Are you ready for some arcane legal procedure talk? Because we are too.
The dust hasn’t fully settled on the NCAA investigation into Ole Miss’ nefarious recruiting practices. Certainly not those activities surrounding two former Rebel prospects, Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones, who are currently being sued for defamation and other sundry misdeeds by Oxford sports retailer Rebel Rags, which was cited by both Mississippi State signees as a one-stop-shop for free Rebel apparel on the promise that both prospects would sign with Ole Miss football.
Lewis and Jones didn’t sign with Ole Miss football — they signed with in-state rival Mississippi State — and to be sure they offered, um, “testimony” to NCAA investigators implicating the Oxford retailer as a central figure in the distribution of illicit collegiate inducements in the form of sweatshirts and sweatpants and whatnot. Which they readily accepted, no less. Quelle horreur.
This quite obviously constitutes a major college scandal on a national scale, and now defamation lawsuits have sprung out of it.
Back up, why are two Mississippi State football players being sued by an Ole Miss apparel store?
Way back when, Lewis and Jones told the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions that Rebel Rags handed them free apparel as apparent recruiting incentives, and that there information came out in last year’s NOA letter to Ole Miss. Rebel Rags was subsequently disassociated from conducting business with the Ole Miss athletics department, a fairly significant stiff arm in a college town as small as Oxford.
Citing a hit to revenue, blemished reputation and untrue statements to the NCAA, Rebel Rags sued both players in response, and the defamation case returned to Lafayette County courtrooms last Thursday, where a federal judge struck down the Lewis and Jones attorneys’ interlocutory appeals to rehear motions that the case be moved out of Lafayette County, Miss., where Rebel Rags is located, and which is also the home of the University of Mississippi.
So, after speaking with no fewer than three attorneys, here’s about as streamlined a narrative as we can piece together as of now: 1) Rebel Rags — an Ole Miss apparel outfitter based in Oxford, Miss. — filed a defamation lawsuit against two Mississippi State football players in Oxford, Miss.; 2) those players’ legal teams asked via appeal to a federal court — which was previously struck down — then via interlocutory appeal that the venue for the lawsuit be moved out of Oxford, Miss., and a federal judge denied that request as well, pending an additional appeal on the part of Lewis and Jones.
Lewis and Jones’ rationale for moving the case out of Lafayette County should be clear: they signed with Ole Miss’ most detested rival, then snitched to the NCAA about illicit benefits received in Oxford. They’re just asking that the case be moved out of a sense of fairness.
All caught up? Good.
In short, though, following last Thursday’s development, it would appear that this particular defamation suit will be heard in a Lafayette County court, pending a successful future appeal on the part of Lewis and Jones’ legal teams to move it elsewhere.
In the grand scheme of Ole Miss football’s NCAA albatross, this ranks very small.
The NCAA punishment is over. Ole Miss has already eaten a two-year bowl ban, the first of which was self-imposed, the second of which came down from the NCAA on high. The outward ripples of this case — as far as on-field, college football product are concerned — are detonated already. Rebel football elevated interim coach Matt Luke to full time man at the end of last season and, as far as we know right now, Luke’s rap sheet is clean.
A petty defamation case between an Ole Miss clothier and two Mississippi State football players should scan as rather insignificant in the college football landscape, and in a better world it probably would. This is Mississippi, however, and petty is significant. And further, and more to the point, this is the NCAA, and petty is significant.
This case could perhaps open a whole new can of worms, for everyone involved.
Right now the case is sitting in procedural limbo. Will it be heard in Oxford (probably), or elsewhere in Mississippi? What is Mississippi, really, if not a trite crucible of neighborly name-calling? Even so, the discovery and depositional process might make for some colorful question-and-answer.
This case potentially places Lewis and Jones under oath in officious deposition territory. Statements to the NCAA back in October, if retracted in front of a bench judge on tape in order to allay any alleged defamation over and against the Rebel Rags suit, constitute “perjury” as it were in the eyes of the NCAA. This could also work in the other direction, too, though: if Lewis and Jones say they did receive illicit inducements from Rebel Rags when they in fact didn’t, as Rebel Rags maintains, that position may land them in legally dubious waters on the other side. You know, the real legal side.
What we have here, then, is an Oxford-based business which has been identified by State signees as a conduit for funneling Ole Miss apparel to prospective recruits; that information was given up in the kangaroo court of an NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing and NOA letter. That allegation, which Rebel Rags strenuously denies, constitutes defamation in the eyes of Rebel Rags, because it’s patently false — who cares at this point whether it is or isn’t — and has harmed the clothier’s financial standing and business relationship with a lucrative local client, Ole Miss athletics.
Confused? We are too. Tired of it all? Very much the same.