Does The Cliff Harris Incident Reflect A Lack Of Institutional Control At Oregon?

Strange things are afoot at Eugene-based Circle Ks, my friends.  And I don't refer to the recent inappropriate tweet pics sent out by the Oregon Duck to some cheerleaders.

No, up in Oregon the parade of potentially phelonius phenoms (OK, I'm assuredly addicted to alliteration) continues.  The most recent case involves Oregon corner, Cliff Harris:

Harris, who is drawing preseason all-America mention as a cornerback and punt returner entering his junior season, faces hefty fines after being pulled over early Sunday morning for allegedly driving 118 mph by state police. Harris was also cited for driving with a suspended license, at least the third time he’s been cited for those violations in tandem since joining the Ducks in the fall of 2009.

For these actions, Chip Kelly suspended Harris from the football team until at least after the LSU game:

University of Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris has been suspended indefinitely from the Ducks’ football program following last weekend’s incident that included citations for driving at excessive speeds and driving with a suspended license, head football coach Chip Kelly announced Wednesday. Kelly added that the suspension includes Harris sitting out a minimum of Oregon’s 2011 season opener vs. LSU.

Writing before the news about the suspension had broken, writer JTLight (of SBNation's Oregon site, AddictedToQuack) wrote a lengthy post regarding his thoughts on this matter.  In arguing that Chip Kelly shouldn't suspend Harris, instead leaving any punishment to the legal authories, JTLight stated:

While there's no doubt that Cliff Harris has made some very dumb decisions, I firmly disagree with this assessment. Cliff Harris' traffic history does not (significantly) impact his ability to be a productive member of society, to be a good student, or to be a leader on the football team.

There seems to be this underlying belief that because Cliff Harris broke a law, Chip Kelly must hold him accountable. This is absurd. It is not the job of Chip Kelly to ensure that his players follow the laws of any federal, state, or local government. It is the job of those governments to enforce their laws. Chip Kelly should hold his players to a standard, but that should be his standard, not the standard of the government. It is his job to educate young men, on and off the field. By all accounts, he's done that. The Oregon football team set a GPA record during the fall quarter.

Now, look, everybody here knows that we have a Preferred Nation status with AddictedToQuack.  We all have a lot of respect for their site.  I, personally, have a lot of respect for JTLight, but I must be honest (I must!) when I say that I could not more sharply disagree.  I'm not saying I'm going to drive to Eugene and slap JTLight in the face with a white glove, but that's pretty much only because gas is so expensive.  So, instead I'll just write up my thoughts on what Chip Kelly's role in this is and whether he is living up to those standards.  

Spoiler Alert:  He isn't.

Now, this piece by JTLight was very informative to me.  When I first heard of the Cliff Harris situation, I thought little of it.  Players are people.  And people do stupid things.  Lord knows I have done my fair share of stupid things in life, like applying to Stanford.  What was I thinking??  

I was not aware of the pattern of inappropriate actions taken by Harris, including the myriad driving violations.  The article in JTLight's piece stated that Harris has a active driver's license in neither his home state of California nor his adopted stated of Oregon.  The piece above noted that not only was Harris driving nearly twice as fast as the speed limit allowed (a legal and, in my truly humble opinion, moral violation) on a suspended license (a legal violation), he was also driving with a car rented by an employee of Oregon itself (a potential NCAA violation).  

This situation is a triple whammy of hashtag fail.  And it's not even the first time that he has been busted for driving violations.  Or the second time.  Or potentially even the third!  Look at this:

Harris has these outstanding fines in Oregon Municipal Court, all of which he was found guilty by default for failing to appear in court. Another court official said the fine amounts below would actually be higher now with interest added, after being sent to Professional Credit Service for collections:

 

- $471.25 for Minor in Possession of Liquor (sent to collections 2/8/10)

- $408.75 for Speeding (sent to collections 7/26/10)

- $486.25 for Operating without Driving Privileges (sent to collections 7/26/10)

- $486.25 for Driving Uninsured (sent to collections 7/26/10)

 

These totals are in addition to the $1,575 Harris will likely owe after being cited for driving more than 100 mph with a suspended license Sunday.

 

Fresno Superior Court records in California also show five more outstanding fines that are still in collections totaling $4486. Those fines are for citations dating from December 20, 2008 to March 23, 2010. All but one took place before he arrived at Oregon as a freshman.

 

During his time as a Duck, Harris was cited in Fresno for driving without lights during darkness and driving without a license on March, 23 2010 and has not paid the $993 with an original deadline of June 1, 2010.

 

Ouch.  Just plain honest to goodness ouch.  A  dodecahedron of "That's gotta hoit."  So, when I learned all of these items from the post over at AddictedToQuack, I quickly changed my tune.  

It's true that people do stupid things.  And even the tangled threeway of truly tenacious thick-headedness (Oh, I'm good) described above isn't so bad compared to some of the other NCAA problems in the media...were it merely a one-off incident.  Not only is this part of a pattern of poor decision making from Cliff Harris, it's part of a pattern of poor decision making (to put it generously) at Oregon itself.  

But is it Chip Kelly's job to regulate his players making poor decisions and committing various crimes?  For all the discussion of criminal actions, the definition of lack of institutional control seems to require solely NCAA violations.  

In determining whether there has been a lack of institutional control when a violation of NCAA rules has been

found it is necessary to ascertain what formal institutional policies and procedures were in place at the time

the violation of NCAA rules occurred and whether those policies and procedures, if adequate, were being

monitored and enforced

Hell, you can even violate the rules and still not have a lack of institutional control:

 In a case where proper procedures exist and are appropriately enforced, especially when they result in the

prompt detection, investigation and reporting of the violations in question, there may be no lack of institutional

control although the individual or individuals directly involved may be held responsible.

So, for all the pearl-clutching over face punching, laptop stealing, and fast car driving, it seems that only violations of NCAA rules count here.  And it is really only wanton and continued violations of NCAA rules without schools reporting them that can land a team in hot water.  You can punch as many faces as you want and to the NCAA it might not necessarily matter.  This, by the way, is great to know next time Cal hosts USC!  

But to me, this isn't about the letter of the law for Oregon.  It is about taking a step back and seeing how important a school's reputation can be for so many factors, including donations, and recruiting.  Even if you don't have a technical "lack of institutional control," if people perceive you to have a lack of institutional control, it can have a variety of negative consequences.

Last year, HydroTech and I wrote a lengthy, but hopefully informative piece, about the criminal activities of Oregon football players.  We discussed what Chip Kelly's job really is.

TwistNHook:  I agree that the biggest factor should be the crime committed, but, on the same wavelength, Chip Kelly is not a cop.  It  is not his job to punish Masoli for the damage he did to the fraternity brothers.  That is the cops job.  It is Chip Kelly's job to protect and promote Oregon football, which means showing that they will not tolerate criminality, but also working to rehabilitate the fallen players.

We discussed how running backs coach Ron Gould stated at an alumni event how influential family members can be on the recruit's thought processes.  We discusses how perceptions of criminal activity can negatively influence those family members and the recruits.  We linked to a story about a recruit who was high on Oregon until all of the information about criminal activities started to emerge.  He ended up verballing to Washington earlier this year, actually.  The bottom line is how important a good reputation is for recruiting.

Here, this clear continuation of this perception of lax standards is causing trouble for Oregon.  By allowing Harris to rack up all of these charges without problem, Chip Kelly sent the message that these car citations are not that important.  When it is just one incident, perhaps it is not.  But when your star cornerback is driving 118 on the freeway on a suspended license in an inappropriately rented car, it's going to make the news and it is going to reflect poorly on Oregon.  Interestingly enough, it looks like Kelly might have been keenly aware of these problems previously:

For those who wondered why coaches seemed so hesitant in the fall of 2010 to grant him a starting spot, despite his obvious talents, those incidents may provide some context.

Now, Chip Kelly is in a position where he had to make a statement and Oregon is slightly worse off for the all-important LSU game in 2011.  Had Kelly and his staff taken more serious action upon any of the prior driving citations, as minor as they may seem, it might have helped avoid this major headache now.  It might avoid the bad press.  It might avoid the suspension.  

That, to me, might as well be a lack of institutional control.  Even if it doesn't necessarily involve the specific rules of the NCAA, college football is a game of perception.  And the perception now is that Oregon is making its way to the same field as the USCs and OSUs of the world, if not paying rent for a 1 bedroom condo there already.  Well, they tried to pay rent for that 1 bedroom, but it was given to Reggie Bush first!

Oregon fans don't want to hear that.  They try to draw clear delineations between the serious allegations at OSU/Auburn and what happened at Oregon.  They want to say that nobody gets preferential treatment and that everybody has to earn their place as a team leader.  I know this, because that is exactly what Addicted To Quack writer Takimoto recently wrote:

In Chip Kelly's program, you are not anointed; you must earn your place as a team leader. While it may seem counterintuitive to hand one player the starting job, and another player a captaincy, Coach Kelly knew that Darron Thomas hadn't yet grown into his role as team leader, while Nate Costa garnered the respect of his teammates through his demeanor and work ethic. There aren't stars on a Chip Kelly team; there are just young men, working together to achieve a unified goal. 

Again, we here at CGB have a lot of respect for Takimoto.  His pieces are informative, his writing is crisp, and his girlfriend was in the California Marching Band.  These are all things you want to see in a SBNation writer.  Especially the last one.  Takimoto writes what all fans want to think about their team.  Sure, the Auburns and the USCs of the world are crooked, but not our team.  Our team is different.  Our team is full of great guys!  It's the idyllic daydreams of sports fans believing that their tribe is special and different.  Cal fans are no different in this regard.  We like to think we are special snowflakes enduring a different kind of college football experience that is more pure than all the others.

But the laundry list of inappropriate actions by Oregon football players since Chip Kelly took over is surprising and long:

Jeremiah Masoli - Stole laptop; lied about it

LeGarrette Blount - Punched man on national TV

LaMichael James - Domestic incident with girlfriend.  To be fair, this was a complicated incident with blame on both sides and I would caution that people read the specifics of the incident before jumping to any conclusions.

Kiko Alonso - DUI, then burglary charges

Cliff Harris - Multiple driving violations

That was just off the top of my head.  And this doesn't even include the Will Lyles investigation for street agents receiving money in exchange for high school players.  That could result in a very serious NCAA investigation.

Random fans, be they college football fans or otherwise, won't make such a clear delineation between Oregon and the USCs and OSUs of the world.  They don't make a clear delineation between NCAA violations and legal violations.  Every time that Oregon shows back up in the news for these incidents, it just cements the thought in the average fan on the street that Nike U is now Thug U.   Is it fair?  I don't know, but the real question is does that even matter?

And that is a problem for Kelly.  This must be especially frustrating considering that Kelly actually does punish his players, which is more than can be said for some other football factory schools out there.  So, when JTLight says it is not Kelly's job to regulate violative activities of his players, he is right.  But when he states that Harris' traffic history should not relate to whether or not he plays on the team, I disagree.  We appear to have a fundamental disagreement on the standard applied to Chip Kelly.  Sure, it's great that the team's GPA is doing great.  And winning can often cure all wounds.

But when there is an pattern of continued activities of violating both NCAA regulations and state laws it fosters a perception of lawlessness that no Oregon fan wants associated with its school.  Its Chip Kelly's job to keep those associations away from Oregon.  And, in that regard, even considering that he has levied punishments, he hasn't done his job there.

But, enough about me.  Tell me your thoughts.  What standard should be applied to Chip Kelly?  Has Kelly violated that standard?  Please try to keep your comments respectful.  

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