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35,040 hours

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Four years, in hours.

Florida Gators v Mississippi Rebels Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The Ole Miss investigation is over. Four years of an NCAA probe drew to a close on Friday with the release of the Committee on Infractions’ final judgment. It’s draconian, over-the-top, and needlessly and imperiously self-important, as is always the case with the NCAA. Ole Miss’ bowl-less 2017 will be followed by another bowl-less 2018. Another trip around the sun.

Ole Miss football’s 2017 campaign wasn’t totally for nothing, though. In many ways it was, sure, what with the bowl ban and Shea Patterson going down with a knee injury not halfway through the season. But all told, a 6-6 finish under the thumb of reliable replacement Jordan Ta’amu is nothing to snark at, as these guys should be proud of what they did. And much of that responsibility lies with now full-time head coach Matt Luke, who motivated them through 13 weeks of a season that ended on Thanksgiving night, full stop.

We ran a similar exercise after last season, when Hugh Freeze’s ship finished 5-7 and excluded from bowl participation, not one year removed from an impressive Sugar Bowl beatdown on Oklahoma State. Writing a diagnosis of last season somehow feels innocent and easy given what the last 12 months have shown. We won’t do that here, because we’re here to talk about other things. The future, the past to a certain degree, and also the present.

Ole Miss was picked to finish dead last in the SEC West in 2017. They finished sixth out of seven, significantly ahead of lowly Arkansas. They beat Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, to their credit, but failed hard against Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Cal. It wasn’t an easy schedule down the stretch, but they did what they could, and they didn’t quit on themselves or each other.

Much of that credit should go to Luke.

Resignation

It’s somewhat disruptive for a college football program when an already embattled head coach up and resigns six weeks before a college football season is set to begin. Hugh Freeze did just that, because of moronic cell phone usage. It doesn’t matter anymore because Freeze has been slapped with a show-cause sanction and the staff that left with or before with him are also black-balled from coaching NCAA football. Good riddance.

At the time of the resignation, however, our thoughts around here weren’t so much dire as relieved. Finally this NCAA magnet is gone, ran our thinking, even though he had won a lot of football games, including two straight victories over Alabama and a slaughterfest in New Orleans over Oklahoma State in the 2016 Sugar Bowl.

Still, given the fallout of the spring and summer of 2017, we resigned ourselves to accept that Freeze needed to go, and we’re glad that he did. Rid Oxford of this NCAA-obsessed organism and let’s hunt elsewhere for less pestilential leadership. It was time.

Aside

Good friend Zach Berry wrote a terrific synopsis of the current football situation in Oxford earlier in the week, and he astutely quotes Richard Bachman as a sententia to carry us forward through the next four or so years of Ole Miss football: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

There’s a reason that Hope remains in Pandora’s Box, notwithstanding all of the evil and good that flies out of it into the human experience. Blaise Pascal understood this tenet as well. We can’t know with any certainty that Heaven or Hell exist — that we will face judgment after this life — but it’s in our best interest to assume that they do. Therefore, be good to each other. Therefore, be good, full stop.

It’s hope — the most fundamental of human feelings — that pushes a team and a coach and players under a postseason ban forward. Hope that next year will be different, better even. The great unknown, but cling to hope that it will turn out alright.

Regression

Four years of NCAA investigation and a finalizing COI decision that slaps down an extra bowl ban on Ole Miss and not much else beyond Ross Bjork’s preemptive sanctions on Rebel football. Four years, made up of 365 days each, and those days made up of 24 hours each, comes out to 35,040 hours of waiting.

35,040 hours of billable-hours NCAA lawyers digging around in Ole Miss’ laundry and toilets and engine tanks to mete out exactly how much NCAA money Ole Miss players — who always already aren’t paid for their labor — extracted from the university and thus from the NCAA. Quite some system you have there, NCAA. Four fucking years.

Four years of utter uncertainty, and thus four years of tarnished recruiting efforts. Four years and then now. An insane five months jumpstarted by a resignation and ricocheted back to earth by an 82-page COI letter. These so far are the bookends of my tenure as manager of this little shop. These come as the current station of my near-three year tenure as a writer at RCR. I entered the building at the middle of the drama, and now I’m overseeing its coverage finale.

Regrowth

All eligible Ole Miss seniors may transfer before next season. Shea Patterson has signed an agreement allowing him to essentially re-open his recruitment. The interim coach was hired as the head coach.

Depressing as those declaratives may be, there is reason for hope. Matt Luke and Ross Bjork have a large purse from which to pay a bevy of proven coordinators, should they decide to show Phil Longo, Wesley McGriff and others the door. Certainly the defense could benefit from some turnover in the offices. Tenacious recruiters and solid scheme minds are available everywhere, and that’s where money should be well spent.

If Patterson does leave, Jordan Ta’amu is a welcome return. He’s cool under pressure, has good decision making, and prefers running north-south rather than all over the damn yard. His arm is ballistic and accurate, and he carries with him loads of experience. There are whispers that Ole Miss is seeking to extend his eligibility by a year. Hell, even if Shea decides to stay, open up that starting position in spring camp to whoever’s best. Someone’s gotta find those stout receivers.

Return

Ole Miss went 6-6 in 2017 after going 5-7 in 2016. That would’ve made them bowl eligible this year, after they failed to qualify for a bowl based on APR score the year previous. This fizzling ember. What to do with it.

Return to it. Every year. Matt Luke will. A.J. Brown will, as will DaMarkus Lodge. Myriad guys will be back on this team in 2018 to dazzle us as they did in 2017. There’s no telling how that bowl-ban appeal will go, but it really doesn’t matter, because like the 2017 season, these guys want to play for each other. And they lit the field up.

It’s been four years, and it’s time to move on. Let’s do that. Together. Let’s return.