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Oregon's Sanctions Were Never Going To Reach USC Level

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LaMichael James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, was part of the NCAA's conversation with Oregon regarding the program's payment and relationship to Willie Lyles. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.
LaMichael James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, was part of the NCAA's conversation with Oregon regarding the program's payment and relationship to Willie Lyles. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

When the NCAA ruled on Oregon’s football violations, “What?” was the first general reaction from the public.

And many Pac-12 fans were quick to compare Oregon’s sanctions to those of the only other team in the conference that was memorably be hit with violations: USC.

They figured, “Wait, USC lost five seasons of wins (including a national title), 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban, and Oregon lost, what, a jersey combo?”

Comparatively, yes, that’s about right. The Ducks lost two scholarships and were put on probation (there was more, but nothing major), which came off as a “Don’t do it again” from the NCAA. Pete Carroll’s teams caused much, much more damage. The product was Reggie Bush losing his Heisman, and players not yet at USC during the 2004-09 events suffering until 2012.

The NCAA’s findings focused on Reggie Bush and his acceptance of money, houses, clothing, furniture and suped-up cars from marketing agents.

This was all done, knowingly or unknowingly, under the jurisdiction of USC's athletics administration, according to the NCAA. It was dubbed as pure negligence.

Two words: No comparison. Oregon’s relationship with third-party recruit evaluator Willie Lyles was the centerpiece of the NCAA’s investigation. The university paid him $25,000 more than two years ago to scout, essentially. However, looking through his submitted reports to head coach Chip Kelly, the evaluations were basically useless. They were vague, inaccurate and even included players who already had committed to other schools. Trying to understand any advantage the Oregon program received from Lyles is a headache in itself.

Nonetheless, the NCAA found the payment (and Lyles’ relationship with a couple of recruits) irresponsible, but slapped the Ducks with an open palm, not an iron fist.

Some, like ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, wanted Oregon to be an example: “For the past few years, NCAA officials have promised to clean up the recruiting world and eliminate the influence of shady third parties like Willie Lyles, a middleman from Texas, who helped steer former star running back LaMichael James and current Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk to Oregon. Presented with the chance to do it on Wednesday, the NCAA balked.”

But is making a team an example really fair? Or should the punishment fit the crime?

In the cases of USC and Oregon, it seems the NCAA took the latter.