Ole Miss receives amended Notice of Allegations in NCAA football case

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ole Miss has received an amended Notice of Allegations in the latest development in the NCAA’s long-running investigation into the football program.

Ole Miss has 90 days to issue a response. Once the NCAA receives the response, it has 60 days to offer a rebuttal before a hearing with the Committee on Infractions is scheduled. The committee has six weeks after the hearing to render its final verdict.

The original NOA issued in January 2016 alleged 13 violations in football with eight of them being classified as Level I, which are deemed the most serious by the NCAA, but there are now 21 football-related charges with one previous allegation being expanded. Ole Miss has self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season.

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Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork outlined the new charges Wednesday, seven of which were deemed Level I violations. Among them are that head coach Hugh Freeze violated head coach responsibility legislation because, while not directly involved in any alleged infractions, he is responsible for any wrongdoing by his staff from October 2012 to January 2016.

The NCAA has also alleged that the “scope and nature of the violations demonstrate that the university lacked institutional control and failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics department,” an allegation that replaces the original charge of failure to monitor that was included in the original NOA.

Bjork said the school will contest both charges. One Level I charge Bjork said the school is still evaluating is that a former staff member (Former Staff Member A) initiated and facilitated two boosters having impermissible contact with a recruit who eventually signed with another school (Prospective Student-Athlete B) between April 2014 and February 2015 and that the boosters made cash payments totaling anywhere between $13,000 and $15,600 to the prospective student-athlete with the staff member knowing about it.

The university doesn’t disagree that impermissible contact was made, but Bjork said the school is still trying to determine if there’s enough credible evidence to support the alleged payments.

Bjork said the school will wait to release the new NOA along with the school’s response publicly “once all involved parties and their council have had a full and fair opportunity to review its contents, conduct any additional work and provide their responses.”

Among the sanctions Ole Miss self-imposed in its original response were 11 scholarship reductions over four seasons starting with the 2015-16 academic year, three years probation, temporary recruiting suspensions for former defensive line coach Chris Kiffin and tight ends coach Maurice Harris and the disassociation of involved boosters, including Cannon Motors, which provided former offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil free use of three loaner cars and gave Tunsil an interest-free loan on the purchase of another vehicle.

Harris is still on staff while Kiffin is now at Florida Atlantic as the Owls’ defensive coordinator.

Tunsil was suspended the first seven games of the 2015 season for receiving the impermissible benefits while Ole Miss was originally scheduled to have its hearing with the Committee on Infractions last summer, but that was delayed after screenshots of a text conversation between Tunsil and assistant athletic director for football operations John Miller were posted to Tunsil’s Instagram account after he was drafted 13th overall by the Miami Dolphins on April 28. Tunsil asked Miller for money to help pay for rent and family utility bills at one point in the conversation, and Tunsil, when asked about it during a post-draft press conference, claimed he took money from an Ole Miss staffer.

In a text timestamped Feb. 15, 2015, Miller told Tunsil to “see Barney next week,” referring to Barney Farrar, Ole Miss’ former assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations. Farrar, who was placed on administrative leave in November while reportedly waiting to be interviewed by the NCAA about Ole Miss’ recruitment of Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, was fired in December.

Yet none of the new allegations are related to draft night.

The university doesn’t disagree with the following new allegations: Former Staff Member A arranged for impermissible lodging and transportation for Prospective Student-Athlete B and his companions on multiple visits to campus and for the impermissible transportation for another recruit (Prospective Student-Athlete C) who signed elsewhere on one other occasion between March 2014 and January 2015 (Level I), the same former staff member violated NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly violated recruiting violations between March 2014 and February 2015 and knowingly provided false or misleading information to the school and the NCAA enforcement staff (Level I), and that a recruit that eventually signed with Ole Miss (Prospective Student-Athlete A) went hunting on private land owned by a booster during an official visit in 2013 and again after he enrolled and that his access to the land was arranged by the football program (Level III).

The NCAA also alleged that another former staff member (Former Staff Member B) arranged for a friend of a recruit’s family to receive impermissible merchandise from a store owned by a booster in 2013 and that Former Staff Member A arranged for two prospective student-athletes who signed with other schools to get merchandise in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (Level I), that a current assistant had impermissible off-campus contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B in 2014 (Level III), and that a booster provided that same recruit and his companions money, food and drinks at the booster’s restaurant multiple times between March 2014 and January 2015 totaling between $200 and $600 (Level I). Ole Miss will contest those three charges, Bjork said.

The investigation goes back to 2012. Probes into the Rebels’ women’s basketball and track programs were closed in October.