Good news first. It’s all over.
And now the bad news. We didn’t get any good news today.
In case you have no cell phone service or no internet, you probably missed that the NCAA came down hard on Ole Miss today, hanging them a two-year bowl ban, probation that runs concurrently for a total of four years, financial penalties, a total of 13 scholarship reductions, and every coach named in the Notice of Allegations was given a show-cause.
So where do we go from here? Honestly, cheer up. It’s over. No more waiting. No more checking your Twitter timeline for updates, scouring message boards for “SOURCES”, having to answer texts from friends about “hey you heard anything”. It’s gone. The uncertainty that hung over this program is no longer a factor. The dark cloud that made its home in Oxford for the better part of five years is slowly making its way elsewhere.
So. Now what do we do?
The scholarship reductions are actually not bad.
The fact that Ole Miss was able to only receive three(!) additional scholarships deducted a year is a God send. Losing double-digit scholarship reductions would have been devastating. The bowl ban sucks, but losing the ability to offer a full-ride to a player you are recruiting is awful. Even worse, is losing the ability to offer an entire side of the field a scholarship. Despite the additional bowl and probation, the penalties handed down for scholarships was actually pretty light.
The good news is this is something Ole Miss can survive. Especially with a staff that currently recruits fairly well and an in-state class in 2019 that is the best I’ve ever seen in my 30 years on this planet. If Matt Luke and whoever is retained on his staff can pinpoint on roster needs, find fits, and sign them while getting through this, it shouldn’t be awful. Hopefully. The bad news as it pertains to schollies, well there isn’t any. Ole Miss dodged a bullet on that one.
Will Ole Miss appeal?
The last two programs to be slammed by the NCAA were Penn State and Southern Cal. The Nittany Lions were hit with a four-year bowl ban by the NCAA following former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's conviction on 45 counts of child abuse in 2012. They later ended the postseason ban two years early. Yes, you read that right. Pennsylvania State University harbored a fugitive essentially for decades, allowing him to commit unspeakable acts, and the NCAA overturned their decision and PSU won their appeal.
Southern Cal was also slammed by the NCAA, including four years probation, a two-year football postseason ban, vacation of regular and postseason wins, and scholarship reductions. The case primarily involved agent and amateurism violations for former football student-athlete Reggie Bush. This was by far one of the worst punishments handed down since SMU football received the death penalty, yet the Trojans were able to navigate their way through it and win their appeal as well. A year later, they were back to “normal”.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ole Miss isn’t Penn State or Southern Cal”. Yes, I am aware. But, the fact remains, the NCAA is willing to listen to appeals no matter how bad apparently. Now, it remains to be seen how much weight they put into Ole Miss’ penalties and what they did. Will they stick to their guns and punish Ole Miss for letting kids sleep on couches and paying players hundreds of dollars? If the NCAA decides to toss out Ole Miss’ appeal all the while granting normalcy to PSU and USC after a rape scandal and buying student-athletes houses and cars and giving them thousands of dollars then, well, shit. We never stood a chance.
Will players transfer?
These sanctions are not only going to affect the long-term future of the program, but also could shift the immediate. SB Nation has some in-sight on what the Rebels are looking at currently.
Here’s what the NCAA has to say about current players transferring:
"It is not necessary for an institution to obtain permission in writing to recruit a student-athlete at an institution that has been placed on probation with sanctions that preclude it from competing in postseason competition during the remaining seasons of the student-athlete's eligibility. However, the student-athlete's institution must be notified of the recruitment and may establish reasonable restrictions related to the contact (e.g., no visits during class time), provided such restrictions do not preclude the opportunity for the student-athlete to discuss transfer possibilities with the other institution."
Names that come to mind immediately are quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, and defensive end Breeland Speaks. These three played significant snaps on the 2017 team and seem likely to either bolt for another school or declare for the NFL Draft to avoid this altogether. Ole Miss officials did indicate on Friday that the school will appeal the postseason ban for 2018, but players could be leaving.
Here is some nuance for you. Seniors wanting to go somewhere to play a bowl game or get closer to home for their last year in college is one thing. But, juniors is another. Players like quarterback Shea Patterson, offensive lineman Greg Little, and wide receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf could potentially leave and go somewhere else that is not on probation or serving a bowl ban. But is that wise? You’re going to have to uproot your life, move somewhere else, learn a new system, compete for playing time, go to class, and prepare yourself for the biggest job interview of your life.
Yes, it could happen. Parents and friends get in ears and give “advice”. But players don’t always transfer when they say they do. Hell, if anything, a bowl game could be looked at as another opportunity to get injured and lose millions of dollars. Penn State and Southern Cal saw less than 10 players leave, most ended up rallying around the program and staying. Will that happen at Ole Miss? We shall see.
What does this mean long-term?
This is currently in a holding pattern because Ole Miss plans on “vigorously” appealing all this bullshit, according to a statement released by the school Friday afternoon.
But, for now, this is just going to take some time. Maybe a weekend, maybe a month, maybe not until the Grove Bowl next year. But, fans will get over it. Players will stay. Players will go. Coaches will stay. Coaches will go. Some will have to, show-causes and what not. But, for now, Ole Miss looks to be okay for the future.
The bowl ban sucks, sure, but it’s just for one more year. Ole Miss could be a better team in 2018, but we don’t know for sure. Odds are they were going to be about the same as this year. They’re still dealing with a depleted defensive roster and last time I checked, they still compete in the SEC West. So it was still going to be a tough go.
But, with the ban up in 2019, a loaded in-state class, and the ability to go out and potentially upgrade your staff, Ole Miss could be back to some form of normal in 2019 and 2020. Maybe.
Long story short, it sucks but it’s going to be okay. You’re going to have to listen to friends and family who are not Ole Miss fans make fun of us for “losing” and for getting caught “cheating” but no matter how many jokes Alabama fans make, Hugh Freeze still whipped that ass two years in a row, LSU got boat-raced by Chad Kelly and Co. on senior night, and we still went to the Sugar Bowl and forced Mike Gundy into a mid-life crisis.
Yeah, you might say I’m holding on to the past, but fuck, at this point what else do we have at this very moment? Is that petty? No, I don’t believe so. I’m just remembering that through all this, it wasn’t all for naught. Sure there were terrible times. But, whether it was signing top 10 recruiting classes, winning games against storied programs with all-time great coaches, or Laremy Tunsil catching a daggum touchdown and dancing with the entire fan base in the streets of New Orleans, it was fun as hell.
But, like I said, future memories will be made, good and bad. And things are always going to get worse before they get better. Ole Miss football is still good for now. And like our dear friend Richard Bachman says...
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Ole Miss is wounded, but we ain’t dead, y’all. Not even close.