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The NCAA just overturned a major recruiting sanction on Ole Miss

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Ole Miss didn’t get everything it wanted, but it got a big thing.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Louisiana State
It’s good news for Matt Luke, the current coach.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

An NCAA appeals committee overturned a restriction on unofficial visits for Ole Miss football, the school announced Thursday. It’s a potentially big deal for the Rebels, who have been dealing for more than a year with a variety of self- and then NCAA-imposed sanctions.

When the NCAA ruled on Ole Miss’ case at the end of 2017, after a sprawling, years-long investigation, it stacked all of these penalties on top of things Ole Miss had already done to punish itself:

  • An additional bowl-ban year (this year), after a self-imposed 2017 ban. The 2018 ban costs Ole Miss something like $8 million in SEC revenue, the school says. (That ban stands.)
  • The freedom for Ole Miss seniors (and, as it turned out, a handful of others) to transfer elsewhere without sitting out a season
  • A probation period that added up to 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, on top of the 11 over four years Ole Miss had already imposed (adding up to about one full fewer class of players over that period)
  • Show-cause penalties (and some future suspensions) for every coach named in the NCAA’s investigation, a group that didn’t include current coach Matt Luke. The football charges against Ole Miss dealt primarily with ex-coach Hugh Freeze and other non-Luke staffers.

There was another big penalty the NCAA put on Ole Miss: a limit of one unofficial visit to Oxford per academic year, per recruit.

The NCAA had found that Ole Miss committed violations when recruits were at the university on unofficial visits, which are supposed to be mostly paid for by the recruits and their families. (That’s as opposed to official visits, which the school pays for, and which Ole Miss self-imposed slight reductions in over the years.)

A cap on unofficial visits isn’t necessarily crippling for a recruiting operation, but it makes things a lot harder on a college staff. It’s common for prospects, especially local ones, to repeatedly visit one campus over many months and build relationships with staffers there.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions said Ole Miss could only have each recruit visit unofficially once per year until the program’s probation ended after the 2020 season.

That being gone now is a big deal for the school, which calls it “the most onerous sanction.” It’ll help the Rebels recruit better, for sure, though its exact impact is hard to guess about.

Ole Miss has the country’s No. 18 class about a month and a half before the Early Signing Period, well up from its No. 32 finish in the class of 2018. Part of that comes down to taking more players this year, but the class also has a higher average player rating.

Other penalties and findings against the Rebels will stand.

Ole Miss says:

While we are pleased by the IAC’s finding that the COI abused its discretion with respect to the unofficial visit penalty, we remain disappointed by the remainder of the ruling, which upheld a 2018 postseason ban and findings of lack of institutional control and recruiting inducements.

As the recent Commission on College Basketball (Rice Commission) report outlined, the NCAA enforcement model is “broken” and ill-equipped to handle complex cases, and we believe our case was adversely impacted because of it.

All in all, it’s a great result for Ole Miss, which should have its football program pretty much back to normal a lot sooner than it would have.