Ole Miss

NCAA hits Ole Miss with sanctions including bowl ban. Chancellor says school will appeal.

In this Nov. 18, 2017, file photo, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke looks at the replay of a play on the video board. Ole Miss learned the NCAA’s ruling and will have a two-year bowl ban, among other sanctions.
In this Nov. 18, 2017, file photo, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke looks at the replay of a play on the video board. Ole Miss learned the NCAA’s ruling and will have a two-year bowl ban, among other sanctions. AP File

The Ole Miss football program is banned from postseason play for the 2018 season and faces reduced scholarships after the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions handed down penalties Friday.

The Ole Miss football program was charged with 21 allegations and 15 Level 1 violations.

The penalties are the result of a years-long investigation into the football program, its boosters and staff, including former head coach Hugh Freeze, who resigned in July amid allegations of conduct unbecoming of the university.

The penalties range in severity from banning post-season play to a cut in scholarships.

Ole Miss had already self-imposed a bowl ban this year and the sanctions call for banning bowl games for 2018 as well. And the committee upheld 13 self-imposed scholarship reductions.

“Our corrective actions showed how serious we took this case,” said Ross Bjork, Ole Miss athletics director in a press conference Friday. “We self-imposed very meaningful penalties and took appropriate action to take responsibility for the actions that resulted in violations.”

Bjork noted the committee accepted all of the self-imposed penalties.

“However,” he said, “we are in strong disagreement over the addition of the 2018 post-season ban and plan to launch the appeal right away.”

The 82-page report was made available to the public Friday morning. It states that “the violations resulted from a culture of rules violations being acceptable in the Mississippi football program,” including a “lack of institutional control.”

Among the penalties levied against the football program are:

▪  Probation from December 1, 2017, through November 30, 2020

▪  Bowl ban for 2017, which the school self-imposed before the penalties were issued, and in 2018

▪  Monetary fine of $179,797

▪  Reduction of 13 scholarships (self-imposed)

In a statement released by the university, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said Ole Miss will appeal the 2018 bowl ban.

“The additional postseason ban is excessive and does not take into account the corrective actions that we have made in personnel, structure, policies and processes to address the issues,” Vitter said in his news release.

Penalties for Freeze

Freeze, the school’s former head coach, was also disciplined by the NCAA. He will face a two-game suspension for the first two SEC games duration of the probation should he be hired by any school that is a member of the NCAA. The NCAA also ordered a one-year show cause, which means any school that wants to hire Freeze would have to appear before the infractions committee. The penalties only apply if Freeze takes a head coaching job but will not affect assistant positions.

Assistant coaches will also receive penalties, including former defensive assistant Chris Kiffin, who received a two-year show cause, according to Red Cup Rebellion.

Overview of the report’s analysis of infractions:

The report details each of the 21 infractions and the NCAA’s findings before detailing corrective and probationary penalties.

“The majority of the facts in this case surround conduct that occurred in the football program during the head coach’s (Hugh Freeze’s) tenure and largely involved his staff or those affiliated with his program,” the report states in its Finding of Facts on page 4. “Other conduct occurred prior to his arrival. Mississippi hired the head coach in December 2011. He served as head football coach until the summer of 2017, when the institution dismissed him for reasons unrelated to this case.”

▪  Unethical conduct: Entrance Exam Fraud Resulting in Ineligible Participation. . .

“In 2010, the operations coordinator and assistant coach 3 arranged for prospects to obtain fraudulent entrance exam scores,” the report states on page 22. “The prospects used the fraudulent scores to satisfy NCAA initial eligibility requirements and later practiced, received athletically related aid and competed. Mississippi and the enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that violations occurred. The operations coordinator and assistant coach 3 disagreed with the allegations. The panel concludes that Level I violations occurred. . . .”

“The operations coordinator and assistant coach 3 violated ethical conduct legislation when they directed three prospects to not complete their ACT exams and arranged for someone else to complete the exams, resulting in the prospects fraudulently gaining initial eligibility.”

▪ Unethical conduct: The operations coordinator and assistant and assistant coach 3 arranging for a booster to provide impermissible inducements, resulting in ineligible participation .

“During the summer of 2010, the operations coordinator and assistant coach 3 violated the principles of ethical conduct when they arranged for a booster to provide impermissible inducements to prospects,” the report states on page 24. “The institution and enforcement staff substantially agreed on the facts and that violations occurred, but Mississippi asserted that the violations are Level II. The operations coordinator and assistant coach 3 disagreed that they knowingly arranged for impermissible inducements. The panel concludes that Level I violations occurred. . .”

▪ Unethical conduct: Operations Coordinator

“Over two years, the operations coordinator (who was terminated in 2016) provided false or misleading information in interviews with the institution and enforcement staff,” the report states on page 27. “On both occasions, he denied involvement in the violations set forth in Violation IV.A. Because the operations coordinator was no longer employed at Mississippi at the time the NOA was issued, the institution took no position on the allegation. The operations coordinator disagreed that he provided false information. The panel concludes that Level I violations occurred.”

▪ Impermissible Recruiting Inducements . . .

“Booster 2 violated NCAA recruiting rules when he assisted in recruiting four prospects to the institution by providing them and some family members with impermissible recruiting inducements and arranging contacts between family members and Mississippi coaches,” the report states on page 28. “Assistant coach 2 was aware of booster 2’s activities and at times facilitated them. Other members of the football staff also had impermissible recruiting contacts with some of the prospects and their family members. The institution, enforcement staff and assistant coach 2 substantially agreed to the facts and that violations occurred. The panel concludes that Level I violations occurred.”

▪ Impermissible recruiting inducements, including arranging meals and lodging.

“For a month, assistant coach 4 arranged for impermissible recruiting inducements for acquaintances of a prospect by providing inaccurate information to the assistant recruiting director, who then approved the payment of expenses for acquaintances who accompanied the prospect on his official visit,” the report states on page 31. “Mississippi, assistant coach 4 and the enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that violations occurred, although Mississippi and assistant coach 4 asserted that the violations were Level III, and assistant coach 4 claimed that the violations resulted from miscommunication. The panel concludes that Level II violations occurred.”

The future

Gulfport native Matt Luke Luke took over as head coach of the Ole Miss football team on an interim basis when former coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned in July and he was named the permanent head coach earlier this week after the Rebels beat Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl last Saturday in Starkville.

At that time of his appointment, Luke called Ole Miss his “dream job,” as a former Rebels player. His brother, Tom, and father, Tommy, also played for Ole Miss.

The full report from the NCAA can be found here.

Scott Hawkins: 228-896-2424, @ScottHawkins4

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