The NCAA's latest effort to exert its venal, exploitative choke-hold on the livelihoods and eligibilities of those it professes to protect has landed in Oxford, where All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil is now on the receiving end of microscopic examinations into his extended use of a rental car that may or may not have been paid for, according to ESPN's Chris Low.
Details are so far mercurial and scarce on Tunsil's supposed violations -- Neal McCready, for what it's worth, hinted that Low is severely misinformed about Tunsil's infraction -- but the specifics of those violations are not wholly pertinent to the larger question of why this investigation began in the first place.
NCAA suits have been digging around in Ole Miss' laundry for more than three years now, sifting through alleged violations that date back to the Houston Nutt administration. Real, earnest investigations didn't begin until after 2013's recruiting coups, which sparked such a hailstorm of speculation and recrimination that Hugh Freeze exhorted anyone with evidence of recruiting violations to kindly email the compliance office. That the NCAA finds message-board or Twitter rumor-mongering grounds for a full-fledged inquiry into recruiting improprieties is sinister in the extreme, since "widespread innuendo" now apparently elides with "firm evidence" of rulebook infractions.
Fast forward to June 2015 and the serpentine saga of Tunsil's arrest for assault after knocking on his stepfather Lindsey Miller during an argument either (a) about Miller pushing Laremy's mother or (b) Miller and Laremy disagreeing on the appropriateness of riding in cars with possible sports agents. In the midst of that case -- which, mind you, saw both sides drop their respective complaints -- Lindsey Miller spouted off that Tunsil had received benefits in violation of the NCAA's paltry and altogether labyrinthine by-laws. Worse still, Lindsey Miller himself sent pictures of his injuries to ESPN completely unsolicited:
After the incident occurred, Miller sent pictures to ESPN.com showing bruises on his face. He said the whole thing escalated because he was so angry at Tunsil for being so "stupid" for riding around in cars with agents and jeopardizing his eligibility. Sources told ESPN.com that [NCAA lead investigator Mike] Sheridan has had multiple conversations with Miller since that incident and has talked with somewhere between 10 and 20 Ole Miss football players ... Miller told ESPN.com at the time that he had spent his own money and time driving Tunsil to all-star games and camps and "this is the thanks I get."
Framed thus, Miller says that the disagreement arose because he was trying to protect Laremy's eligibility, which is laughably rich considering it was Miller's questionable claim about benefits that brought NCAA prospectors down on Tunsil in the first place. We're already here, why not screw around with this guy's standing?
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, let's take a short retrospective into the hapless suspension of Todd Gurley. Gurley was suspended four games last season because a vindicative, angry memorabilia dealer with dubious ties to Florida ratted him out to at least two national outlets, including SB Nation. The "video evidence" included by the would-be snitch appeared to show Gurley (maybe?) signing a mini-helmet in the front seat of a car. In its infinitely draconian sense of self-importance and faux-policement, the NCAA demanded that Gurley pay back the $3,000 he had earned for the use of his own name, in addition to the four game suspension that Georgia had self-imposed on him in the first place.
UGA's self-imposed suspension in the Gurley matter is key to the Laremy Tunsil situation. Note that the NCAA has issued not a single peep regarding the nature of Tunsil's infraction. Rather, the NCAA vultures are circling while they "investigate" the very serious and problematic matter of Tunsil possibly -- maybe -- receiving money or other munificence while competing in a very lucrative sporting enterprise. This investigation, in turn, has strong-armed Ross Bjork and Hugh Freeze into benching Tunsil lest any evidence come to light that Tunsil accepted benefits in excess of who the fuck cares what.
And so we're left with a whole summer's worth of billable hours being poured into lead investigator Mike Sheridan's pockets while he snoops around Oxford looking for foolproof evidence of Tunsil's guilt, which is already assumed in the first place, since why else would his stepfather bandy about such allegations after getting his ass beat? Make sure to keep your receipts, Lead Investigator Mike Sheridan, those NCAA expense accounts are paperwork nightmares.
This is the nature of preemptive NCAA punishments, then. Ole Miss must cover its ass, and in so doing hold out one of the five best players in the country, in order to avoid a possible punishment from the NCAA in the future. As we all learned from Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush and USC, wins are easily vacated, regardless of how long after the fact infractions are found. And never mind Laremy Tunsil, the student athlete whose draft stock -- and therefore livelihood -- has been put at risk by this circus.