Of the eight new charges that have been levied against Ole Miss by the NCAA, one of the most damning is the allegation that a Rebel staffer knew that two boosters paid up to $15,600 in cash to an unnamed “Student-Athlete B.” It’s the pay-for-play smoking gun for which the NCAA spent over four years searching.
Neal McCready of RebelGrove.com is now reporting what was already widely rumored: that “Student-Athlete B” is in fact current Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, who flipped his commitment from Ole Miss to State in the 11th hour of the 2015 recruiting cycle. McCready reports that Lewis was one of the rival players who was interviewed by the NCAA under cover of immunity, and that he “sung about his recruiting.”
Here’s where the report gets really interesting, though:
Ole Miss, per multiple sources, possesses a recording, and has given the SEC a copy, of Lewis’ mother asking Ole Miss for money and detailing incentives she received from other programs, including Mississippi State.
If the Rebels are going down, it seems, they don’t intend to go down alone. This was an obvious potential consequence of the NCAA’s decision to interview players who didn’t go to Ole Miss—it inherently risks pulling that player’s school right down into the pit as well. If Lewis was paid 15 grand to go to school in Oxford, why is he in Starkville? It doesn’t take much deduction to figure out that the Rebels probably lost a bidding war.
McCready called the immunity interviews the “final straws” for an Ole Miss athletic administration that’s been seething behind closed doors as its rivals colluded with the NCAA. As SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey wrote earlier this week, things could get ugly for the SEC if the Rebels decide to start pulling rivals down with them.
Obviously Ole Miss can’t retaliate in any formal way. But far from the above-board practices of major programs, there’s a dense network of boosters, university employees, and middlemen who both create and solve problems in recruiting.
Rival coaching staffs file formal complaints against one another regularly, but among individuals who do the actual compensating of recruits, the philosophy of mutually assured destruction has been a loose rule.
If Ole Miss or any SEC program goes completely under for recruiting violations tied directly to allegations from players at rival schools, the omerta among rival “bagmen” turns null. The prevailing sentiment in SEC recruiting is that no one dies alone. It’s possible the NCAA has not considered this scenario, or it’s possible it’s been aiming to create just such a moment.
Whether the SEC or NCAA will actually do anything about the Lewis tape remains to be seen. My guess is that the decision makers would rather keep the investigation contained to Oxford, where they can make a tidy example of Ole Miss without risking the scandal spreading into an epidemic that threatens the conference itself. If enough of this goes public, however, they won’t have a choice.