Scouting services: A closer look at what can be 'a racket'
When the state of Oregon released information from a University of Oregon expenditure report that the Ducks had purchased information from 'Complete Scouting Services,' it was nothing out of the ordinary.
'We use scouting services,' Oregon State coach Mike Riley says. 'Everybody does.'
What was extraordinary, however, was the size of the fee - $25,000 - and the Ducks' relationship with the Houston man who runs the service, Will Lyles.
The UO invoice was submitted on Feb. 22, 2010, less than three weeks after running back Lache Seastrunk, one of the nation's top prep running backs, signed with Oregon.
According to a Foxsports.com report, the NCAA visited Houston last week to investigate Lyles' relationship with Seastrunk and UO running back LaMichael James. If Lyles assisted in or were involved in the recruitment of players to Oregon, the NCAA would consider him a booster. Any payment to him would be considered a violation of Bylaw 13, which prohibits boosters from directing a recruit to a school.
James told Foxsports that Lyles 'is the one who got me a scholarship to Oregon.'
'He's very influential to me and I know to Lache and different players,' James said. 'I mean, he really is a great guy.'
That's not the opinion expressed by a number of Houston-area prep coaches, who steer clear of Lyles. Clear Springs High coach Clint Hartman told Foxsports he has warned other coaches about Lyles.
'I said, 'If this guy is around your kids, you need to get his (expletive) away,' Hartman said. 'I don't like no part of that guy. He's a notorious street agent.'
Lyles accompanied Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell on a visit to Clear Springs last spring. Campbell told Foxsports he had visited other high schools with Lyles, but he couldn't recall how often.
'I'm a bit puzzled about this whole thing with Will,' Campbell said. 'Will runs a legitimate scouting service. We have a lot of scouting services. I don't think Will did anything wrong. I know he didn't do anything wrong with us, because he knew we weren't going to do anything outside the rules. I don't know what he did with other people, but he never did anything with us. He never helped us. He just gave us information.
'We weren't doing anything wrong. It wasn't a secret. We came right out and showed everybody we paid him, and we're going to pay him this year because he helped us last year.'
Lyles offered his services to Oregon State, too.
'I don't really know him,' OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says. 'I just talked to him on the phone. He inquired about us purchasing his stuff, because he's from Texas and we recruit down there.
'We never really got involved with the guy. We have other services we use down there.'
Riley says Oregon State used nine services last year at a cost of about $40,000 covering the states the Beavers recruit outside the Northwest - California, Arizona, Hawaii, Utah, Texas and Oklahoma.
'They provide us two things - data about the player and game (video),' Riley says. 'We don't know the people (who run the services). We get our stuff from them over the computer.'
Southern Methodist coach June Jones says the Mustangs use two scouting services - one covering the state of Texas, one for the Southeast.
'It's minimal cost - somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 apiece,' Jones says. 'They provide the players' information - height, weight, 40 times, that kind of stuff.
'It expediates everything. Our staff gets out to the high schools and gets all that information, but it's still good to have (the scouting service report). When a name comes up, you immediately have it. So there's a rhyme to the reason.
'But to be quite honest, the scouting services are a racket. Those people make money off the high school students' families, who think they're going to help them get them a scholarship. We'd discover those kids whether we used a service or not.'
Like Riley, Jones says neither he nor his staff members have a relationship with those running the scouting services.
'We don't even know who they are,' he says.
Jones, who says he doesn't know Lyles and has never dealt with him, has read reports of the NCAA's investigation of Oregon.
'The price seems a little bit suspect,' he says. 'Twenty-five grand is an unusual price. But I don't know anything about it, so I don't want to comment on it.'
Division I-AA Cal Poly uses one scouting service that covers the state of California at a cost of about $4,000 annually, coach Tim Walsh says.
'The high school coaches give the information on their players to the service,' says Walsh, the former Portland State coach. 'We get a list of X number of players with their size, their 40 times, their GPA and test scores, subject to being evaluated by us.
'We have a guy from southern California we purchase (video) from, but that's becoming outdated because of the stuff available on YouTube. Some of the recruits put up a 'Junior film' themselves, or have it professionally done. A lot of dads are marketing their kids that way.'
Jones and Walsh say they also receive correspondence from such as Greg Barton of the Beaverton-based 'Next Step College Sports,' which links college coaches with potential recruits at a cost to the recruits.
'Our fee comes from the parents, not the colleges,' says Barton, a former pro quarterback. 'We provide information and game video and make contacts. Our stuff is more small-college - about 20 kids a year in football.'
Barton and I have similar feelings on the subject of scouting services.
'What I'm having a hard time with is, you pay somebody for contact information?' Barton says. 'Well, just pick up the phone. Why would a college pay somebody? I'm baffled by that.
'You take a Chip Kelly or a Mike Riley, just about any coach in the country knows and respects them. So have a secretary pick up a phone and call a high school. I would be in shock if any high school coach in the country would ignore that.'
Oregon is coming off back-to-back great seasons, making the Rose Bowl and the BCS Championship Game. The UO facilities are among the best in the country. The Nike connection means a lot of kids will listen. I understand recruiting is extremely competitive when you're trying to attract the nation's top talent, but I would think the Ducks are beyond needing people such as Will Lyles to help sell their product.
Barton considers the 'street agents' who purport to represent the kids 'despicable.'
'These guys are in the neighborhoods,' he says. 'I see it in basketball a lot, too. They win over the kids. They tell the kids they're going to represent them like an agent. A lot of the kids and their parents are naive. At first they think he's a great guy, he's going to help us. But it's all about making money for the (street agent). There's a lot of scum out there.'
I'm not saying Will Lyles is scum. Neither is Barton.
A lot of people who know Lyles, though, seem to view him that way.
That's not a good thing for any college with which he has a relationship - Oregon included.