NCAA Rules Ole Miss Lacked Control Over Football Program
On December 1, 2017, an NCAA panel decided that the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) promoted an “unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting,” and handed out more penalties to the school over recruiting misconduct, including impermissible benefits given to athletic prospects and academic fraud. The decision comes from a case against Ole Miss for 21 allegations of NCAA rule violations over a five year period, including providing prospective athletes with cash, housing, apparel, and other improper benefits.
The NCAA panel found that the violations were the result of a culture at Ole Miss that viewed violations as acceptable. Members of the football staff were often in contact with the boosters, who provided impermissible benefits and inducements. Prospective student athletes received about $37,000 worth of improper benefits through cash payments, meals, apparel, transportation, and housing. Six football staff members and twelve boosters were involved in these violations. Additionally, the football staff occasionally falsified recruiting paperwork and did not report known violations. The NCAA panel also found the head coach, Danny Hugh Freeze, Jr., had failed to properly monitor the program. Freeze resigned in July a week after Houston Nutt, his predecessor filed a lawsuit against him due to Ole Miss allegedly throwing Nutt under the bus for Freeze’s actions. An assistant coach and the operations coordinator was found to have helped three prospects improperly inflate their ACT test scores to be academically eligible. The NCAA panel also found the assistant athletics director and operations coordinator provided misleading and false information during the investigation, and an assistant coach compromised the integrity of the investigation.
For the violations, Ole Miss was given probation from December 1, 2017 to November 30, 2020, in addition to a post-season ban for the 2018 season. The operations coordinator, assistant athletics director, and assistant coaches involved were issued with show-cause orders limiting their recruitment and athletics involvement. Freeze was issued a two-conference-game suspension for the 2018 season if he is hired between now and November 30, 2018 by a NCAA-sanctioned school. Further, Ole Miss has to vacate all its regular-season and post-season wins that an ineligible student athlete played in. Ole Miss previously self-imposed a post-season ban for the 2017 season, scholarship reductions, cut ties with a number of boosters, and a more than $179,000 financial penalty.
In response to the decision, Ole Miss’ Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter stated at a press conference that it would be “vigorously appealing” the “unacceptable” 2018 post-season ban. The Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork also addressed the ban, stating it was an “excessive application of penalty structure.” Bjork also stated they plan to appeal the decision that the university lacked institutional control. Vitter noted that it was, “a sad day for the entire Ole Miss family.”