Ole Miss Accepts Responsibility for NCAA Violations, Self-Imposes Penalties

On Friday, May 27, 2016, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) officially accepted responsibility for NCAA violations involving the college’s football, women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s track and field programs. The violations include recruiting violations, furnishing “impermissible benefits,” such as loaning vehicles to athletes and giving cash to athletes and their families, and awarding fraudulent academic credit to student-athletes. The original NCAA notice sent to Ole Miss included 28 rule violations; 16 rule violations were classified as Level I “severe breach of conduct” offenses.

In the form of a 154-page document, Ole Miss released its response to the NCAA’s allegations of violations by the three athletic programs. As part of accepting responsibility for the violations, Ole Miss has assessed penalties to the athletic program. The self-imposed penalties include the 2012 removal of coaches from the women’s basketball and track and field teams, as well as the 2013 postseason ban on women’s basketball. The most severe football program violation, academic fraud, involved staff no longer associated with the college.

Additional football program penalties include disassociation with certain football boosters involved with the violations, a monetary fine of $159,325, a reduction in off-campus visits and evaluations, a 30-day suspension of two assistant coaches from on the road recruiting, a penalty that has already been served, and eleven (11) scholarship reductions – one in 2015, two in 2016, and four in 2017 and 2018.

The release responds to the alleged infractions mostly committed by past coaching staffs. Ole Miss, however, has yet to respond to the recent Laremy Tunsil allegations that came to light at the 2016 NFL Draft. According to the Level I violations, Tunsil or Tunsil’s family allegedly received money, lodging, or benefits; Tunsil was suspended for part of last season for the use of loaner vehicles for a six-month period, as well as a family member receiving $800 and free lodging from Ole Miss booster programs. If the allegations prove to be true, the new infractions would come under the current head football coach, Hugh Freeze. In a “Letter to the Ole Miss Family” released Friday, Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter and Director of Athletics Ross Bjork stated the following:

“On the first day of the 2016 NFL Draft, new information came to light involving a former football student-athlete. That very night, the University and NCAA began a joint review to determine whether bylaws have been violated, and we hope this review will be concluded soon. To ensure fairness to all parties and pursuant to [Committee on Infractions (COI)] procedure, we have asked the COI to remove the hearing from this summer’s docket until this review can be completed and closed.”

Freeze told ESPN.com on Monday, May 30, 2016, that he accepts responsibility for violations during his tenure, but denied that any violations were knowingly committed. Freeze intends to assess coaching staff penalties that match the severity of the violation. Freeze explained, “[w]e’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat.”

The NCAA still needs to review the self-imposed penalties. Harsher penalties may still be assessed to Ole Miss.

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