The NCAA came down Wednesday with its long-awaited penalties for Oregon in the Willie Lyles case, and, well, we should probably call it more of a love tap than sanctions.
Some random thoughts:
— The influence of Phil Knight and Nike is an inevitable question in this case, and it’s not out of bounds to wonder whether Oregon got off lightly because of the sway of the swoosh. Nike is into college athletics, after all, to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. But it’s a pat conclusion, and I don’t have a strong feeling that it played a part.
Break it down. Do some legal-minded folks on the NCAA committee of infractions have a vested interest in whether Oregon gets whacked? Doubtful. Does somebody get to them and suggest they take it easy on the Ducks? Hard to believe. At the other end of the enforcement process, do investigators have some sort of mandate to treat Oregon different from the way they would treat another school? Seems like a stretch. To conclude so is to allege a lack of integrity in the process, and while I can’t come to grips with the idea of Oregon getting off so lightly, I can’t make the leap that it’s because of Phil Knight.
— Separating the issue of conference rivals (and their fans) and what they might have wished for the Ducks, it’s vastly overstating the case to conclude that bowl sanctions for Oregon would have caused a big financial ripple in the conference, on the basis that they’ve been going regularly to BCS bowl games. True, a second bowl team in the BCS (the Ducks joined recently by Stanford) is worth about $400,000-500,000 to each team in the conference. But that’s hardly a game-changer; most athletic budgets are running north of $60 million.
— Strictly from a competitive standpoint, apart from the question of whether a bowl ban was deserved, I like that the Ducks retain the ability to play in the BCS (in its last season), even for a national championship. Oregon is unquestionably an exciting football team, and it’s a good thing for Pac-12 fans to have programs near their potential. I’d bet that, if you take away the spite some Washington fans may be feeling about the soft sanctions slapped on the Ducks, a healthy percentage of UW backers would favor the prospect of taking down the Ducks while at their best, rather than a watered-down version of them because of sanctions.