Spring football begins under a cloud

Spring football begins under a cloud
LaMichael James (left) and Jeremiah Masoli (right)

EUGENE, Ore. -- Spring football practice starts Tuesday at the University of Oregon, an annual tradition with heightened interest due to off-season legal troubles that will shape the Duck football team.

Jeremiah Masoli, the quarterback who appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated College Football Preview issue last year and went on to lead the Ducks to the Rose Bowl, will not be eligible to play next season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor second degree burglary. Two other players who pleaded guilty to unrelated misdemeanor charges, LaMichael James and Rob Beard, will miss the season opener.

Police and court records suggest Masoli misled Coach Chip Kelly about his involvement in the crime. Kelly won't comment on specific player discipline, but in other comments has made clear his expectation that players be honest with the coaching staff.

The fallout from the burglary - reported to police in late January but not publicly confirmed until earlier this month when a grand jury indicted Masoli on a felony count, reduced in a plea agreement to a misdemeanor - includes lingering questions about what motivated Masoli to take part in the theft of two laptops and a projector from a University of Oregon fraternity house.

The laptops have never been recovered.

Both the victim and prosecutors insisted the content of the laptops was not a motivating factor in the crime, and the district attorney said after the sentencing hearing that a motive might never be known.

Masoli has not made a public statement about the crime, his guilty plea or his future plans.

The only person who can answer those questions is Masoli.

KVAL News has confirmed that Masoli plans to stay at Oregon. Coach Kelly suspended Masoli for the 2010 football season, but Masoli remains on scholarship and has a redshirt year available.

On Monday, Dave Williford with the University of Oregon Athletics Department addressed media requests for interviews with Masoli head-on.

"I anticipate interest in speaking with Jeremiah Masoli," Williford wrote to media that routinely cover the Ducks. "I have not spoken with Jeremiah in about three weeks. However I would not be surprised if he expresses little interest in agreeing to media interviews in the near future since his role during spring practice has yet to be determined. This will be his decision and his decision only. At the very least, don’t expect any media accessibility to Jeremiah on March 30. I only point this out to save a trip to Tuesday’s practice from media outlets primarily interested in speaking with Masoli."

Williford also reiterated interview policies for Duck football players. Media requests must be made no later than 6 p.m. a day ahead; interviews will only take place after practie; and student-athletes with academic obligations will not be available for interviews to allow them to get to class.

Spring football practice culminates May 1 with the annual Spring Game at Autzen Stadium.