After months of message board rumors and shady NCAA silence, Ole Miss has finally received clarity on the status of its star left tackle. Laremy Tunsil has been issued a seven-game suspension by the NCAA and he'll be eligible to return against Texas A&M on Oct. 24, the school said in a Monday night press release. The six games Tunsil has already sat out will count towards that suspension, as will this Saturday's matchup against Memphis.
Aaaaand here's some bad news
Aaaaand here's some bad news
Here are the details of the NCAA's findings, per the release:
During the course of the process, it was determined by the NCAA that Tunsil received impermissible extra benefits that included the use of three separate loaner vehicles over a sixth-month period without payment, a four-month interest-free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment for purchasing a used vehicle, two nights of lodging at a local home, an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate, and one day use of a rental vehicle. In addition, it was determined that Tunsil was not completely forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators regarding the loaner vehicles. He later corrected his account and since apologized.
That's a significantly longer list of infractions than was reported last month by ESPN, which only mentioned the use of a loaner car.
Tunsil, as you surely know by now, has been sitting while the NCAA sniffed around his laundry, the result of improper benefits allegations made by his stepdad in the wake of a June fistfight that led to charges filed (and eventually dropped) by both sides.
Statement from Tunsil
I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made and want to thank everyone for their continued support. I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Ole Miss family for how my choices affected our program. This was a learning experience, and I'm looking forward to being back on the field with my team and redeeming myself. The last 10 months have been a physical and mental battle for me, but I love playing this game more than anything else. I want to be here for my teammates who are depending on me to finish what we started together.
Statement from Hugh Freeze
We have been supportive of Laremy throughout this process, and we are thankful he can return to competition starting with the Texas A&M game. More important than his football ability is his character, and I am confident that Laremy will grow from this experience and continue to be a positive member of the University and our football team.
Why 7 games and why did it take so long for the NCAA to announce?
NCAA policy states that any impermissible benefit valued over $700 leads to a suspension of 30 percent of the season, which, in a 12-game football season, comes out to four games. Georgia wideout A.J. Green got four games in 2010 for pocketing $1,000 off the sale of one of his jerseys, as did Georgia running back Todd Gurley for bringing in $3,000 off of signed memorabilia last season.
But that same rule gives the NCAA authority to tack on extra games depending on mitigating factors, which it used to hike Tunsil's suspension up to seven games, though the release doesn't mention what the total value of the benefits comes to.
(Side note: I'm not real sure how the "two nights lodging at a local home" constitutes an impermissible benefit -- you have to pay to crash at someone's house now?).
But perhaps the biggest reason for the added games is that Tunsil "was not completely forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators." The NCAA, being the petty organization that it is, doesn't take kindly to being lied to.
Why it took so long for this decision to be made is another matter. As pointed out by Grantland's Matt Hinton, none of the other 20 players that have been suspended by the NCAA for impermissible benefits over the last five years have sat out more than two games before being told how long the suspension would be. In the case of Green and Gurley, the suspension lengths were formally announced before the second game was served.
What does this mean in terms of actual football?
It's tough to argue that Tunsil or any other one player could have made the difference against Florida, though it's undeniable that awful offensive line play was the most significant contributing factor in that 28-point blowout loss in the Swamp. Either way, a Rebs' O-line that's among the worst in the country in run blocking and ranks second to last in the SEC in passing-down sack rate will be better with Tunsil on the field.
And it's more than just getting an All-American brick wall back in front of Chad Kelly's blind side -- Tunsil's return willl have a ripple effect along the whole offensive front. Fahn Cooper, who's struggled against speed rushers while filling in for Tunsil, can slide back to his natural home at right tackle, which in turn takes redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings off the field. It'd be nice to get Tunsil back immediately for Memphis, but the important thing is that he should be back to face Myles Garrett and an A&M pass rush that's second in the SEC in sacks. (First on the list? You guessed it: Florida.)
Freeze said during his Monday press conference that Tunsil would "absolutely" return to the starting lineup as soon as he is cleared.
If nothing else, Tunsil's return will provide a much-needed morale boost for a team that, on the immediate heels of losing in Gainesville, lost its veteran middle linebacker to injury and watched a star cornerback quit the team.