5 takeaways: What you need to know about Ole Miss’ NCAA ruling

Published 3:47 pm Friday, December 1, 2017

The NCAA came down hard on Ole Miss’ football program Friday when the Committee on Infractions issued its final ruling in the school’s infractions case, which included the addition of a postseason ban for the 2018 season.

Here’s what you need to know about the ruling.

Boosters’ involvement in the program was an obvious problem

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Ole Miss received an additional bowl ban largely because the charge of a lack of institutional control stuck, which had a lot to do with 14 boosters named in the school’s Notice of Allegations allegedly providing impermissible benefits.

The Committee on Infractions referred to the school’s booster culture as “unconstrained” in its final ruling, noting this is the third case spanning the last three decades where boosters have been involved in the football program’s recruiting efforts.

The most serious allegations this time were that former off-field staffer Barney Farrar and former defensive line coach Chris Kiffin funneled recruits and their family members to Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based retail clothing company, to receive thousands of dollars worth of free merchandise (a charge the store is fighting legally with its lawsuit) and that Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis received as much as $15,600 worth of cash payments from Ole Miss boosters with Farrar facilitating it.

Ole Miss vehemently denied some of those payments, citing a lack of proof, but the school didn’t deny that Farrar and other staffers had contact with boosters. That alone got Ole Miss in deep trouble.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter on Friday afternoon addressed the notion that Ole Miss has a problem with booster culture.

“If there is one booster that acts inappropriately, that is a problem and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

The Committee on Infractions agreed that Leo Lewis was credible

Lewis became a polarizing figure in the case when his testimony — given to the NCAA with immunity from possible sanctions at MSU in exchange for truthful accounts of his recruitment by Ole Miss — was largely responsible for the number of allegations rising from 13 to 21 in the amended NOA the school received in February 2017.

Ole Miss attempted to shoot holes in Lewis’ testimony in its response, citing contradictions in the information he gave the NCAA in three separate interviews. Lewis, who was verbally committed to Ole Miss at one time, even reportedly testified at the school’s hearing in front of the Committee on Infraction in September that he received a $10,000 cash payment from Calvin Green, the father of MSU teammate Farrod Green, before signing with MSU in 2015.

But the NCAA’s enforcement staff said in its final case summary that it found Lewis to be “a credible and reliable source of information and showed himself to be materially correct and consistent regarding the information he reported.” Given the severity of the sanctions handed down Friday, the COI apparently agreed.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said the school was “shocked” at that assessment.

Hugh Freeze isn’t paying much of a penalty

While the program he left behind is left to pick up the remains of his shattered tenure, former coach Hugh Freeze could technically coach again next season if somebody else wants to hire him.

Freeze was hit with a one-year penalty, which isn’t the same thing as a show-cause order. If another school chooses to hire Freeze, whose five-year tenure in Oxford ended amid a female escort scandal in July, between now and Nov. 30, 2018, he’ll be suspended for that team’s first two conference games next season.

Yet two of Freeze’s former staffers — administrative assistant Barney Farrar and defensive line coach Chris Kiffin — were given five-year and two-year show-cause orders, respectively. The NCAA deems head coaches responsible for the actions of their staff members, a big reason why Freeze was charged with a failure to monitor his program.

COI chairman Greg Christopher said Friday there are essentially two sides to that charge, adding that Freeze promoted an atmosphere of compliance but failed to monitor.

Ole Miss’ roster is about to be poached

With a bowl ban currently in place for the 2018 season, it’s a free market for other schools as far as the Rebels’ rising seniors go. Any member of Ole Miss’ upcoming senior class that wants to will be allowed to transfer and be immediately eligible at his next school with a waiver from the NCAA.

There could be underclassmen who look to get out as well, though any players who have more than one year of eligibility remaining would have to go by the NCAA’s typical transfer rules of being granted a release and sitting out a season before being eligible at their next school. Other schools contacting underclassmen about transferring would be a violation of NCAA rules.

Bjork said Friday afternoon that “we know (the poaching) has begun,” but he added no players had indicated to him their intent to transfer as of then.

It’s not over yet

A built-in appeals process exists within the NCAA, and Ole Miss plans to take full advantage of it.

The school will appeal the multi-year bowl ban, the lack of institutional control charge and possibly additional charges, Bjork said, once school officials get a chance to read all the way through the COI’s 82-page ruling. Ole Miss has 15 days to file its appeal, but Bjork said he expects the school to have that done by sometime next week.

The NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee — a separate committee from the COI — will hear the appeal. Bjork said it’s a process that could take anywhere from three to six months before the appeals committee makes its decision.