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Ole Miss expects worst, hopes for best with NCAA appeal

ATLANTA — The final step in Ole Miss’ appeal of the sanctions handed down in its NCAA infractions case is coming soon in the form of an in-person hearing with the Infractions Appeals Committee, which could reverse the Committee on Infractions’ decision to levy an additional bowl ban for this season.

The Rebels aren’t counting on it.

“We’re preparing just like we’re not going to a bowl game,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “Then if it does come through, then it will be a bonus.”

Ole Miss in February filed its appeal of the multi-year bowl ban, a recruiting penalty restricting unofficial visits, the finding of a lack of institutional control and allegations of impermissible benefits tied to the Rebel Rags lawsuit, which still has to make its way through the courts. The COI stood behind the sanctions in response to the school’s appeal.

Luke said the in-person hearing will likely take place later this month, though he added he hasn’t been given an official update on the process. Should that happen, a final decision from the appeals committee wouldn’t come until August or later.

The unofficial visit restriction could affect Ole Miss’ recruiting for future rosters if it’s not dropped. The penalty would limit each recruit to one unofficial visit to campus per academic year for the duration of the school’s probation, which runs through 2020.

“That’s obviously a very significant penalty, and you have to be prepared for things like that,” Luke said. “But we still get to go out and evaluate and we still get to have the official visits, but I think you have to be prepared for things like that. And we are.”

Pennamon available?

Running back D’Vaughn Pennamon continues to make a slow but steady recovery from surgery on his dislocated knee, but whether he’ll be healthy enough to contribute this season is still unknown.

Pennamon suffered the injury against Texas A&M in the second to last game of last season and missed all of spring practice. Pennamon is doing some light running, but Luke said the midway point of the season would be the earliest realistic timetable for Pennamon’s return if he plays at all this fall.

“It was a very significant injury,” Luke said. “It’ll just have to be a wait-and-see approach, but he is back running. It’ll be interesting to see how far he comes along in the fall.”

Pennamon, who’s rushed for 275 yards as a backup the last two seasons, has a redshirt available.

Two signees waiting

Most of the players making up Ole Miss’ latest recruiting class are already on campus, but a pair of junior college signees are still waiting to be cleared academically.

Defensive linemen Noah Jefferson and Tariqious Tisdale are still awaiting word on the necessary grades to enroll. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Jefferson, a former Southern Cal signee, would immediately join the rotation on the interior while Tisdale could help at end or tackle after playing both at Northwest Mississippi Community College last season.

Tisdale is committed to Ole Miss for the 2019 recruiting cycle but is working on completing enough coursework to be eligible this fall.

“We’ll know more here in the next couple of weeks,” Luke said.

Flexible rule

The NCAA Division I Council tweaked the redshirt rule this spring to allow players to play up to four games without burning a year of eligibility, a change Luke lauded for the different ways in which it will allow him to use his freshmen.

Under the previous rule, any player that took the field for a snap and finished the season healthy burned a redshirt. The revised rule will allow coaches who may be on the fence about redshirting certain newcomers to get a look at them in a handful of games before making that decision and lessen the chances of a player losing a year of eligibility if he’s forced into action late in the season because of an injury.

“If you think a guy is really trending up pretty early, you can put him in a game,” Luke said. “Or if a guy doesn’t really know the offense but he’s talented and he learns late, you can play him. I really like the flexibility the redshirt rule gives us whether it’s at the beginning of the season or the end.”