Mailbag: Why is Oregon getting picked on?

Mailbag has been closed for too long. It now re-opens.

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Jeff from Bend, Ore., writes: It seems [Washington] paid $25,000 to a recruiting service. Why is Oregon the only team under scrutiny? So why isn't this being talked about?

Ted Miller: The NCAA's investigation of Oregon has nothing to do with the Ducks using a recruiting service -- even paying $25,000 for one. Most teams use recruiting services, and that use is not against NCAA rules, nor is spending a lot on them.

The problem for Oregon is primarily Will Lyles, who has been characterized as a “street agent,” a third party who steers recruits to certain colleges.

The Ducks face two connected issues; 1. What did they get for $25,000 from Lyles? 2. Did Lyles steer prospects to Oregon.

To the first question: Can Oregon produce for investigators what Lyles gave them that was worth $25,000? If Oregon hands over hundreds of hours of video, as well as scouting reports, telephone numbers and other bits of information that are valuable in recruiting, then a significant part of the school's defense will be accomplished. It can say: "We paid Lyles for his recruiting service," and it would be tough to prove otherwise as the second question gets asked.

And that, again, is: Did Lyles push recruits to sign with Oregon? If Oregon doesn't produce materials of value that Lyles provided, then the payment looks fishy, particularly when you consider Lyles' reputation and that he clearly had "mentor-like" relationships with redshirt freshman running back Lache Seastrunk and Heisman finalist LaMichael James, who brought Lyles along as his guest at the Home Depot College Football Awards in December.

As for what might happen, it's hard to say. Oregon isn't the only team under scrutiny. The NCAA recently announced that the influence of street agents in college football was going to get a serious look. And if it finds that Oregon paid someone to deliver an A-list prospect, well, that's a serious recruiting violation that likely would have serious consequences. But there is a ways to travel to get to that point, so Oregon fans don't need to get into a full panic just yet.

Thayer Evans this week wrote a multi-part series on street agents, which is definitely worth your time.

Ryan from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: You are uniquely qualified to answer this question. What is the role of a beat writer? Specifically, what is the standard for objectivity in covering a team? In following the Pac-12, there seem to be some beat writers that are clearly fans of the teams they cover, and some that are very objective and simply report on the comings and goings of the team. The "fan" writers seem to give deeper, more broad, and more frequent coverage; but I assume (not being a journalist) that objectivity is preached early and often in journalism school. Your thoughts?

Ted Miller: The role of a beat writer is to cover all aspects of his or her assigned program -- the good, bad and mundane -- thoroughly, fairly, accurately and in an entertaining way. The vast majority of beat writers work hard to be objective, even if they aren't completely in their heart of hearts. More often than not, when "fans" criticize a writer -- either for being a "homer" or being "too negative" -- it reflects reader bias: "That guy is such a Ducks homer!" says the Huskies fan. "All that columnist ever writes is anti-UCLA!" says the Bruins fan.

The image of sportswriters cackling around a cauldron, hoping to manufacture dirt on the program they cover is a fan myth. Never happens. Yes, if a writer gets a tip on something bad -- off-field problems, NCAA issues, etc. -- it often becomes a big story that earns the writer national attention. And writers like that. But the story has to pass the sniff test of fair and accurate. While many fans are of the "my program wrong or right" position, and they will view almost any story that isn't positive as unfair and (surely!) inaccurate, very few stories that are unfair and inaccurate have any legs or fail to receive significant blowback.

Fan opinion of media coverage of recent NCAA investigations of USC, Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State is almost entirely based on what colors the fan wears.

And, fact is, the vast majority of beat writers DO want their teams to win, even as they labor not to show it in their writing. Know why? It's more fun to cover winning teams. It's easier to show up for a press conference or do a post-practice meet-and-greet when the coaches and players are in good moods. Sure, it's more work to cover a team headed to the Rose Bowl than one headed to a 5-7 finish (unless it's about to fire its coach), but if you have a passion for the sport and your job, you don't mind.

Further, there's nothing fun about covering a bunch of miserable 18-23-year-olds and their coaches. There's a human element there. You've got to be a real jackass to enjoy watching people fail at their life's work.

My overall impression is conference teams are covered by a strong crew of beat writers -- a handful of whom would be on my short list of "Best in the Business" (no, I won't say who). My only complaint is some teams don't get as much coverage as I would like -- Stanford, for one -- but that's due in large part to cutbacks in the newspaper industry.

Dan from San Francisco writes: Wanted to chime in on the Stanford Athlete Class List, in case you get tons of angry emails from blowhards whining about academic integrity and blahblahblah. I graduated from Stanford last year and was even on the football team for a short period of time, and I can tell you that this list, among students and student-athletes, was barely a blip on the radar. Everyone knows what the easy classes are, whether or not they're put on this list, and when student-athletes offer to share the list with regular students it barely creates any sort of excitement. Whatever desire I had to see this list was based purely out of curiosity, as I already knew which classes I could take and when if I ever wanted an "easy A." The outside observer shouldn't think for a second that Stanford students, as nerdy, uptight, and GPA-concerned as they may be, wouldn't already be well aware of ways to boost their grades, Athlete List or not. For those that might be screaming bloody murder about an "unfair advantage," tell them to consider bloated classes like "Sleep and Dreams" and "Sex and Love"-- lecture courses drawing hundreds of kids each year, many of whom barely have to go to class to get an A. These classes are often filled with non-athletes, as their schedules often conflict with athletic practices.

Ted Miller: Thanks for your thoughts.

Here's something good that came out of this story: Young people now have a chance to learn about the antiquated phrase "Tempest in a teapot."

Derrick from San Diego writes: Remember how USC made their appeal about 7.5 weeks ago....and remember how the NCAA said they should have a decision in about 4-8 weeks? Just wondering if you had any information about that.

Ted Miller: Information. Of course. I will just consult my Magic 8 Ball.

It said to "Ask again later."

One more time: "My sources say no." Well, that doesn't make any sense.

In other words, only the NCAA knows when it will rule on USC's appeal. My guess is it should be soon, but very few things in the NCAA's case against USC and Reggie Bush have moved quickly.

But here's a promise: As soon as the NCAA does make its decision public, I will start furiously typing.

Jerry from West Linn, Ore., writes: I enjoy reading your blog. The quotes at the top of a lot of articles are a nice touch. In my opinion, you should give attribution for the quotes. If nothing else, it might spur further readings by your fans.Thanks for letting me express my opinion.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point, and you are not the first to make it.

The reason I don't include attribution is it seems more fun to me for folks to try to figure out where the quote is from. I try to alternate high- and low-brow, so many bases are touched, from Shakespeare to "Caddyshack" to Rage Against the Machine.

Also, in this Internet age, it's fairly easy to find where the quote is from if you don't know. Just cut and paste all or part of it into Google and you'll get an answer.

Vinnie from Southern California writes: Longtime reader here, you've got to check out the video Blake Griffin did with Jordan Cameron touting him as the #1 tight end.

Ted Miller: Good stuff. Here's the link.