The seemingly never-ending investigation by the NCAA into Ole Miss athletics is finally over — and the football program took the brunt of the penalties.
The NCAA announced the program lacked institutional control and fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting, in a report released Friday. The school will receive three years probation through Nov. 30, 2020, a two-year total bowl ban (one additional year from what has already been self-imposed), vacation of all regular-season and postseason wins in which ineligible student-athletes competed and the NCAA upheld Ole Miss’ scholarship reductions through 2018-2019 that it self-imposed (11 over four years).
Former head football coach Hugh Freeze must serve a two conference-game suspension if he is hired prior to Nov. 30, 2018. Several other coaches and administrators received show-cause orders in the report, including Barney Farrar (five years) and Chris Kiffin (two years), according to the Clarion Ledger. A show-cause penalty means that any school hoping to hire any of those coaches prior to the order running out will have to present a case to the infractions committee.
“This is now the third case over three decades that has involved the boosters and football program,” the NCAA panel stated in its decision. “Even the head coach acknowledged that upon coming to Mississippi, he was surprised by the ‘craziness’ of boosters trying to insert themselves into his program.”
The additional bowl ban means that rising seniors currently with the program have the ability to transfer to other FBS institutions without sitting out a year as generally mandated by the NCAA. That means star players like rising junior quarterback Shea Patterson and junior wide receiver A.J. Brown would have to sit if they transfer, since they conceivably could play in the postseason after the 2018 ban expires.
The announcement by the NCAA brings to an end a long process that began with an investigation into women’s track and field, basketball and academic issues relating to the Houston Nutt era Rebel football program (2008-11). The program self-imposed scholarship restrictions and a one-year bowl ban in 2017 as a result of that aspect of the investigation.
But when former Rebels offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil suffered through a miserable NFL Draft night that included a video of him smoking a substance through a gas mask, a sudden fall to 13th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and the post-draft admission that he took money from Ole Miss coaches, the NCAA came calling again. That resulted in a second Notice of Allegations that dealt with recruiting violations that were unrelated to Tunsil, but discovered due to the Tunsil incident extending the inquiry.
The Rebels went 6-6 in 2017 under interim coach Matt Luke, who replaced Freeze when the former Ole Miss coach was let go after the school discovered that he made improper calls from his university-issued cell phone. The day after topping rival Mississippi State 31-28 in Starkville, Luke had the interim tag removed, and the former Ole Miss offensive lineman is now on the job on a full-time basis.