Wiedmer: LSU now appears on Shady side of law as well as NCAA

Wiedmer: LSU now appears on Shady side of law as well as NCAA

August 27th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The news for LSU senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson isn't good. Released on $5,000 bond Friday for his alleged role in a Baton Rouge bar fight that left four people injured, Jefferson is indefinitely suspended from the Tigers team he was expected to help lead to a potential national championship.

Instead, he now faces felony charges of second-degree battery. Call me naïve, but electing to visit a watering hole named Shady's probably isn't the best audible for any college QB. Especially in a crystal clear fishbowl of a college town such as Baton Rouge.

But whatever ultimately becomes of Jefferson and reserve linebacker Joshua Johns - who also was arrested and later released on an identical bond - the real loser in this may be the Tigers football program.

And that will have nothing to do with what happened in Shady's bar on Aug. 19, but everything to do with what appear to be some especially shady dealings in LSU's recruiting past.

The worst of the Tigers' problems lie with questionable prep scouting service owner Willie Lyles, or as LSU coach Les Miles is fond of saying, "I know him as William Lyles."

Whatever, Lyles is strongly rumored to be a street agent, which means he was willing to steer talented kids to certain schools for a fee, a major NCAA no-no.

In the irony of all ironies, the Oregon team that LSU will face a week from today inside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, also is being investigated for its relationship with Lyles.

So while the official name of the Ducks-Tigers showdown is the Cowboys Classic, the Willie Lyles Shakedown would seem a more accurate title. Just don't ask him to execute the coin toss, since he'd probably steal away with the money before it hit the turf.

If nothing else, Lyles is almost certainly the reason that LSU has suspended wide receiver Russell Shepard, who already has been interviewed by the NCAA about the nature of his ties to the scouting service.

The Tigers are asking the NCAA to begin reinstatement proceedings for Shepard, who appeared to be headed for an All-America type season. But he almost certainly will miss the Oregon game, and possibly several beyond that. And that assumes he hasn't pulled a Bruce Pearl and lied about the whole thing.

Beyond that, LSU has just begun a one-year NCAA probation for major violations regarding the recruitment of junior college player Akiem Hicks, who never played for the Tigers but signed with the school and accepted improper housing and transportation from it.

That penalty didn't seem like much at the time, and the NCAA always could rule that the Lyles violations, should there be any, occurred before the probation was handed down, which would seem to protect LSU.

But unlike Hicks, who never played, the Tigers clearly have benefited from Shepard, and possibly others whom Lyles may have steered their way. If it's proven that LSU violated any rules regarding Shepard, Lyles or both, the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge would seem to be in play.

Finally, there is the fact that police confiscated 49 pairs of shoes from Jefferson. Forty-nine pairs of shoes? A college kid who apparently is no relation to Nike founder Phil Knight? You think NCAA gumshoes didn't raise an eyebrow or two over that? Jefferson's playing shoes may or may not prove to be too big to fill, but there easily may be too many of them to fill.

The police investigation into this is a serious matter. Four people were injured, one reportedly suffering three cracked vertebrae.

As Baton Rouge police chief Dewayne White said Friday, "Today is a sad day for the city of Baton Rouge. Today is a sad day for Louisiana State University, the LSU alumni and the countless fans that follow the Tiger football program."

In a summer in which so much college football news has been so bad, it may also signal a new day in college athletics.

More than 50 years ago, having been strongly rumored to have participated in more than one assault as a teenager, Billy Cannon nevertheless became LSU's only Heisman Trophy winner - at least in part, the story goes, because a judge refused to allow him to venture outside of Louisiana for more than 48 hours, forcing him to become a Tiger.

All of which goes to show that college football didn't become shady just yesterday.