It was starting to look like an NCAA investigation coming up on a spritely five years of age was dragging to close, but a few new wrinkles complicate things.
Following the discouraging announcement in February of eight new allegations and a self-imposed bowl ban, the university released a response that indicated that it intended to fight the new charges. Regardless of whether they had a strong case, this meant the entire debacle was back to following actual deadlines, rather than the maddening process of allowing investigators to dig until they find something of substance.
After a series of eyebrow-raising lawsuits in which everybody sues everybody, it’s not only become clear that parties outside of the football program and the NCAA have something at stake in the probe, but this thing may go on even further than any recently adjusted timetable would suggest. Here’s every major related event that’s happened in the past year and a half.
January 2016: Ole Miss receives the first Notice of Allegations
The NCAA delivers the official findings of its investigation—which by now spans women’s basketball, track & field and football—to the Ole Miss athletics department. The University is permitted 90 days to respond, which is extended to 120 days after an unnamed third party requests additional time. For the moment, the investigation is over. At this point, the word from sources close to the program is that the most serious allegations were tied to Houston Nutt’s tenure, an assertion that’s been heavily scrutinized to this day.
April 2016: Laremy Tunsil suffers his draft-night debacle
Minutes before he’s expected to become the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Tunsil has his Twitter and Instagram accounts hacked. In addition to tweeting a video that shows Tunsil smoking marijuana out of a gas mask bong, the hacker releases screen shots of an alleged text message conversation in which Tunsil requests money from Ole Miss assistant A.D. John Miller. Later that night, in a hastily-arranged press conference, Tunsil appears to confess to taking money from Ole Miss coaches during his collegiate career. In response, Ole Miss and the NCAA re-open their investigation into the football program.
May 2016: Ole Miss responds to the first Notice of Allegations
Ross Bjork and the athletics department make public the NOA received in January, which includes 28 violations across three sports—13 of which are football-related. In an effort to satiate the NCAA before it levies its own punishments, the university self-imposes a one-year postseason ban for the women’s basketball team and a reduction of 11 football scholarships over four years.
August 2016: The NCAA starts interviewing rival players
Reports surface that investigators are speaking with players from rival schools (including Mississippi State), offering them immunity from any potential NCAA violations in exchange for information about their recruitment to Ole Miss. Some of the allegations included in the second NOA almost assuredly come from these interviews.
December 2016: Ole Miss fires Barney Farrar
Farrar, a recruiting assistant who’d been mentioned by name during Laremy Tunsil’s alleged text convo asking for money, is shown the door, suggesting that the investigation has turned up dirt on him. Months later, Farrar’s attorney will make the claim that the firing was an attempt to lay a disproportionate amount of blame on the former coach.
February 2017: Ole Miss receives the second NOA
With the NCAA having concluded its post-draft hacking followup, Ole Miss announces that a second notice of allegations adds eight new levies against the Rebel football program, including the damning charge of lack of institutional control. The university releases a video in which Chancellor David Vitter, Athletic Director Ross Bjork, and head coach Hugh Freeze announce a self-imposed football bowl ban for the 2017 season while vowing to contest the majority of the new allegations.
The weight of the new charges suggests that perhaps it would be more practical to cut Freeze loose if it means ending the years-long probe and moving on.
June 6, 2017: Ole Miss releases its response to the NOA
The school presents a different tone entirely, as they make it clear they’ll be sticking by Freeze. Given the near-immediate success he had brought to the program, it isn’t a shock how much equity he has built up among boosters and fans, but it may still come as a surprise to some the lengths to which the administration defends him.
The main point of emphasis in the response is that Freeze has made compliance a rigorous fixture in football operations, and that the parties involved in breaking rules acted on their own, rather than part of a grand scheme. In addition, the university points out the shaky quality of evidence on which the new allegations were based, focusing on an inconsistent account from Leo Lewis. About that ...
June 12, 2017: Rebel Rags sues Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones
It takes less than a week for some fallout to emerge from what the NOA revealed. The Oxford-based retailer cites significant financial damage as the basis of its lawsuit after Lewis and Jones claim to have received more than $2,800 in gear. There are a lot of ways to interpret Rebel Rags’ actions, the most popular among Ole Miss fans being that this side-show could lead to the MSU players’ testimonies being deemed unreliable evidence. As of now, that remains nothing more than hopeful conjecture, and the saga continues.
July 12, 2017: Houston Nutt sues Ole Miss athletics
The lawsuits continue to pile up, as the former Rebel head coach announces his intention to sue the Ole Miss athletics foundation, the university itself, and the Board of Trustees for Institutions of High Learning. The driving point of his case is that Freeze and others damaged his reputation as a football coach by casting blame on him for the program’s NCAA troubles. As hard to take seriously as Nutt’s statement may be, Freeze really doesn’t need this right now, especially if it implies depositions are to come.