Ole Miss

Ole Miss imposes bowl ban; NCAA charges lack of institutional control

Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze watches his team warmup prior to playing Texas A&M in Oxford.
Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze watches his team warmup prior to playing Texas A&M in Oxford. AP File

The NCAA’s investigation into the Ole Miss football program has concluded, the school announced Wednesday.

In a video posted by the university, Ole Miss addressed the NCAA’s updated notice of allegations. The NCAA originally investigated the Ole Miss football, track and women’s basketball programs, but re-opened its case against the football team after lineman Laremy Tunsil’s disastrous 2016 NFL Draft day. The football investigation was separated from the other programs in October.

Included in the amended Notice of Allegations is a charge of lack of institutional control— which the school says it will fight. Ole Miss self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season. As a result, the school will forfeit its annual SEC postseason money, which is about $7.8 million, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said.

“While we vigorously disagree with some key allegations, and while we have had our differences on occasion with the NCAA about the investigative process, I want to thank everyone involved — here and at the NCAA — for working with us to bring this phase of the process to an end,” Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter said.

In the original NOA from January 2016, the Rebels football team faced 13 charges. Nine have either been added or “expanded” in the new NOA, Bjork said. He said none of the new allegations relate to the 2016 NFL Draft.

“I feel terrible for our players and staff who have to handle the consequences of the actions of a very few,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.

Allegations

Bjork said the school agreed with the NCAA on the first three allegations, where “there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to support the allegation.”

▪  A prospective student-athlete went hunting near campus on private land owned by a booster during his official visit in 2013 and two or three times after enrolling. The trips were arranged by the program, according to the allegations.

▪  Between March 2014 and January 2015, a former Ole Miss staff member arranged for lodging and transportation for one recruit (who enrolled elsewhere) and his “companions” on several campus visits and impermissible transportation of another prospect totaling $2,272.

▪  A former staff member knowingly provided false information to the institution and enforcement staff in 2016.

In another allegation, between April 2014 and February 2015, two boosters paid a prospect who enrolled at another school between $13,000 and $15,600. A former staff member is alleged to have known about the payments. The school disputes the alleged payments in that charge, according to Bjork.

Ole Miss will contest five more allegations.

▪  A former staff member arranged for a family friend of a prospect to receive merchandise from a store. The former staffer is also alleged to have arranged for two more prospects (who enrolled at another school) to receive merchandise in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Bjork said the value of the merchandise is about $2,800.

▪  A current coach had impermissible in-person contact with a prospect (who enrolled at another school) off campus.

▪  A booster provided money, food and drinks worth between $200 and $600 to a prospect and his companions at the booster’s restaurant on multiple occasions between March 2014 and January 2015.

▪  Freeze violated “head coach responsibility legislation” between October 2012 and January 2016.

▪  Ole Miss demonstrated a lack of institutional control “and failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program.” “We will vigorously defend the university against those allegations we believe are not appropriately supported, including that we lacked institutional control and that our head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or monitor staff in our football program,” Bjork said.

Bjork met with the Ole Miss football team along with Vitter and Freeze on Wednesday.

“As you might imagine, this was difficult news to share with our young men and coaches,” he said. “They will pay a price for the actions of a few, but I am confident that we will rebound from this adversity because of the strong foundation already in place.”

Bjork said he takes full responsibility “any time a violation of NCAA rules occurs on my watch.”

Vitter expects Ole Miss to release its full notice and the school’s response in late May. At the end of the 90-day response period, the NCAA will have 60 days to write a case summary followed by a hearing before the infractions committee.

Background

In August, Pat Forde of Yahoo! reported the NCAA offered immunity to several players at rival SEC West schools for testimony against the Rebels.

Accusations against the Ole Miss football program span the tenures of Houston Nutt and Freeze. Nutt coached the Rebels from 2008 to 2011 and Freeze’s first season was in 2012.

The NCAA’s investigation into track and women’s basketball concluded in October 2016.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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