No matter how you feel about the penalties handed down to Oregon today, all Pac-12 fans should be glad that the seemingly never-ending investigation by the NCAA is finally over. We know what the fall out was, and what will happen to the program moving forward, and all the hearsay and conjecture can now be put to bed.
I think what happened ended up being very similar to what happened with Auburn and the Cam Newton controversy (Which also makes the 2011 BCS Championship Game kind of more interesting in retrospect) where there was negative press and something clearly went wrong, prompting a lengthy investigation, but little to no punishment occurred. I think in both cases, the NCAA knew something inappropriate went down, but lacked concrete evidence and started venturing into their own created gray areas that made it hard for them to dish out hard punishment.
Obviously, we don't know how the decision will affect Oregon, the Pac-12 and college football in general, but since the punishment is so light, it is likely that it won't affect much. Still, the decision and lack of punishment is something that has already affected some, and some winners and losers can definitely be crowned.
Yes, there were some penalties levied against the Ducks and I would say that the most damaging of those is the reduction in official paid visits, but overall, the Ducks received light penalties compared to what had been expected by many at various points of the investigation. It's impossible to figuratively predict the future, but all in all, it's likely that the penalties will never cost the Ducks as single game, recruit or opportunity to succeed.
With that said, the Ducks also deserve not praise, but kudos I guess, for playing it out perfectly. By dragging out the case, sticking by Kelly and spending a lot on defending themselves, the Ducks were able to keep rolling and kind of let the NCAA unravel itself. Penn State and Miami stepping up and providing much larger controversies also really helped and led to the Ducks' misdoings ending up looking much smaller than they maybe initially did.
The Ducks also did a phenomenal job of cleaning up their program from an off-the-field and public relations perspective during the investigation. The allegations came at a time when Oregon players seemed to be running into trouble off-the-field regularly and made them an easy target, but over the course of the past two years, the Ducks have maintained a program whose players haven't run into any more trouble than the average big time college football program.
Even the most ardent Duck fans who believe that the Ducks did no wrong probably couldn't have envisioned a better resolution given the circumstances of the lengthy investigation. Yes, the Ducks did receive penalties, but they are so minute that they will likely never be noticed by the casual fan and will likely be quickly forgotten by said casual fans by the time the season even starts.
Duck fans will pretty much be able to enjoy Oregon football the way they always have without any fear of future sanctions now and any worries about a bowl ban that could derail their legitimate national title hopes this year are gone. Also gone is the negative aura of impending sanctions and potential reduced scholarships that have lightly haunted their recruiting in the past couple of years. For Ducks fans, knowing that they will now be able to watch the Oregon engine go nearly full steam ahead has to be a huge relief.
Also, Duck fans have held onto the prediction that little would come from investigation from the very start and they can take some delight in being right all along despite many who disputed them during the past two years.
The NCAA basically declared Kelly guilty, but there is zero real punishment for the new Eagles coach. Even the show cause penalty really does nothing to Kelly as the 18-month time frame only prevents him from not returning to coach in college if he is fired within, or after his first season with the Eagles, which is not going to happen. Kelly was essentially able to beef up his resume, get paid very well and avoid any penalty the past two seasons, and then bolt for green pastures at the perfect time. I'm not 100 percent sure Kelly simply left because of impending penalties as opposed to just getting a really good offer from a marquee NFL franchise, but regardless, it ended up playing out very well for him. Also, since the violation wasn't really one of morality, and because I don't think East Coast NFL fans really followed the story, his image and reputation emerged pretty much unscathed.
There has been a lot of talk about how the NCAA would like to distance themselves from street agent types like Willie Lyles, but judging from the limited penalties levied at Oregon from the violation, it seems like that might not actually be the case. Part of the reason why the investigation took so long and ended the way it did was that the NCAA didn't know much about street agents/scouts like Lyles and they are kind of a gray area in that they sometimes can toe the line between scout, mentor and booster. To me, this ruling makes it seem like the NCAA sees them (at least Lyles) as closer to scouts than boosters.
Guys like Lyles kind of have a complicated role in recruiting and the NCAA could have really made a statement against using them improperly had they hammered Oregon, but they didn't and that means that programs likely won't be scared of using them in full force now. It has long been said that SEC and Big 12 schools regularly do the kind of things that Oregon did with street agents, and the Ducks simply didn't do it correctly, but now there is really nothing to be scared of at all as the Ducks faced the biggest investigation ever surrounding the issue and basically left unscathed. I wouldn't be surprised to see this lead to more recruiting situations that have seemed to become commonplace in college basketball where handlers and middle-men play a pronounced role in prospects' recruitment.
Granted, people were going to bash the NCAA no matter what they did here, but once again, the whole thing looks bad for them, and they just added another mark to the tally of hypocritical, unbalanced and image-tarnishing moves they have made. Regardless of if you think the penalties were just or unjust, it took the NCAA two-plus years to essentially hand out a minor punishment that Oregon probably would have agreed with to begin with and ended up wasting a ton of time and money. Overall, they at least just look wholly incompetent.
No one should be more upset about these soft penalties than USC and their fans. The NCAA devastated the Trojans with heavy punishments just a handful of years ago for violations that many believe are about on the same level of what the Ducks were found guilty of. It has to sting even more that the massive penalties hurled at USC, that probably led to Pete Carroll bolting, also opened up the door for the Ducks to have the success that they have had the past few seasons while they were being investigated. The NCAA has been completely uneven with their punishments for years and unfortunately for the Trojans, they have a front row seat for their hypocrisy when dishing out sanctions in the Pac-12 recently.
What I would say to try and rationalize this to USC fans was that, unfortunately for the Trojans, their violations included a player that was high profile and contributed heavily on the field. Even if they didn't know what was going until after the fact, Reggie Bush was able to make a huge impact as a Trojan and left a big smoking gun while (Whether or not the Ducks forced him out), Lache Seastrunk never played a down for Oregon and Lyles was never officially associated with the Ducks.
If you break it down, neither team really gained any advantage from their violations. Bush was already a Trojan when he started breaking the rules and it's not like the benefits of his violations kept him there and even if Seastrunk was lured to Oregon by Lyles inappropriately, the Ducks never benefited from him at all other than positive press when he signed.
The Buckeyes' self-imposed bowl ban last season and their swift dismissal of Jim Tressel very likely may have cost them a national championship. Of course you can never predict what the NCAA will do in regards to punishments, but you would have to wonder as a Buckeye fan if the NCAA would have ever actually given them bowl ban-level sanctions had they fought the allegations against them. The allegations were very comparable to what Oregon was facing in regards to level of severity. Now, the Buckeyes fans have to feel even more bitter about everything that happened and be pissed about how lightly the NCAA let off Oregon.
Washington and Oregon State and the rest of the Pac-12 (Though not as much)
Husky and Beaver fans have hoped the past couple of years that severe sanctions were going to come to Eugene and help bring some balance back to the Northwest region. The Huskies and Beavers haven't even been close to competing with the Ducks in a long time, so it seems like serious sanctions could be one of the only things that could slow the Ducks' locomotive and give them a chance, but that doesn't look like it is going to happen. The Ducks aren't going to be dragged down to the Huskies and Beavers' levels, they are going to have to rise to theirs and that is a much taller task.
I guess the same could be said to a lesser extent about the rest of the Pac-12, as the Ducks have dominated everyone in the conference of late, but they don't hate the Ducks nearly as much as the Huskies and Beavers.
People who make up stuff on the Internet (And in general)
I can't even count how many times I read stuff on message boards, heard from fans and other hearsay pipelines about what was going to happen to Oregon and none of it ended up being true. Once again, not surprisingly, fans and questionable media members with unnamed sources ended up not actually knowing the "real story."
Lache Seastrunk... and Oregon
Okay, there's a chance that Seastrunk actually left Oregon for reasons other than being shuttled away due to his involvement with Lyles and the violations and you can't just assume that Seastrunk would look just as good at Oregon as he did at Baylor late last season, but... you can imagine. Imagine how incredible Seastrunk would be in Oregon's offense, especially since the Ducks have no proven backs of his mold going into 2013.
Once again, players in general
Other than maybe Seastrunk, no specific players were hurt here, but the case kind of does suggest that as long as players aren't benefiting in some kind of way that the NCAA doesn't care that much. One thing that made this case interesting was that it is the only one I can think of that didn't really focus on players taking benefits at all and instead focused on a scout and a coach. The NCAA is willing to punish players for minor infractions like taking pocket money or gifts from agents, yet don't seem to care about coaches who collect multi-million dollar salaries and relentlessly look for every single way to skate rules and then claim ignorance when they are caught as long as their school is willing to spend time, money and effort to fight them.
It's becoming sad that the people who make the least from the NCAA, yet put the most in, are also the ones that generally end up getting hammered on a large and small scale. The NCAA seems to be okay with coaches and officials bending rules, but when it comes to them bending rules that could benefit athletes, they are sticklers that aren't willing to budge on any issue. Just take a look at another recent spat between Oregon and the NCAA where the Ducks essentially lost out involving a player who simply wanted to play college football but wasn't allowed to by the NCAA because of a technicality, Nic Purcell.