Notes and thoughts on the NCAA’s letter to Ole Miss …
The long-awaited notice of allegations for Ole Miss football has arrived.
Yahoo’s Friday afternoon report brought everything to the forefront. I had heard a week ago rumblings that the school had received its letter.
The feeling from those close to the program is that the violations are minor and that the penalties that will result will be minor too.
That’s a comforting thought as Hugh Freeze builds winning momentum from the vast wasteland he inherited.
From the day Ross Bjork was hired – in the spring of 2012 just months after the Freeze hiring – he has talked about doing things the right way not only in football but in all sports. “Transparency” is the word Bjork used then and continues to use today.
Freeze talks about doing things the right way too. Remember his challenge in 2013 that if anyone had any knowledge of wrong-doing regarding the recruitment of Laremy Tunsil to take those facts to the Bjork and let the school know about it and deal with it.
That plea produced some crank calls and a multitude of email. Bjork said Ole Miss compliance followed up on leads that included any hint of validity.
At the end of the day the school found nothing then, Bjork said, that caused it to keep Tunsil off the field.
That came later as we all witnessed this year.
The Tunsil situation proved this. If the recruiting process for any star athlete was above board said athlete has to continue making the right decisions for the next three or four years. Tunsil did not and according to Ole Miss’ release with details of his NCAA suspension Tunsil was “not completely forthcoming” when questioned by the NCAA.
The Tunsil situation was a reminder that college football is a massive undertaking, that there are many fingers in the pie and coaches can’t watch all their players 24 hours a day.
That does not make programs less responsible.
The vibe coming from this letter of allegations is that it’s minor in regard to football. The school can’t comment on the investigation, but Ross Bjork tried his best to allay fears in his official statement released Saturday.
Sources have indicated that most of reported “roughly 30 violations” in the letter occurred from the women’s basketball and track and field part of the equation.
Bjork’s statement – the last he’ll have until the school has responded and the investigation is complete, he says – says that “most of the football allegations” deal directly with violations that have already been acknowledged by Ole Miss in “self-reports” to the NCAA or in requests for player reinstatement or in connection with another NCAA case.
That would seem to cover just about all of the violations in the letter. It would only take a violation or two – if they were of the right magnitude – to make things really messy.
This case has drug on for so long, however, that such a type of violation doesn’t seem to be included in this letter.
Bjork’s intention seems to be to settle down concerned fans and supporters, and that’s fine. As long as an NCAA investigation is going on, however, you need to have your antennae up. You never know what they will come back with.
There will be some penalties for this. The NCAA has invested a lot of time and effort here. It’s going to come away with something.
The guess here is the penalties will be minor and not an overly serious hurdle for the football program.
I’ve heard some express concern about the timing of the letter, news breaking on the first day of a big official visit weekend for recruits and just days before National Signing Day.
I really don’t think that’s a thing here. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy on the part of the NCAA to make this happen right at Signing Day to somehow damage what is shaping up to be the most highly rated Ole Miss class in history.
Because David Saunders worked at both schools and in fact had three tours of duty at Ole Miss, the Ole Miss investigation was clearly linked with the investigation at Louisiana-Lafayette.
That investigation wrapped up about two weeks ago when ULL announced that the NCAA had accepted the school’s own self-imposed sanctions.
Ole Miss basketball was in Baton Rouge for the LSU game at the time. I was down there covering and reading accounts in the Baton Rouge Advocate.
In another odd meaningless twist, Obama was in Baton Rouge the night of the game which shut down the airport and forced Ole Miss basketball to drive to Lafayette to fly home.
It’s not a stretch to think the NCAA, once its ULL investigation was complete, would immediately turn its sights on Ole Miss and wrap up things here.
In fact, you would think Ole Miss would welcome that timing just to move the case forward and one day bring about its own conclusion.
I also think it was good timing for Freeze and his staff to have big-name recruits and families on campus to be able to get out in front of the media reports, to answer questions, calm fears and put their own spin on exactly what’s going on.
Early reports over the weekend were that recruits and families responded well to what Freeze had to say about the NCAA notice of allegations.
It’s possible this case could take some new twists and turns. An active NCAA investigation is never a good thing.
It won’t be surprising for some presently un-reported secondary violation to come up involving the current staff. I have not heard anything to support that but say that to note that surprises sometimes pop up in matters like this.
Most of this investigation appears to center on events from six years ago, possibly longer. If there was anything off the charts major that happened then the guess here is the NCAA would have identified it sooner.
There would be more talk in the shadows of the program about such a large infraction, and there would be less confidence now that only minor penalties are about to be handed down.
Confidence is great, but sometimes its misplaced. At this point it sounds like Ole Miss football is not about to be dealt a major blow.
We may all know more in late April or early May.