Ole Miss finally got its answer from the NCAA on whether or not it will be eligible to play in a bowl game this season.
The answer is no.
On the eve of a matchup against South Carolina in which the Rebels are favored to win their sixth game of the year, Ole Miss announced that the NCAA has formally upheld the program’s 2018 bowl ban, bringing an end to a months-long appeal process.
That certainly sucks for guys like Jordan Ta’amu, A.J. Brown and Greg Little, who will play their last game as Rebels in the Egg Bowl. According to Ole Miss, it also costs the university some $8 million in bowl revenue. And it’s probably a bummer for fans who for some reason wanted to spend a late-December weekend in Birmingham.
Overall, however, Thursday’s appeal decision was a massive win for the Ole Miss program. That’s because it overturned an overbearing recruiting penalty that would have severely limited Matt Luke’s ability to get top recruits onto campus.
The bowl ban stands, but the limit on unofficial recruiting visits has been overturned.
When the NCAA formally announced its punishments following a five-year investigation into the Ole Miss program, one of the most peculiar items on the list was a limit to unofficial visits. Per the NCAA, recruits would be able to make just one unofficial visit to campus.
That punishment is no more. According to the appeal committee “the Committee on Infractions (COI) abused its discretion when prescribing [unofficial visit restrictions] in that it was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.” It’s been overturned completely, allowing Luke to go about recruiting as normal.
The unofficial visitor limit was an overstep by the infractions committee.
The NCAA carefully limits the number of official recruiting visits, or visits in which the host school pays for lodging, food, etc. A visit is considered unofficial if the recruit or his family pays their own way. The NCAA sets no limits on these, which makes perfect sense. If a recruit and his family want to go watch a college football game, they, like everyone else in America, are free to do so.
Which is what made the NCAA’s restriction so draconian.
The limit would have been a logistical nightmare at best and a crippling blow to recruiting at worst.
Just consider the logistics of this for a moment. On top of all of the work that goes into trying to convince 18-year old recruits to come visit their campus, Luke and his staff would have had to ensure that recruits weren’t coming to campus. If a guy who’d already gone on his authorized unofficial visit decided to pile into the car with his buddies for a last-minute trip to the Grove, Ole Miss would theoretically be in violation of the NCAA’s directive.
Monitoring and managing those unofficial trips would have been a logistical nightmare if not an impossibility altogether.
Even if Luke’s staff were successful at avoiding additional violations, it would have meant actively turning away recruits who wanted to come to campus. That would have been particularly damaging for the recruitment of local players, whose frequent unofficial trips to Oxford are one of Ole Miss’ most significant advantages. Consider that Nakobe Dean, a five-star linebacker from nearby Horn Lake, has made seven unofficial trips to Ole Miss since August. Or four-star Memphian Eric Gray, whose two unofficial visits since March have people thinking he may end up flipping from his commitment to Michigan.
The best part of the appeal decision, though? It means the NCAA investigation has finally ended.
The NCAA’s investigation into the Ole Miss athletics department begin in October 2012 after the Rebels fired a women’s basketball coach for recruiting violations. It mutated and spread over the years, eventually encompassing Hugh Freeze’s up-and-coming football program. The investigation eventually cost Ole Miss the most successful coach in program history and handicapped its ability to hire a replacement. It allowed talented players—including the former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country, Shea Patterson—to transfer after crippling punishments were administered. It’s been an ever-escalating nightmare for Rebel fans for nearly two full years.
Now it’s over. Ole Miss still has to sit out a bowl game this season and recruiting restrictions and a probationary period will continue for another three years, but the never-ending investigation and its judgment process has ended.
A dark cloud of uncertainty has finally be lifted. Luke can focus on building his program. Rebel fans can hope for a brighter future.
And Nakobe Dean can visit Oxford whenver he damn well pleases.