Media day will put Ducks on the hot seat

Even if Willie Lyles had never come along, Oregon would be receiving a lot of the attention at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles today.

The Ducks are coming off an appearance in the national championship game, a 12-1 season and two straight conference championships.

But questions about how Oregon and coach Chip Kelly expect to build on recent success will no doubt be replaced today by questions about the Ducks' relationship with Lyles.

The Ducks paid Lyles, of Houston-based Complete Scouting Services, $25,000 last year, purportedly for information about prep athletes for the 2010 recruiting class. But when Oregon released Lyles' scouting report, it mostly included players who had already signed their letters of intent in 2009.

That large payment came soon after the Ducks landed Lache Seastrunk, a highly recruited running back from Texas who had a mentoring relationship with Lyles.

The NCAA is investigating whether Oregon broke any rules in its association with Lyles. It would be a violation if he steered a recruit to the Ducks.

Media day will be the first time that Oregon coach Chip Kelly has been made available to reporters since the Lyles' story broke this spring. Oregon has consistently refused comment on the matter, but on July 1 released a statement from athletic director Rob Mullens.

"The University of Oregon athletic department has and will continue to fully cooperate with the NCAA inquiry," Mullens said. "Our department is committed to helping the NCAA in any way possible and until their work is complete, we are unable to comment further. Oregon athletics remains committed to operating a program of integrity."

Rumors swirled last week that the newly reconfigured Pac-12 was urging the Ducks to address the controversy prior to media day, but league officials would not comment on the record.

"We do not comment on potential or ongoing investigations," was all that a conference spokesman would say in an email to The Associated Press.

The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene reported that Mullens had sent an email to key supporters on Friday that said the athletic department takes the matter "very seriously." But it shed little light on the issue.

Oregon has retained the legal services of Bond, Schoeneck & King. Former NCAA enforcement staffer Michael Glazier leads the firm's Collegiate Sports Practice Group, which has become known for representing schools facing NCAA infractions.

Although it seems likely at this point that Kelly will refuse to comment on the topic under advice of legal counsel, it certainly won't prevent reporters from trying to wrest a statement today. He'll face more questions in coming days as the Pac-12 hits the road for additional media days in New York City and Bristol, Conn., at ESPN headquarters.

After going undefeated in the regular season, Oregon fell to Auburn in the BCS championship game in January. They were ranked No. 3 in the final AP Top 25. Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James led the nation in rushing with 1,731 yards.

Yahoo! Sports and broke the initial story that Oregon had paid $28,000 to two recruiting services, which are commonly used and typically provide biographical information and video about high school and junior college players.

Oregon's $25,000 check to Lyles was issued in March 2010, shortly after Seastrunk signed a letter of intent to play for the Ducks.

Late last month, in response to requests by the media, Oregon released a series of documents including a "2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet" that Lyles provided the school. But nearly all of the athletes profiled were from the 2009 graduating class.

Lyles came out of hiding two weeks ago for an extensive interview with Yahoo! Sports and several other media outlets. He suggested that he threw the package together at Oregon's behest just before the initial news reports surfaced this spring.

Although Oregon didn't directly ask him or pay him to guide athletes to Oregon, Lyles said he was paid to help recruits achieve eligibility and make sure they followed through with their commitment to sign with the Ducks.

"I look back at it now and they paid for what they saw as my access and influence with recruits," Lyles told Yahoo! Sports. "The service I provided went beyond what a scouting service should. ... I made a mistake and I'm big enough of a man to admit I was wrong."

Lyles has not responded to repeated interview requests by phone and email from The Associated Press.

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