Read the full transcript of Ross Bjork and Hugh Freeze’s response to NCAA’s amended notice of allegations against Ole Miss
Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2017
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I’m Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter and I’m here with Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork and Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze. We’re here today to update you — the Ole Miss family — about the NCAA case. Today, we want to share with you as much information as we possibly can at this point in the process.
As you will remember, in January of last year the University of Mississippi received a Notice of Allegations involving three sports — women’s basketball, track and field, and football — following an investigation that began in 2012.
However, after potential new football allegations surfaced during the NFL Draft last April, the NCAA enforcement staff re-opened the investigation, and in June 2016 the NCAA Committee on Infractions separated the 13 football-related allegations in the original Notice from those related to women’s basketball and track and field. The university’s case involving the latter two programs concluded in October 2016 with the Committee on Infractions’ decision, which was publicly released at that time.
We announce today that the NCAA enforcement staff’s investigation of football has now concluded, and that earlier today, our outside legal counsel received the university’s Notice of Allegations dealing with the football program. Throughout the more than four-year investigation, the University of Mississippi has been committed to seeking the truth.
While we vigorously disagree with some key allegations, and while we have had our differences on occasion with the NCAA about how the investigative process, I want to thank everyone involved — here and at the NCAA — for working with us to bring this phase of the process to an end.
I’m now going to ask our athletics director Ross Bjork to outline for you the Notice of Allegations as well as some of the next steps in the process.
Thank you, Chancellor.
As you recall, last May, the university released the original Notice of Allegations and our response, which included the university’s position on the 13 football original allegations. You can find these documents at umncaacase.com.
Since Draft night and the separation of the football case, we have investigated other alleged violations alongside the NCAA enforcement staff and they have also conducted inquiries of their own. Consistent with the NCAA’s very strict requirement of confidentiality in all investigative matters, we have not publicized any information related to this investigation before today.
Now that the Notice of Allegations has been issued, and in the interest of transparency, we want to outline the new allegations. Before I do that, please understand that we will release the Notice and our Response once all involved parties and their counsel have had a full and fair opportunity to review its contents, conduct any additional work, and provide their responses. We do not want to jeopardize anyone’s right to a fair hearing by disclosing our full position or providing a review of the evidence during the response period.
As you know, the 2016 notice contained 13 football-related charges. There are now 21 football allegations – eight of which are new, and one allegation from the prior Notice has been expanded. None of the new allegations relate to NFL Draft night.
I will outline the new allegations using three categories, and I’ll start with the three allegations where we agree there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to support the allegation.
1. The first allegation – it is alleged that a prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete A) went hunting near campus on private land owned by a booster during his official visit in 2013 and on two or three occasions after he enrolled, and that the access to this land was arranged by the football program. This has been alleged as a Level III violation.
2. The second allegation – it is alleged that between March 2014 and January 2015, a former staff member (Former Staff Member A) impermissibly arranged for recruiting inducements in the form of lodging and transportation for one prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete B) (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions on several visits to campus and for the impermissible transportation of another prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete C) on one occasion. The total value of the lodging and/or transportation between the two prospective student-athletes is alleged to be $2,272. It is also alleged that the football program provided approximately $235 in free meals to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and Prospective Student-Athlete C and the friends of Prospective Student-Athlete B during recruiting visits in this same timeframe. The allegation is alleged as a Level I violation.
3. Third, it is alleged that Former Staff Member A violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly committed NCAA recruiting violations between March 2014 and February 2015 and when he knowingly provided false or misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff in 2016. This is charged as a Level I violation.
In the fourth allegation, we agree that evidence exists to support some – but not all – of the events alleged.
4. In the fourth allegation, it is alleged that between April 2014 and February 2015, Former Staff Member A initiated and facilitated two boosters having impermissible contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). It is further alleged that these two boosters provided Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) with impermissible cash payments during that timeframe and that Former Staff Member A knew about the cash payments. The value of the alleged inducements according to the NCAA is between $13,000 and $15,600. This is charged as a Level I violation.
The university believes there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to conclude that the impermissible contact outlined in the fourth allegation occurred. However, we are still evaluating whether there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to support the alleged payments and will make that determination over the course of the next 90 days.
Setting aside those four allegations, the university will contest the following allegations in full:
5. Allegation number five – It is alleged that one former staff member (Former Staff Member B) arranged for a friend of the family of Prospective Student-Athlete D to receive impermissible merchandise from a store owned by a booster on one occasion in 2013 and that Former Staff Member A arranged for Prospective Student-Athletes B and E (both student-athletes enrolled at another institution) to receive merchandise in 2014, 15, and 16. The value of the alleged impermissible recruiting inducements is approximately $2,800 and is charged as a Level I violation.
6. Number six – It is alleged and we will contest that, in 2014 a current football coach had impermissible, in-person, off-campus contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). This allegation is charged as a Level III violation.
7. Allegation seven – It is alleged that a booster provided money, food and drinks to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions at the booster’s restaurant on two-to-three unspecified dates between March 2014 and January 2015. The value of the alleged inducements is between $200 and $600. This allegation is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
8. Another Allegation that we will contest is number eight – It is alleged that the head football coach violated head coach responsibility legislation. This allegation is not based upon personal involvement in violations by Coach Freeze but because he is presumed responsible for the allegation involving his staff that occurred between October 2012 and January 2016. Although we disagree, according to the NCAA, Coach Freeze has not rebutted the presumption that he is responsible for his staff’s actions. This is charged as a Level I violation.
9. Finally, allegation nine – It is 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 program. This charge replaces the more limited failure to monitor charge in the January 2016 Notice of Allegations. This is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
The additional allegations announced today are serious. But, we will vigorously defend the university against those allegations we believe are not appropriately supported, including that we lacked institutional control and that our head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or monitor staff in our football program. In our official response, we will provide detailed, supporting information that demonstrates the institution’s strong control of the athletics program, including football, and Coach Freeze’s commitment to compliance. We know the Committee on Infractions will review and consider our response in a fair and impartial manner, and we look forward to presenting our case to the Committee at the appropriate time.
Consistent with our core values, we must take responsibility for the violations we agree occurred. We have concluded that a recently terminated staff member was personally involved in Level I violations while he was employed by our program. Obviously, that sort of misconduct is not acceptable to any of us, to the university, or to the Ole Miss family. Therefore, based on number and scope of the allegations in the revised notice, the factual information we have available, NCAA case precedent and penalty guidelines, and most importantly, the involvement of this former staff member in Level I violations, the university is self-imposing a one-year postseason ban on the football program for the 2017 season in addition to our previously announced self-imposed penalties. As part of this postseason ban, under SEC rules we must forfeit our annual portion of SEC postseason football revenue for next year, expected to be approximately $7.8M. The decision to add the postseason ban was a joint decision by Chancellor Vitter and myself, and supported by Coach Freeze. We also consulted with our legal team, which includes two outside law firms with extensive experience in NCAA cases.
Today, Chancellor Vitter, Coach Freeze and I met with our football team and football staff and informed them of the postseason decision. As you might imagine, this was difficult news to share with our young men and coaches. They will pay a price for the actions of a few, but I am confident that we will rebound from this adversity because of the strong foundation already in place. The future of our athletics program will continue to be determined by our commitment to core values combined with a positive attitude and hard work.
Before I turn it back over to Chancellor Vitter, let me acknowledge to him publicly as I have privately that I take full responsibility any time a violation of NCAA rules occurs on my watch. As Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics, I want to emphasize to the Ole Miss Family that I have an obligation to do the right thing and ultimately that I am responsible for everything that happens in our athletics programs. I pride myself, as does our Department, on our core values and competing with integrity, and we are disappointed anytime those principles are violated. We believe that our actions at every step in this process communicate loud and clear that we take this responsibility seriously and that we will do everything in our power to ensure that our university continues to be a valued member of the Southeastern Conference and college athletics. On behalf of our coaches, staff and student-athletes, I want to thank the Ole Miss family for your support. I have asked you before – to pull the rope in the same direction – and now will be more important than ever. Chancellor Vitter, …
Thank you, Ross.
To be clear, this is a serious case, and we are disappointed by the violations that surfaced during our joint investigation with the NCAA. These violations are not in keeping with this university’s core values and our commitment to compliance and integrity.
An institution’s character and values are not defined by whether we make mistakes, nor are they defined by isolated bad acts or actors. Rather, an institution’s character and values are defined by how we respond to those mistakes, and by what we do to vindicate our values when a member of our community violates our trust. This drive to make things right is the essence of the UM Creed, our statement of shared core values. And since I have been here, I have seen those values in action, as members of our athletics leadership and administration have held one another accountable for what has happened.
I want to make two final points: First, as Ross stated, the university will fight the charges that it lacked institutional control and that our head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or fully monitor his staff. Second, I want to reiterate that I have full confidence in the men sitting up here with me. I am convinced that they are committed to rules compliance and to doing things the right way, and I can assure you that this commitment — on both a personal and institutional level — will not waver. And as chancellor, I personally make that same commitment to everyone in the Ole Miss family. I have been blessed to live and learn at stellar universities across the country. And I have played leadership roles at world-class academic institutions with fantastic athletics programs. And I will tell you this: I know that the integrity of Ole Miss, its athletics program, and its leadership are first-class.
Let me now turn things over to Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze.
Thank you Chancellor.
This support you and Ross have given me throughout this has been unwavering and for that I am grateful. This has been a long process for all involved, and like everyone up here today, I am saddened by all of the negative attention that has been brought on our great University by the seriousness of this case. I feel terrible for our players and staff who have to handle the consequences of the actions of a very few. Unfortunately, these penalties are necessary so that this program to be responsible and move forward. While it is extremely difficult to ask current players to suffer penalties based on the actions of others, I agree with the decision to self-impose a one-year bowl ban by our University.
From the moment I arrived in December 2011, I have emphasized to all of my staff that our program is founded on certain core values – faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity and love. Integrity – doing things the right way. I am extremely disappointed to learn that any member of my staff violated any SEC or NCAA rules, and as the head coach, I regret those actions. Any behavior by my staff that is inconsistent with that commitment to do things the right way simply does not reflect the emphasis I personally place on NCAA compliance. As the record will show, I am constantly communicating to our compliance office, the SEC office, and industry leaders to make sure we are using best practices when it comes to doing things the right way. Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this entire process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff, and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the Committee on Infractions.
While this is certainly a day of adversity, it is one that has been met with a renewed resolve by our staff and an excitement that we are nearing the end of this process. As I stated earlier, one of our core values is love. That will be the one our players will need the most through this challenge. I know that the Ole Miss family will rally around them and love them through this journey. This team has overcome any many things and we will use this to make us stronger. Adversity causes some to break, some to bend, some to complain. That will not be the case here. We will be more intentional and more accountable. We will press on, and we will not blink.
I know of no family that goes without challenges. This is certainly one for our Ole Miss family here. I have always said that I believe you should rejoice always, give thanks in everything, and pray constantly. This will be a great chance for me to put that into practice as I have the great opportunity to lead these young men and our program through this challenge.
Thank you, Hugh.
As Ross stated earlier, we will release the full notice and our response when all parties have filed their respective responses, which will likely be in late May. At the end of this 90-day response period, the NCAA enforcement staff will have 60 days to write a case summary, followed by a hearing before the Committee on Infractions. The exact hearing date will be set by the Committee.
Hugh, Ross and I want to thank everyone in the Ole Miss family for your patience during a difficult time and for your unwavering support as we move forward together.