Ole Miss

What you need to know about Ole Miss’ response to NCAA’s allegations

Freeze AP

Ole Miss is completely backing its head coach, Hugh Freeze, and is prepared to fight the NCAA on a number of charges. That much was made clear Tuesday when the school released its 125-page response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations.

“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 claims “the violations are not the product of wholesale, systemic failures; the issues, while significant, are limited to their specific facts” and that “this case does not involve a head coach who facilitated or participated in violations or otherwise ignored red flags associated with them.”

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 head coach 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

Here are a number of notable topics from within Ole Miss’ response:

▪  Student Athlete 39: 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.”

Student-Athlete 39 is mentioned quite a bit in the response. At one point, Ole Miss calls into question the allegation of a $10,000 payment, saying the athlete provided two different accounts of the day he supposedly received $10,000 from a booster. In one interview, the athlete reportedly said the booster “provided him a wad of $100 bills;” while in another he reportedly said the booster “handed him a bag full of money.” Who instigated the alleged exchanges also differed in the two interviews, Ole Miss said. The school also calls into question the athlete’s timeline of events, among other supposed inconsistencies — such as the reported use of the money, like putting $6,885 toward a down payment on a Chrysler 300 sedan and giving his mother between $1,000 and $3,000 for a down payment on a new family home.

The school also calls into question the athlete’s “curious request” for limited immunity from NCAA sanctions for his testimony. Ole Miss goes as far as to claim that the athlete enjoyed causing his school’s rival harm when he tweeted a video of Heath Ledger’s Joker character from the Batman movies in response to the school announcing receipt of the NCAA’s NOA.

In a footnote, Ole Miss said it requested an interview with the athlete, but his coach “rejected the request outright.”

▪  David Saunders allegations: Ole Miss included a section under the subhead “The 2010 David Saunders Allegations.” Saunders, a former Rebel assistant coach who went on to coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, was recently relieved of his head coaching duties at Pearl River Community College. Ole Miss said the allegations all occurred in 2010 before Freeze, and the majority of the school’s administration arrived at the school.

“There are no existing eligibility issues to be resolved with respect to these charges,” of academic fraud and impermissible housing and transportation, the school said.

▪  Barney Farrar: Ole Miss said former off-field assistant Barney Farrar committed violations during his recruitment of [Student-Athlete 39’s] and “intentionally hid this misconduct from the University’s compliance staff and his head coach, and used multiple intermediaries in his scheme.” The school also claims Farrar “purposefully and actively” circumvented Ole Miss’ monitoring systems and “disregarded his head coach’s repeated directives.”

Ole Miss did add it contests some of the allegations facing Farrar.

Nonetheless, Farrar was placed on administrative leave in November and fired a month later.

Farrar’s attorney, Bruse Loyd, told Yahoo! last week he believes Ole Miss would make his client “ a scapegoat” and “throw him under the bus.”

▪  Booster disassociation: Ole Miss claims it has dealt with wayward boosters, “taking unprecedented action not only to disassociate and strip wrongdoers of their status at the University” but also ban them from attending home games and accessing athletic facilities.

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.

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.

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.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs