Ole Miss to receive final ruling in NCAA infractions case Friday

Published 8:59 am Thursday, November 30, 2017

The end is near in Ole Miss football’s infractions case.

Ole Miss has received its 24-hour notice from the NCAA that college sports’ governing body will issue its final ruling in the school’s infractions case, according to multiple reports. The Committee on Infractions’ decision in an investigation that ran nearly five years is expected to be released publicly Friday.

Asked by the EAGLE Thursday morning if the school had received the notice, athletic director Ross Bjork said, “We’re told the process is confidential.”

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The COI’s decision will come nearly more than 11 weeks after it heard the school’s case in September. The school’s amended Notice of Allegations added eight new allegations to run the total to 21 with 15 of those being Level I charges — the most serious in the eyes of the NCAA — including a lack of institutional control that replaced the more limited failure-to-monitor charge that appeared in the original NOA the school received in January 2016.

Ole Miss has already self-imposed three years of probation, the loss of 11 scholarships over four seasons starting with the 2015-16 academic year and a bowl ban this season.

Eleven of the Level I charges were tied to the five-year tenure of former coach Hugh Freeze, who resigned in the summer amid an escort scandal. Among them was former off-field staffer Barney Farrar and former defensive line coach Chris Kiffin allegedly arranging for Lindsey Miller, the estranged stepfather of former Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, and then-recruits Kobe Jones and Leo Lewis, who now play for Mississippi State, to receive $2,800 in free merchandise from Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based retail clothing store.

Rebel Rags has sued Miller, Jones and Lewis for defamation, commercial disparagement and civil conspiracy in a case that’s still playing out in the legal system.

Farrar was also accused of arranging as much as $15,600 in cash payments to Lewis, a central figure in the case after being granted immunity from potential sanctions at MSU in exchange for a truthful account of his recruitment by the Rebels.

In its 124-page response to the amended NOA, Ole Miss fought a charge against Freeze of failing to monitor his coaching staff as well as the alleged free merchandise and cash payments, challenging the testimonies of Jones, Miller and Lewis. The school also tried to shoot down Lewis’ credibility by pointing out inconsistencies in his various testimonies, but the NCAA’s enforcement said it found Lewis to be credible in its final report in which it reinforced all 21 charges.

Four of the Level I charges dated back to the tenure of Houston Nutt, who coached Ole Miss from 2008-11. Two of Nutt’s former assistants, David Saunders and Chris Vaughn, participated in academic misconduct by arranging for six recruits to receive fixed ACT scores at Wayne County High School and then lied about their involvement.

Saunders received an eight-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA while Vaughn was fired from his post as Texas’ defensive backs coach last year. Nutt and the school spent the last four months in a legal spat after he filed a lawsuit alleging a breach of contract and defamation for what he believes was too much blame pinned on his tenure by the school in its initial response to the original NOA.

The case was dismissed in federal court and refiled in state court before the two sides agreed to settle out of court last month.

The Clarion Ledger first reported the news.