Early in Ole Miss' response letter to the NCAA Notice of Allegations released last month, the university shrewdly points out that, by the time this matter is all said and done, it will have paid out more than $1.5 million in legal and investigative fees for a probe that unearthed little more than $15,000 worth of impermissible benefits to student-athletes.
Such a monstrous sum in the interests of turning up such a paltry infraction betrays two absurdities of today's NCAA: (1) that the organizing body of collegiate athletics and its member institutions are abundantly well-coined enough to pay their revenue sports laborers a fair wage; and (2) that the NCAA is so doofily self-important, and yet so woefully not self-aware, it's willing to air out a laundry bill in excess of a million dollars to justify some sort of punishment on an institution of higher learning in order to teach that institution about the rules of fair play and just action.
So what sort of revelations does a cool $1.5 million buy you? In addition to those infractions Lindsey Miller squawked to an enforcement panel in August 2015, here are some of the more colorful vignettes offered up in Ole Miss' response letter.
How Chris Vaughn and David Saunders fudged signees' ACT scores.
This is certainly Ole Miss' most egregious offense, not least because a monetary value can't be attached to the impermissible benefit. The response letter staunchly disavows that anyone else in the athletics department knew about Vaughn's and Saunders' coordinated efforts to falsify ACT scores in 2010. They acted alone, according to the university, full stop.
Apparently, Vaughn and Saunders told Student-Athletes 9, 10 and 11 to sit for the ACT on a specific day in June 2010 at Wayne County High School in Waynesboro, Miss. The student-athletes were instructed not to bubble in any answers to questions they didn't know. Then, the proctor for the exam that day enters the conspiracy:
Saunders arranged for Student‐Athlete 9, Student‐Athlete 10 and Student‐Athlete 11 to take the June 2010 ACT exam at Wayne County and arranged for the then ACT testing supervisor at Wayne County to complete and/or alter their exam answer sheets in such a manner that they received fraudulent exam scores.
This is how you get three badly needed recruits eligible for the upcoming football season. Interestingly, footnote 33 of the document reveals that the university still to this day has no idea who exactly was the exam proctor that altered the three answer sheets. Ole Miss also disputes the extent to which Saunders was directly involved.
The University unequivocally believes that Saunders was involved in (and likely spearheaded) the academic fraud but, in fairness, cannot agree with the specific allegation that he directed the testing coordinator to complete and/or alter answer sheets. Neither the University nor the enforcement staff has ever been able to determine who actually altered or completed the answer sheets.
Presumably this proctor is a high school administrator or instructor in the Wayne County public schools system, and he or she is walking around with three very large breaches of ethical conduct in their head, and nobody but Saunders or Vaughn might know who they are. Amazing.
The athletics department began a "high profile" athlete monitoring system in 2013.
With the recruiting coup of Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche, the university and athletics people seem to have foreseen that they had invited increased scrutiny from the NCAA and other SEC programs. To allay and combat the specter of allegations, sanctions and probations -- how'd that work out for them? -- the athletics department implemented a "high profile" athlete monitoring system starting in 2013.
The letter makes mention of the "high profile" athlete monitoring seven times, but never are details about what exactly it does revealed. It seems that players like Tunsil, Nkemdiche and Treadwell were subject to increased scrutiny of their finances, particularly their cars, and were hauled in for regular interviews with compliance staff to check up on where they were spending their money and in what amounts (or in Tunsil's case, whether he was spending any money at all). The enhanced monitoring system also included "extensive NCAA rules education," which Tunsil either slept through or consciously flouted because he could.
It's within this "high profile athlete" context that we learn the detailed and all-too-familiar relationship Tunsil had with the university's parking services office. For instance, athletics department people first learned of Tunsil's free Nissan Titan after discovering it booted in a parking lot often used by football players. Tunsil had failed to register the car with parking services, and thus also with the compliance office, and was immediately advised to return the car to the dealership.
We'll continue to post the more engaging vignettes from the university's response letter in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, do read it in full to get a fairly comprehensive portrait of how a high-level athletics department can bend and ultimately break the minutiae of the NCAA rulebook.