In a YouTube video released Wednesday afternoon, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork — flanked by University Chancellor Jeff Vitter and head football coach Hugh Freeze — announced that, in response to eight new NCAA allegations against the Rebel football program, the school has self-imposed a one-year postseason ban.
Among the allegations brought to light is the dreaded “lack of institutional control” on the part of the university. It’s also alleged that a former staffer paid between $13,000-15,000 dollars to a prospect. One player allegedly enjoyed a smattering of hunting trips on a booster’s private land, and other sundry benefits stemming from meals and lodging fill out the rest.
While discussing the NCAA’s latest letter to Oxford, Bjork was vigorous in his insistence that Ole Miss would contest the majority of the new allegations, including the lack of institutional control. Bjork said the university would release its full response to the allegations “once all involved parties and their counsel have had a full and fair opportunity to review its contents, conduct any additional work, and provide their responses.” Ole Miss has 90 days from the time it received the Notice of Allegations to do so.
The bowl ban and the 11 football scholarships previously self-withdrawn by the university could be just the beginning of the punishment, mind you. Ole Miss will eventually face an Committee on Infractions, which will decide what disciplinary measures the NCAA will take. Sources told RebelGrove.com in January that the NCAA wants a two-year bowl ban and show-causes for multiple Ole Miss coaches.
The silver lining in all of this is that Bjork confirmed that the investigation has formally concluded. As damaging as the bowl ban and whatever else the NCAA cooks up is, bearing through four-plus years of uncertainty has been worse.
Here’s the full list of new allegations, according to Bjork
1. The first allegation – it is alleged that a prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete A) went hunting near campus on private land owned by a booster during his official visit in 2013 and on two or three occasions after he enrolled, and that the access to this land was arranged by the football program. This has been alleged as a Level III violation.
2. The second allegation – it is alleged that between March 2014 and January 2015, a former staff member (Former Staff Member A) impermissibly arranged for recruiting inducements in the form of lodging and transportation for one prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete B) (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions on several visits to campus and for the impermissible transportation of another prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete C) on one occasion. The total value of the lodging and/or transportation between the two prospective student-athletes is alleged to be $2,272. It is also alleged that the football program provided approximately $235 in free meals to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and Prospective Student-Athlete C and the friends of Prospective Student-Athlete B during recruiting visits in this same timeframe. The allegation is alleged as a Level I violation.
3. Third, it is alleged that Former Staff Member A violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly committed NCAA recruiting violations between March 2014 and February 2015 and when he knowingly provided false or misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff in 2016. This is charged as a Level I violation.
In the fourth allegation, we agree that evidence exists to support some – but not all – of the events alleged.
4. In the fourth allegation, it is alleged that between April 2014 and February 2015, Former Staff Member A initiated and facilitated two boosters having impermissible contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). It is further alleged that these two boosters provided Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) with impermissible cash payments during that timeframe and that Former Staff Member A knew about the cash payments. The value of the alleged inducements according to the NCAA is between $13,000 and $15,600. This is charged as a Level I violation.
The university believes there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to conclude that the impermissible contact outlined in the fourth allegation occurred. However, we are still evaluating whether there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to support the alleged payments and will make that determination over the course of the next 90 days.
Setting aside those four allegations, the university will contest the following allegations in full:
5. Allegation number five – It is alleged that one former staff member (Former Staff Member B) arranged for a friend of the family of Prospective Student-Athlete D to receive impermissible merchandise from a store owned by a booster on one occasion in 2013 and that Former Staff Member A arranged for Prospective Student-Athletes B and E (both student-athletes enrolled at another institution) to receive merchandise in 2014, 15, and 16. The value of the alleged impermissible recruiting inducements is approximately $2,800 and is charged as a Level I violation.
6. Number six – It is alleged and we will contest that, in 2014 a current football coach had impermissible, in-person, off-campus contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). This allegation is charged as a Level III violation.
7. Allegation seven – It is alleged that a booster provided money, food and drinks to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions at the booster’s restaurant on two-to-three unspecified dates between March 2014 and January 2015. The value of the alleged inducements is between $200 and $600. This allegation is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
8. Another Allegation that we will contest is number eight – It is alleged that the head football coach violated head coach responsibility legislation. This allegation is not based upon personal involvement in violations by Coach Freeze but because he is presumed responsible for the allegation involving his staff that occurred between October 2012 and January 2016. Although we disagree, according to the NCAA, Coach Freeze has not rebutted the presumption that he is responsible for his staff’s actions. This is charged as a Level I violation.
9. Finally, allegation nine – It is alleged that the scope and nature of the violations demonstrate that the university lacked institutional control and failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program. This charge replaces the more limited failure to monitor charge in the January 2016 Notice of Allegations. This is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
How’d we get here?
Ole Miss thought that this investigation had concluded last April when it received an initial notice of allegations outlining 28 violations across three sports, including 13 from the football program. The university announced at the time that it would self-impose a postseason ban in women’s basketball and a reduction of 11 scholarships in football.
Then came the 2016 NFL Draft, during which Laremy Tunsil’s social media accounts were hacked and used to post screenshots of an alleged text message conversation in which he asked an Ole Miss staff for money. During a press conference later that evening, Tunsil seemed to confirm that he did indeed accept money from Rebel coaches. ESPN later confirmed that the texts were real.
That incident hit the reset button, prompting Ole Miss and the NCAA to reopen the investigation into the football program (the case against women’s hoops and track were separated and have since reached a formal conclusion).
The original probe, which head coach Hugh Freeze has described as “a four-year colonoscopy,” began in September of 2012 with an inquiry into the Ole Miss women’s basketball team for suspected recruiting violations. However, the investigation quickly broadened to include the football team, as allegations of academic fraud surrounding former Houston Nutt assistant David Saunders began to arise. Of course, the historically great 2013 recruiting class only compounded the rumblings of impropriety, as fans of rival schools bombarded the Rebel compliance department with allegations of cheatin’.