NCAA charges Rebels with rules violations

Published 6:05 am Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork confirmed Saturday that the school has received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA’s enforcement staff with charges of multiple rules violations across three sports, including football.

It’s the latest step in an investigation that goes back more than three years. Bjork said in a statement the notice includes alleged violations in women’s basketball under former coach Adrian Wiggins in 2012, track and field under former coach Brian O’Neal in 2012-13 and “many” in football under former coach Houston Nutt and his staff in 2010.

The NCAA is also looking into the withholding and reinstatement this past season of junior offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who was suspended the first seven games by the NCAA after an investigation found he received extra impermissible benefits.

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Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde first reported the school receiving the notice Friday.

“To be clear, the NCAA has only brought allegations, and as part of the NCAA process, the University and others have 90 days to issue a response,” Bjork said. “We’ve been transparent throughout this process, and it is important to note that most of the football allegations are based upon facts that have been publicly disclosed previously in ‘self-reports’ and reinstatement requests or have been reported publicly in connection with another NCAA case.”

That case involved the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and assistant coach David Saunders, a former Ole Miss assistant whose last year with the program was under Nutt in 2010. UL-L was hit in January with two years of probation, scholarship reductions, recruiting restrictions and a $5,000 fine after a probe found Saunders helped arrange for five recruits to obtain fraudulent ACT scores at Wayne County High School, denied his involvement and failed to cooperate in the investigation, according to the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ final findings.

Saunders was also found to have paid approximately $6,500 in cash over two semesters to a player that eventually signed with the school and was given an eight-year show-cause order, which would require any member school that wants to hire him during that period to appear before the Committee on Infractions (COI) panel to argue why he should be hired without restriction.

Ole Miss became linked with the investigation when the COI detailed in its final report that Saunders and an unidentified UL-L player were interviewed by the enforcement staff in December 2013 about possible rules violations pertaining to academics while Saunders “was employed by another member institution and that institution recruited” the player, who the report noted was a transfer from “another member institution.”

Saunders, whose employment at UL-L has since been terminated, was hired by the school in January 2011, just months after Nutt was fired at Ole Miss. Hugh Freeze was hired in December of that year.

Wiggins was hired as Ole Miss’ women’s basketball coach in March 2012 but was fired before ever coaching a game after an investigation was conducted into impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct by two members of his staff, Kenya and Michael Landers, who were also let go. Two players were ruled ineligible, and the program self-imposed a one-year postseason ban, a loss of scholarships and probation.

O’Neal coached the track team for three seasons before abruptly resigning in June, a decision he said in a statement at the time he believed “to be in the best interests of the university and my own interests.”

“Out of fairness to the individuals involved and the integrity of the NCAA process, we will not provide further details or comment until everyone has had an opportunity to review the allegations and respond,” Bjork added. “Once they do so, we will release the official notice and the university’s response. In all three sports, I am confident in the leadership of our current head coaches and the manner in which they operate their programs.”