day. The system didn’t work, but one of the byproducts was that the people still at Oregon today don’t have to pay a penalty that others shirked. And on this Oregon investigation, that’s all the NCAA shakily wrote. 

About Arran Gimba