Ole Miss

Ole Miss releases its response to NCAA’s notice of allegations

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze looks on against Memphis at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Mississippi takes on LSU on Saturday.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze looks on against Memphis at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Mississippi takes on LSU on Saturday. AP

Plenty has been made about NCAA’s seemingly never ending investigation into Ole Miss’ football program. Now the program is telling — at least in part — its side.

Ole Miss released its 125-page response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations on Tuesday

“Although we agree several violations occurred, we do not agree that credible and persuasive evidence supports all of the allegations in the Notice,” Ole Miss said in its release, specifically pointing to allegations of a lack of institutional control and head coach responsibility, among others.

Ole Miss said that due to a pending case before the Mississippi Ethics Commission third party names were redacted from the response.

NCAA charges

In the original NOA in January 2016, the Ole Miss football team faced 13 charges. Nine charges were either added or expanded in the NCAA’s amended NOA in February.

Among the allegations, the NCAA charged Ole Miss with a lack of institutional control and Freeze with poor oversight of his assistants, who are accused of a number of violations.

At the time, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork — with Hugh Freeze and school chancellor Jeffrey Vitter by his side — said the school would contest five of the new charges. Ole Miss had a 90-day deadline to issue a formal response, leading to the latest release. The NCAA now has 60 days to build its case summary before going before the Committee on Infractions.

The response

In a number of allegations, Ole Miss says the testimony of a former recruit, who signed with another program, “was, at best, incomplete and inconsistent. In critical part, [Student-Athlete 39’s] testimony was either contradicted or not corroborated by his friends and family and, in several instances, refuted by objective facts.

“Nevertheless, the enforcement staff, and thus the Notice, embrace all of [Student Athlete 39’s] accusations.”

More background

The NCAA started investigating Ole Miss’ football, track and women’s basketball programs back in 2012. After previously concluding the football investigation, the NCAA re-opened the case after lineman Laremy Tunsil’s disastrous 2016 NFL Draft day. The NCAA separated the football investigation from the other programs in October.

According to Yahoo! reporter Pat Forde, the NCAA offered immunity to several players at rival SEC West programs for testimony against Ole Miss.

Accusations span the tenures of both Houston Nutt and Freeze. Nutt coached in Oxford from 2008 to 2011; Freeze took over in 2012.

Rebel Road Trip

Back in April, when Bjork and Freeze were in Pascagoula for the annual Rebel Road Trip stop, both tried to ease the concerns of their fans.

Ole Miss has already self-imposed a reduction of 11 scholarships over four years, cut its number of “evaluation days” and official visits and implemented a 2017 bowl ban. Ole Miss also said Tuesday it has disassociated itself from involved boosters.

“There’s so much to gain during a football season,” Freeze said in April. “It’s certainly disappointing to not have the opportunity (to play for a bowl), but there will be lessons learned from going through this. They’ll have their own set of values late in life. It will have no effect on them developing as a player, person and in academics.”

After seeing plenty of success during Freeze’s tenure, including a Sugar Bowl victory in 2015, the Rebels failed to make the postseason last season after a 5-7 finish.

Recruiting hit

The NCAA cloud has smothered the program’s recruiting efforts.

According to 247Sports.com’s composite team rankings, the Rebels ranked 8th nationally in 2013, 15th in ’14, 17th in ’15 and 5th in ’16. February’s class, however, plummeted to 31st. Very early rankings for the 2018 class have Ole Miss 45th, which is good enough for 10th in the conference.

The Sun Herald is working to update this report.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs