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A closer look at Chip Kelly's response to the actions of Jeremiah Masoli, LeGarrette Blount, and LaMichael James

HydroTech: When I heard that Masoli was going to be charged with burglary, I immediately became highly interested in his punishment from head coach Chip Kelly. The reason is probably obvious. Jeremiah Masoli is Oregon's starting QB and the player that is crucial for making their tricky shotgun read-option offense run smoothly. Without him, Oregon's chances at repeating last year's success will undoubtedly be hampered -- and by a lot. So does Chip Kelly spare Masoli from a multi-game suspension for the team's sake? Or does Chip Kelly ignore his team's chance at winning games and dole out punishment for one of his player's misbehavior regardless of the effect it will have on the Oregon Football team's chances of winning games? That's an interesting question.

During last season, LeGarette Blount was essentially suspended for about 8-10 games for his famous punch to the face (Blount sat out an entire 10 games, but if I recall correctly he resumed practices with the team after about 8 games or so). If a punch to the face will get a players suspended for about 8-10 games, then what does a felony get? I think the punishment for committing a felony has to be proportional to the punch in the face. So which ever one is worse, should get more punishment time.

Briefly, here are some of my initial thoughts:

(1) Masoli getting suspended for the entire year is probably about right. His crime is a felony. The fact that the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor (in his exchange for his guilty plea) should have no bearing on his punishment, and his punishment should still reflect that the crime was a felony.

(2) If a punching in the face warrants an 8 game suspension or so then felony burglary ought to be punished with more than 8 game suspension. The reasoning there being that a felony burglary charge is worse than punching someone in the face.

(3) Does the fact that Jeremiah Masoli lied to Chip Kelly about his involvement in the burglary matter? Should that have an impact on his punishment? In my opinion, it should. However, the biggest factor in determining his punishment is still his crime committed.

TwistNHook, what say you? Please enlighten my lay self with some lawyer talk.

TwistNHook: All very interesting thoughts, Hydro.

The first is your comment about Masoli being suspended for the year being about right independent of the guilty plea. It is perhaps true or perhaps an apocryphal story, but people speak of Bobby Bowden "praying for a misdemeanor." This was no misdemeanor. This was premeditated. But what was it that Masoli, in specific, did? Let's take a look at what Masoli did and compare and contrast that with what LaMichael James and LeGarrette Blount did.

I. Jeremiah Masoli - Burglary In The Second Degree



First up, Masoli, who entered a fraternity house for the purpose of misappropriating some items there.

Fraternity member Max Wolfard filed a report with police alleging that the players took two MacBook Pro computers -- one valued by its owner at $2,000, the other by its owner at $1,500 -- and a $900 guitar from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at 812 E. 14th Ave. in Eugene early Sunday.

Wolfard, a 20-year-old sophomore from Portland, is adamant he has correctly identified the players, whom he encountered upon entering the house.

"The minute I stepped on the staircase I said to myself, 'Wow, Masoli and Embry are in our house right now," Wolfard told The Oregonian on Sunday afternoon. "Masoli has a very distinctive face, very distinctive facial hair -- not to mention I see him on TV all the time."

Wolfard said he didn't think anything of Masoli and Embry's presence at first given that he'd seen them at the fraternity house before. But when they started to act "suspicious" -- and appeared to be hiding something -- he demanded to know what they were doing, he said. Wolfard said it was then that he noticed Embry was carrying what appeared to be Wolfard's digital projector, which he says is valued at $560.

Wolfard said the two players then ran out the back door. Wolfard said Masoli fled north and Embry cut west toward Alder Street and then ran through alleys as Wolfard chased him. Blocks later, Wolfard says, Embry stopped running, handed him the projector and said, "You've got it back, now you better get out of here."

Wolfard, who said there was no evidence of forced entry at the fraternity house, returned to find his room unlocked and his guitar and computer missing. He then called police.

Max Iantorno, 20, a sophomore and fellow SAE member, arrived at the fraternity house soon afterward to also find the door to his room open and his laptop missing.

My understanding is that Masoli and Embry went to this fraternity house late at night for the sole purpose of obtaining this property. When confronted, they fled, and then returned some of the property.

Masoli was charged with Burglary in the Second Degree. I am not an Oregon state criminal attorney, but I believe Oregon Revised Statute 164.215 is the statute that he violated:

Except as otherwise provided in ORS 164.255 (Criminal trespass in the first degree), a person commits the crime of burglary in the second degree if the person enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.

(2) Burglary in the second degree is a Class C felony. [1971 c.743 §136; 1993 c.680 §24]

A few thoughts here.

1. Apparently, if Masoli had attempted to take the items in question from an empty field, it would not have been burglary. You have to enter or remain unlawfully in a building.

2. Masoli committed the crime the moment he walked through the apparently unlocked door.

He did not plea to stealing or theft or anything like that. He pled to burglary, which is a Class C Felony. And that was knocked down to a misdemeanor, I believe, pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute Section 161.570. I might be reading this wrong, but I think that is what section 2 of that code section states.

161.570 Felony treated as misdemeanor. (1) As used in this section, "nonperson felony" has the meaning given that term in the rules of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.

(2) A district attorney may elect to treat a Class C nonperson felony or a violation of ORS 475.840 (3)(a), 475.854, 475.864 (2) or 475.874 as a Class A misdemeanor. The election must be made by the district attorney orally or in writing at the time of the first appearance of the defendant. If a district attorney elects to treat a Class C felony or a violation of ORS 475.840 (3)(a), 475.854, 475.864 (2) or 475.874 as a Class A misdemeanor under this subsection, the court shall amend the accusatory instrument to reflect the charged offense as a Class A misdemeanor.

Note that he was only charged with entering a building with intent to commit a crime and not the actual crime itself. This way it could be bumped down to a lower level. Why? Perhaps due to evidence problems that would have made it difficult to prove theft? Not sure. I'll spare you the closer look at Theft since it was never charged.

Both Burglary In The Second Degree and Theft are Class C Felonies. What is the punishment for an Oregon Class C Felony? Pursuant to Oregon Penal Code Section 161.605, it is 5 years.

161.605 Maximum prison terms for felonies. The maximum term of an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for a felony is as follows:

(1) For a Class A felony, 20 years.

(2) For a Class B felony, 10 years.

(3) For a Class C felony, 5 years.

(4) For an unclassified felony as provided in the statute defining the crime. [1971 c.743 §74]

And what is the punishment for a Class A Misdemeanor. Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute 161.615, it is 1 year:

Sentences for misdemeanors shall be for a definite term. The court shall fix the term of imprisonment within the following maximum limitations:

(1) For a Class A misdemeanor, 1 year.

(2) For a Class B misdemeanor, 6 months.

(3) For a Class C misdemeanor, 30 days.

What was the Court's eventually punishment? According to this ESPN article from friend of the blog Ted Miller, there was no jail time:

Both were sentenced to 12 months of probation and 140 hours of community service. Together they must also pay $5,000 restitution.

Again, I am not an Oregon criminal attorney, so I am not fully sure as to why they went with solely burglary as compared to solely theft or a combination thereof. Perhaps you can only bump one felony down to a misdemeanor. Perhaps there were some evidence problems surrounding theft, while burglary was easier to prove and had the same end result of the Class C Felony bumpable to a misdemeanor.

The DA knocks it down to a misdemeanor, but the reality is this IS a felony. It should be treated with the same level of seriousness, no matter what deal they cut with the football superstar.

HydroTech: So Masoli could have been charged with both theft and burglary? You're the lawyer here so correct me if I'm wrong but that seems a little redundant. That's like charging a murderer for assault, battery, attempted murder, and murder ... for a murder. In other words (and correct me if I'm wrong here), it seems like the criminal should only get charged for the most heinous crime committed, rather than all the other underlying crimes also committed to attain that heinous crime unless those other underlying crimes are separate crimes in themselves. Thus, it seems to me that the crime that Masoli intended to commit upon entering the frat house was theft, which creates a more heinous crime committed -- burglary, and that's what he should solely be charged with.

But I do agree with you, Mr. TwistNHook, that Masoli's crime should be treated with the seriousness that he was charged with, and not with the subsequent charge after the deal. How Masoli pleads, and any resulting deal that is cut for his plea, does not change the fact that the crime he has committed was determined by the Oregon legislature to be a felony.

TwistNHook: Now, let's take a look at what LeGarrette Blount did.

II. LeGarrette Blount - Battery



The first thing to remember is that Blount committed his crime in the state of Idaho. Again, I am not an Idaho attorney. He committed a battery.

Definition from Section 18-903:

    18-903.  BATTERY DEFINED. A battery is any:

(a) Willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of
another; or

(b) Actual, intentional and unlawful touching or striking of another
person against the will of the other; or

(c) Unlawfully and intentionally causing bodily harm to an individual.

And the punishment for Battery? Idaho Code Section 18-904:

  18-904.  BATTERY -- PUNISHMENT. Battery is punishable by a fine not

exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail
not to exceed six (6) months, or both unless the victim is pregnant and this

fact is known to the batterer, in which case the punishment is by a fine not
exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail

not to exceed one (1) year, or both.

The formatting on this is a bit weird (damn you, Idaho-based internet!), so allow me to recap. Blount caused bodily harm through force. There was no deadly weapon or any such thing, so it is not aggravated. You can be punished by a $1,000.00 fine and imprisonment not to exceed 6 months. This is pretty cut and dry. There was never any Court proceeding. Blount got suspended for 8 games by Chip Kelly. Let's take a look at LaMichael James' situation.

III. LaMichael James - Harassment



The first thing to look at is the Sentencing Memo found here. When most people hear domestic violence, they think the worst immediately. However, let's take a moment to read the facts and interpret them in the light most favorable to James (because we're nice guys like that).

Girl goes to James house. Girl finds other girl and no James. Girl, for reasons we will not assume, becomes agitated and will not leave. Other girl apparently contacts James, who drives to the house.

At this point, the sentencing memo is vague, but it notes that James "physically removed" the victim from the entryway to his house and that he was holding onto her arm. So, he apparently grabbed her arm with an unclear amount of strength and tried to walk her away from the house. She grabbed his clothing angrily, breaking his necklace. He grabbed the collar of her shirt and tried to walk/push her to the car. She got into the car and turned it off. He then tried to pull her out of the car. She had the keys to the car and started to run away, he ran after her, caught her and then fell, together, in mulch. He took the keys from her and then they calmed down.

This is certainly a complicated situation. It appears to be a heated exchange where both parties physically grabbed the other. Of course, James is a physically strong human being whose grasp could probably cause quite a bit of damage. In the heat of the moment, he clearly made some mistakes, no denying that.

The sentencing memo notes that the police were legally required to arrest James pursuant to the Oregon Family Abuse Prevention Act. Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute 133.055, they had a duty to do so:

..[W]hen a peace officer responds to an incident of domestic disturbance and has probable cause to believe that an assault has occurred between family or household members, as defined in ORS 107.705 (Definitions for ORS 107.700 to 107.735), or to believe that one such person has placed the other in fear of imminent serious physical injury, the officer shall arrest and take into custody the alleged assailant or potential assailant.

Pursuant to the Sentencing Memo, this was apparently a tad bit of overkill. The 2nd paragraph on the 2nd page notes that, although the Abuse Act has saved many lives, it is also common to modify the charges once further investigation has been done. That is exactly what happened here. This ESPN article has the story:

James, who set a Pac-10 freshman record with more than 1,500 yards rushing last season, originally faced five misdemeanor charges, including strangulation, harassment and assault. All but one harassment charge were dropped.

So, what is harassment? Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute Section 166.065, harassment is:

A person commits the crime of harassment if the person intentionally:

(a) Harasses or annoys another person by:

(A) Subjecting such other person to offensive physical contact;

Also note that:

(3) Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor.

So, essentially, James pled to subjecting the victim to offensive physical contact. It is not battery, which requires bodily damage, or even assault, which requires attempted bodily damage, but merely offensive physical contact. Illegal touching as it were. There is much more that constitutes harassment, but that is what is relevant to this particular case.

We already saw the punishment for a Class B Misdemeanor is up to 6 months in jail. What is the potential fine? Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute 161.635:

A sentence to pay a fine for a misdemeanor shall be a sentence to pay an amount, fixed by the court, not exceeding:

(a) $6,250 for a Class A misdemeanor.

(b) $2,500 for a Class B misdemeanor.

(c) $1,250 for a Class C misdemeanor.

So, the punishment for harassment is a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 6 months in jail. Pursuant to James' plea deal, he will apparently get no fine, have 10 days of jail (which are waived due to overcrowding) and 24 months probation.

IV. There are two separate ways to look at the punishment.

James had a crime of up to six months in jail. Blount had a crime of up to one year. Masoli, up to 5. So, you could argue that Masoli's crime was 5x worse than Blounts and 10x worse than James, although that is a fast and loose interpretation of things. His punishment, however, will not be 5x worse. An argument could be that Masoli got away easier.

Especially considering that I think there are 2 main reasons why what Masoli did was worse than Blount and James:

1. Blount's crime and James' were certainly idiotic, but it was a foolish mistake made in the heat of passion after being taunted by the BSU player or in a heated altercation with his girlfriend. Masoli's crime was in cold blood with premeditation. I don't want to justify Blount's actions or James' actions, but Masoli's were UNBELIEVABLY more avoidable.

2. Masoli lied to Chip Kelly and the police about it. Blount apparently showed immediately remorse and worked incredibly hard to get himself out of Kelly's doghouse. James' also apologized immediately for his actions. Masoli, however, deceived his coach and law enforcement for a lengthy period of time.

Of course, the counter argument would be that James' punishment was incredibly light. Blount's crime was, using our poor metric, twice as bad as James' crime. Blount got 8 games suspension. James got 1. Should James have gotten 4 games?

Or should we look at it from James' angle. If 6 months potential jail time is 1 game, then maybe Masoli should have gotten 10 games instead of 13 Should Blount have gotten 4 instead of 8?

Well, I think you have to make a delineation on how you are looking at the sentences. The first way is to look at the suspensions as a means to obtain justice for the victims. There, Masoli's punishment might have been too harsh compared to James' punishment.

However, if you are looking at the suspensions as a means to punish the accused for the damage they did to Oregon, then things make a little more sense. James' crime is nothing compared Blount's and Masoli's. Blount did his crime on national television with a viewing audience of millions. Masoli, even if nobody was physically harmed from his actions, deceived his own coach, breaching trust. James committed his crime on a street with a viewing audience of potentially one to two people. Blount's crime, while 2x worse under our metric was infinity times worse under the damage done directly to the Oregon program. Masoli's crime, while non-violent, threatened to harm the very success of the team itself. That is our next discussion.

HydroTech: Although I do believe that Masoli's punishment is fair, I also agree that he did get off easier than he could have. If punching in the face will get you suspended for 8 games or so, and if a class C felony is 5X worse than a punch to the face, then Masoli could easily have been suspended for up to 40 games. In other words, Masoli's career as a college football player would be over because he doesn't have enough eligibility left to sit out 40 games.

Even if Masoli had been kicked off of the team, I would not think such a punishment to be overly harsh. His crime is a felony. Felonies are serious crimes. Other college football head coaches have not trended towards keeping felony players on scholarship. I can't really think of any coaches who have kept players on the team after committing a felony (I have a bad memory so perhaps someone can refresh my memory). No matter how much rehabilitation Chip Kelly hopes to impart upon Jeremiah Masoli over the next year of his suspension, I'm not sure that committing felony deserves such a chance at rehabilitation. But Chip Kelly seems to think otherwise -- and he might have a point.

V. Chip Kelly's job is not to get justice for the victims of the crimes, but instead protect and promote Oregon football.



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.

HydroTech: In many other cultures, drug users are not punished for their acts, but are rehabilitated. In other words, instead of being sent to the penitentiary to punch out some license plates, drug users get sent off to swank rehab centers for massages, meditation, and group therapy (slight exaggeration there!). The reasoning being that punishment is less likely to induce a person to change than education, therapy, and persuasion.

Chip Kelly seems to be following this approach himself. This seems to indicate that Chip Kelly's belief that he is a parental figure to his players, rather than merely a college football head coach. By hoping to rehabilitate his players, Chip Kelly is hoping to turn them into productive and honest citizens. This goal is not one that a person typically thinks of when they think "college football head coach." If a head coach was truly acting in the best interests of his football team, then he'd probably just kick the player off the team to open up the scholarship spot and bring in someone else who can play and not break local laws. Chip Kelly did the opposite. He kept on scholarship an at-risk player. He's taking a chance. He's putting the rehabilitation of a player ahead of the football team. It's a noble effort and an effort which demonstrates how the duties of college football head coaches have changed. Nowadays they're not just about winning games, but helping their players mature and grow into responsible human beings.

Jeff Tedford has always made it known that one of his duties as a college football head coach is to mold his players into mature and responsible citizens. He has cultivated a "family" atmosphere and probably considers himself to be a bit of a father to all his players. However, he hasn't always taken the rehabilitative approach when confronted with player misconduct. When a Cal player committed an armed robbery, that player was kicked off the team. Was this the right approach? Or perhaps the severity of that crime justified not giving that player a chance at rehabilitation with the team?

TwistNHook notes that Chip Kelly's job is to punish the offending player that the player has done unto the team. That may be true. But it's also Chip Kelly's job to protect the team from further damage from that player. An argument could be made that by keeping Masoli on the team that he will continue to do harm by his continued presence. He will be a distraction. His continued presence on the team may be a divisive issue among the players. He will be a felony criminal wearing an Oregon football jersey. That is not an image that most college football coaches would like to bear.

In fact, a coach's stance on how to handle felony-committing players is probably tied directly to whether they are risk adverse or risk seeking. Tedford has always been a fairly risk adverse coach. He might see the potential harm of keeping a felony player on scholarship to rehabilitate as greater than the potential rewards (a rehabilitated player, and the positive publicity) . Kelly, on the other hand, seems to be more of a risk seeker. He sees the potential reward of rehabilitation as worth the risk of keeping a felony player on scholarship.

TwistNHook: In my view, it is Kelly's job to punish Masoli for the damage that Masoli did to the team. That might be a controversial view, but I think that is the real reason why you see the disparities between James' and Blount's punishments and Masoli's. James apologized, admitted his mistake. Masoli did not.

Trust is, BY FAR, the most important part of any organization. Ever. Whether you are talking about the team of people here at CGB or the Oregon football team, you need to trust that the other people working alongside you are people you can rely upon. Chip Kelly now knows (perhaps not for the first time) that he cannot rely upon Masoli. That is a pretty massive breach of trust. In a sport heavily dependent on team chemistry and reliance upon all the various moving parts, an argument could be made that the lying was MUCH worse than the actual crime (which was entering a building with intent to steal).

The problems with Masoli could also hurt recruiting. Oregon is obviously a big recruiting powerhouse, but they also compete with many other great schools in fierce recruiting battles. At a recent alumni event, Cal running backs coach Ron Gould noted one of the keys to recruiting:

He (Coach Gould) discussed what goes into the recruitment of some players. He said you have to focus on the decision maker, which is the mother 90% of the time.


"Cal Running back coach Ron Gould"

Recruiting obviously doesn't take place in a vacuum. Family members, such as mothers, are key components to the decision making process. Responsible adults are not going to be too keen on letting their children go to a school where it seems as if the inmates run the asylum. This is already starting for Oregon as recruiting superstar solarise has noted:

One of the top players on the West Coast this recruiting cycle is Auburn, Wash., standout Danny Shelton, who’s picking up more offers and being recognized as a must-have prospect in the 2011 class.

Shelton’s latest offer is from UCLA and the Bruins join California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Idaho on his list. The offer from UCLA is big, Shelton said, and it will be strongly considered as the process continues into his senior season.

Shelton said Oregon was his favorite school but he’s recently cooled on the Ducks because of their recent spate of off-the-field problems.

By punishing Masoli here, Chip Kelly sends a message to the recruits and parents of recruits everywhere: We WILL run a clean ship here at Oregon. We will NOT tolerate this. So, the punishment for Masoli is again due to the damage Masoli is doing to the team by potentially hurting recruiting. A football coach cannot be everywhere to babysit his players. Sometimes they might do something criminal. Sometimes, it might be on national TV in front of millions. Other times, it might be late at night in front of just one fraternity brother. Either way, it can have major negative effects on the team independent of any negative effects on the victims. I don't believe that it is Chip Kelly's responsibility to get justice for the victims of the crimes, but to do everything in his power to protect Oregon football. If these players committed the crimes and there were no victims and nobody knew except for Chip Kelly, I am not sure we see these levels of punishments or even punishments at all.

Although there might be a short term value to not suspending Masoli (i.e. he plays) and others, it sends the wrong message and could have long term consequences that are worse, including potential loss of recruits who could be as good or even better than Masoli/James et al.

VI. Conclusion

Honestly, this is a very complicated situation. Chip Kelly has been put in a very awkward position and is doing his best to try to deal with some frustrating events. I do not envy his job here. He had one player commit a moderately violent crime with nobody watching and gave what I view to be a light punishment. He had one commit a fairly violent crime with the entire world watching and gave a pretty fair punishment. Then, he had one player commit a completely non-violent crime with nobody watching and gave what could be viewed as a lighter punishment when compared to Blount's punishment. However, when compared to James' punishment, handed down at the same time, it could be argued that Masoli's punishment was overly harsh. If James' punishment is 1 game, then perhaps Masoli should only have a 8-10 game suspension instead of the 12-13 game suspension.

However, Masoli's damage to the team was remarkably larger than James'. He lied to his coach. He proved he is untrustworthy. So, the punishment is less in line with the damage done to the victims and more in line with the damage done to the team. I think Chip Kelly handled this situation admirably. Hopefully, he has to deal with this much more often. HydroTech, any last thoughts?

HydroTech: I think I will refrain from punching you in the face from now on. I don't want to burn up the rest of my eligibility!

What do you, the readers think? Did Chip Kelly take the right actions? What is Chip Kelly's role in this matter?