Posted by Adam Jacobi
Earlier today, a story in the Oregonian by columnist John Canzano about Will Lyles raised plenty of eyebrows in Eugene and elsewhere -- mainly for this statement by Lyles about the recruitment of five-star running back prospect (and eventual Oregon signee) Lache Seastrunk:
Also, Lyles told [head coach Chip Kelly], Seastrunk loves Air Jordan sneakers.
“He’s a complete Jordan-head,” Lyles said. “That’s one of the big things he liked. So Oregon had a pair of Jordans for him --- only one of two pairs ever made.”
Basically, a quick reading of that statement would probably lead one to believe that according to Lyles, Oregon provided Seastrunk with a rare pair of Air Jordans, which would be a major recruiting violation and likely enough to get Chip Kelly fired at once. Moreover, it would represent an escalation of Lyles' intimations about the Oregon program; when he talked to Yahoo!, he never once said anything about Oregon or anybody else directly providing impermissible benefits to any players, much less Seastrunk.
And yet still, there are Lyles' own words, seemingly damning Oregon's program. The only way out for Oregon is through a narrow interpretation of "had a pair of Jordans for him," mainly that Oregon had procured the shoes for Seastrunk's visit, but only for display and not as a gift or anything -- sort of the way a museum might say it "has a new exhibit wing for patrons," which nobody would assume to mean that the exhibits are free for the taking. Still, again, that's a pretty narrow reading of the term, and it would almost have to take a clarification from Lyles himself along those lines to make this a non-story.
Well, as luck would have it, Lyles did provide exactly that clarification on Twitter this evening -- and a picture to back it up. "The shoes were on display and I never said they were given to Lache," said Lyles in a tweet, and the photographic evidence, via Lyles' own Twitpic account, is above at right.
So that's that, and frankly, this explanation makes way more sense than the alternative. If there are only two pairs of a certain style of Jordan ever made, they're practically treasures (especially to Nike, Oregon, and to a lesser-but-still-substantial extent Seastrunk), which means the odds that they'd be used as a highly illegal bargaining chip in the recruitment of a player would seem practically zero. Moreover, according to Lyles, Oregon was paying him that $25,000 precisely so they wouldn't have to provide eligibility-threatening benefits to kids while still influencing them to come to Eugene.
Last, it's hard to estimate just how big a boost this gives Lyles' credibility. The natural inclination for many has been to paint Lyles as a snitch, someone embittered by Oregon's decision to cut off the payments and essentially throw him under the bus. By personally diffusing a potential situation and rejecting the opportunity to pile more dirt on Kelly (especially after that initial Yahoo! interview), Lyles seems like less of a villian and more of, as Canzano noted in his piece linked above (which is truly worth a read regardless of the Jordans anecdote), a plain old human being.