Mysterious "recruiting figure" (best term I could come up with) Willie Lyles broke radio silence this weekend for an interview with FoxSports.com's Jason Whitlock, and the two managed to gin up a delicious conspiracy theory to explain the NCAA's sudden interest in the affairs of Complete Scouting Services.
(As is the case with just about anything Whitlock-related, get ready for plenty of allusions to everyone's favorite show about the Baltimore drug trade.)
- Lyles provided legitimate recruiting services to Oregon and his other university clients.
- Lyles had no influence over the decisions of high-profile recruit Lache Seastrunk when he signed with Oregon in 2010 – or any other recruits close to Lyles.
- The University of Texas is pulling the strings behind the scenes to get Lyles pinched, a maneuver aimed at dissuading recruits, coaches, parents, etc. from forming relationships with mentors or potential "street agents."
- Cutting out the third parties reduces the chances that elite high school players will leave the state, enhancing UT's recruiting advantage.
Now, do I believe Lyles when he says that he didn't have any hand in Seastrunk's decision? Do I buy that he didn't profit from his relationship with Seastrunk and his family?
Not a chance in hell. I definitely wouldn't pick Lyles to be my martyr if I was Whitlock.
Yet, let's consider another question: Why did Lyles get fingered by the purity patrol?
During the interview, Whitlock, who has been railing against the NCAA all spring, went all David Simon, maintaining that we've been told Lyles is "Marlo, when he's really a Wallace." He has become the poster boy for the shady "street agents" roaming the sidelines of 7-on-7 summer tournaments and weaseling into talented recruits' lives – the guys the NCAA wants to get a handle on.
Yet, the kingpin of under-the-table recruiting supposedly grossed $36,000 last year, lives in an 1,100-square-foot condo and drives an 11-year-old Nissan SUV. That sounds pretty small potatoes. In fact, it sounds like "dope on the table," as Whitlock notes – a nice PR moment for the papers that is meaningless in the bigger picture.
In that respect, doesn't the idea that Lyles is actually paying the price for messing with Texas seem more plausible? UT blog Recruitocosm, which appears to have some reliable connections within Bellmont, has gone so far as to report the Lyles affair is being hailed by Texas' staff as "a HUGE win for the program" (original author's emphasis) and that the Longhorn athletic department has actually brought the NCAA to Austin to discuss the street agent issue. Does it seem so far-fetched that a source with Texas ties might have dimed out Lyles and Oregon?
The source of the tip doesn't change the reality that something illicit may have happened with the transaction between Lyles and the Ducks. Selling kids to the highest bidder is unseemly in every way. Assuming the NCAA can prove that is what happened, Oregon and Lyles deserve to get nailed. (I don't see it happening, but that's another story.)
Still, it's worth asking what any of this really accomplishes. More importantly, does anyone actually care about looking out for the players?