After five years, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions finally issued a ruling in Ole Miss’s recruiting scandal on Friday morning.
The core penalties, per a source close to Ole Miss:
- An additional bowl-ban year (2018).
- Because of that total two-year bowl ban, NCAA rules give Ole Miss seniors the freedom to transfer elsewhere without sitting out a season.
- Probation running concurrently with current probation for a total of four years.
- Financial penalties, added to self-imposed sanctions, and totaling $179,000.
- A total scholarship reduction of 13 over a period of years. That’s in addition to the 11 over four years that Ole Miss self-imposed, which already meant three or four fewer scholarship players per year.
- Every coach named in the NCAA’s investigation has received a show-cause (essentially an NCAA blackball for a period of time) of varying lengths. That doesn’t include new head coach Matt Luke, who wasn’t named. Former head coach Hugh Freeze would receive a two-game suspension, if hired elsewhere. Former assistant David Saunders’ show-cause runs for eight years. Former staffer Barney Farrar faces five.
The NCAA’s release is now here. Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter says the school will “vigorously” appeal the 2018 bowl ban.
At stake here was this:
Of the 21 football allegations, 15 are classified by the NCAA as Level 1 charges — the most serious type. Some of them are more salacious than others, ranging from former staffers allegedly fixing ACT scores to get recruits qualified for the football team to recruits allegedly hunting on boosters’ private land.
Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season after the new batch of allegations came out in the winter. The school is emphasizing that punishment to the NCAA, probably in the hopes that the organization opts for more leniency.
Among the central tenets to the NCAA’s case is the testimony of star witness, Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis.
Lewis says he was paid by boosters at multiple schools, including Ole Miss. He was given immunity to talk to NCAA investigators.
As SB Nation reported the day prior to the COI report, Lewis revealed new information to the committee that could explain why the ruling has taken so long:
According to sources, Lewis told the Committee on Infractions he received a cash payment of $10,000 “from Mississippi State” on the eve of National Signing Day 2015 to sign with the Bulldogs. When pressed by members of the COI to elaborate, sources say that Lewis stated that he received money to attend MSU from Calvin Green, a defensive backs coach for Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss. Green is the father of Farrod Green, Lewis’ friend and Mississippi State teammate, according to sources and documentation.
Both Copiah-Lincoln representatives and Mississippi State sports information director Bill Martin did not return requests for comment on Thursday.
In an email to SB Nation, NCAA Director of Public and Media Relations Stacey Osburn sent the following statement: “The NCAA is always interested in pursuing behaviors that harm college sports, including recruiting violations. When the enforcement staff receives information regarding potential violations, we thoroughly review that information to determine what happened.”
In transcripts of Lewis’ three interviews with NCAA enforcement in 2016, NCAA investigator Michael Sheridan mentions statements by Farrod Green about Lewis’ recruitment by Ole Miss. According to multiple sources and documentation obtained by SB Nation, Green’s statements to the NCAA were used to corroborate Lewis’ claims that he received free merchandise from Rebel Rags, an Ole Miss merchandise retailer; free food and cash from Lee Harris, owner of an Oxford bar; and cash payments totaling over $10,000 from an Ole Miss booster in Jackson, Miss.
All three of those events were outlined in NCAA enforcement’s amended notice, which bumped a Level II “failure to monitor” charge to the Level I “lack of institutional control” charge against the university. Level I is the highest level charge the NCAA can make against a program.
It’s been a wild five years at Ole Miss.
Coach Hugh Freeze had just been hired to bring back Ole Miss from the doldrums of the post-Eli Manning era. He got to work quickly on the recruiting trail. By Signing Day 2013, Freeze had inked WR Laquon Treadwell, DL Robert Nkemdiche, and OL Laremy Tunsil. Each player was the best at the position, and the historic class for the Rebels ranked No. 8 nationally.
But in college sports, coups often have seedy elements, and this one included violations ranging from fixing ACT scores before Freeze arrived to players receiving impermissible benefits during the Freeze era.
Fast-forward to 2017. Freeze resigned after it was revealed that he had called an escort service. He was brought down by his predecessor Houston Nutt, who threatened to sue the school but ended up settling. This saga took many turns, including Tunsil’s draft moment being ruined when his phone was hacked and tweeted out a video of him smoking out of a gas mask. That led to a disastrous press conference where Tunsil inadvertently admitted to being given impermissible benefits. And there is much more zaniness and many other twists and turns to this whole deal.
For all we know, there will be another twist to Ole Miss’ NCAA saga. But we at least know what the penalties are, after years of waiting.