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Fire and Smoke from the South

For the past year we have been writing that there are some serious cracks (quacks?) in the foundation of the Oregon Athletic department. If you are a Duck fan the typical response is what cracks? We won the Pac 10, went to the Rose Bowl, and are the hands down favorite to do it next year too.

Oregon fans can also point to a recruiting class that is every bit as good as anyone's in the Pac 10. They also might mention that six year winning streak they have going over the Huskies. So the educated Oregon fan is more than entitled to ask what exactly are these crazy Husky fans talking about?

The coaching change was more difficult than you would think. The Boise State game was a good example of that. Oregon also wasn't impressive during the first quarter of the season and a lot of us were starting to write them off. Chip Kelly did a marvelous job pulling his team together and by mid season Oregon was one of the best teams in the country and they proved it with crushing wins over California, and USC.

Even with that success the cracks in the foundation of the program were still there. They started to erupt again after Christmas when several Duck players including QB Jeremiah Masoli were accused of burglarizing a frat house. They erupted again when a kicker was nearly beaten to death by another student. Another player on the squad than beat up another student in supposed retaliation.

What we have been hearing this week is the Masoli case is now being examined by a Grand Jury in Eugene. Nobody is quite sure if there is enough evidence to charge him with anything but Oregon insiders are very nervous because they know he was involved even if there isn't enough evidence to prosecute.

The latest incident happened this past weekend when star TB LaMichael James was jailed because of a domestic violence complaint. James has been charged with assault-4, which is a misdemeanor that carries a potential one-year prison term, as well as strangulation and menacing.

By itself, James' arrest is just another another notch to Oregon's month of hell: In a little more than three weeks, the Ducks have seen their star quarterback and another player implicated by witnesses (though not charged) in a campus robbery; their starting kicker badly beaten and later charged with assaulting a girl in a massive brawl that apparently included another kicker, prompting a vigilante response by yet another teammate; and now their All-American running back is booked on a sinister-sounding count of domestic violence. All three backups and scout-teamers in that sextet have already been shuffled off the roster. As for the starters, the respective fates of RB La Michael James and QB Jeremiah Masoli are still pending at the moment. From Yahoo

It is one thing to lose some kickers and backups but it is an entirely different thing to lose the glue that guided the team to a Rose Bowl.

Chip Kelly's swift suspension of LeGarrette Blount after the Boise State incident showed that the Oregon Athletic Department knows how to perform damage control when the Pac 10 and the NCAA demands it. The decision to suspend Blount was made with serious pressure from the Pac 10 office and the NCAA.

The current incidents while just as hideous have the advantage of not being played out on national television. Since James is in jail right now his future is in serious doubt. Masoli on the other hand just has to keep quiet and isten to his attorney and hope that the evidence doesn't pile up enough so charges are filed.

The big picture illustrates that Oregon has lost control of the discipline of its student athletes. Any Husky fan will tell you that the erosion of discipline is hard to reverse and is usually the harbringer of bigger problems inside the department that inevitably leads to the fall of the program.

Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti have some serious challenges ahead of them in keeping this program on the right track. The decisions that were made early this fall and the superior performance of a football team that could have easily fallen apart are impressive. Oregon needs to follow that up this spring by cleaning house and putting the discipline back into the behavior of their football players. If they don't accomplish that they could be in for a serious fall in the not too distant future.

(Editors Note: I Forgot to put the italics around the quote from Yahoo with the appropiate link. Apologies to Matt Hinton over at Yahoo.)