With everyone having a chance now to process the notice of allegations and the Ole Miss response the biggest immediate question for most folks is what happens moving forward?
These allegations are water under the bridge now. Under many bridges for an investigation that is more than three years old.
What impact will this have on a football team in 2016 and beyond that is expected to compete at a high level?
The answer to that, of course, is a moving target and will depend in large part on whether the NCAA accepts the penalties that Ole Miss has put in place.
The larger question about the future of Ole Miss football is how do you feel about this coaching staff?
Multiple violations involve the current staff. The school’s response indicates two assistant coaches – Chris Kiffin and Maurice Harris – were involved in these violations rather extensively even if their violations were unintentional.
They have been disciplined. The fact that they are still employed is significant. It says the university has stood behind them and believes they did not set out to break the rules. That’s how the university states it in the response.
It appears the university trusts the coaching staff moving forward.
The NCAA has spent a lot of time and effort with this investigation. It’s going to get a pound of flesh somewhere.
The aggressive pursuit of Memphis booster Walter Hughes is interesting. Hughes by his own statements and through the conclusions drawn by the school after its interviews with Hughes appears to be one whose primary interest is helping under privileged kids in his community. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a popular outlet for doing that in communities across the country. The legitimacy of Hughes’ ministry is confirmed in interviews with the high school coach and players. Hughes is also a football fan who for a time did not successfully navigate the dangerous intersections of those two interests.
It would seem, however, that a body that often speaks of the importance of putting the needs of student-athletes first would recognize Hughes’ work for what it appears to be.
The Hughes-Maurice Harris violation is but one in this process. There are others, the loaner cars for instance, that are not rooted in good intentions.
I thought for a long time that since the loaner car matter involving Tunsil and C.J. Hampton was dealt with last fall, and players were reinstated during the season, that the matter had been resolved to the NCAA’s satisfaction. Now what I’m hearing from folks familiar with NCAA investigations is that may not be true. When the case is presented to the NCAA Committee on Infractions the loaner car matter may be viewed as the players being punished last fall, and now it’s time for the university to be punished.
Eleven scholarship reductions imposed by the school is significant. It will be felt. I suspect the NCAA will tack on more.
What would really be a blow to the momentum the program has built would be a bowl ban. That was not something that occurred at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where David Saunders was also accused of helping arrange fraudulent ACT tests. In the ULL instance, the accusation against Saunders came when he was on staff with the current head coach, Mark Hudspeth.
The violations naming Saunders and Chris Vaughn in the Ole Miss investigation did not occur when Hugh Freeze was head coach.
However, there are other violations that do not involve Saunders, and the NCAA will consider the totality of the investigation when applying penalties.
On the field the Rebels have some questions to answer along the offensive line. They have talent at the skill positions, and – though some of it’s inexperienced – there is talent across the board on defense.
Most of all, the Rebels have an outstanding talent at the most important position, quarterback, in Chad Kelly.
If things break right Ole Miss could again contend in the West and reach a New Year’s Six bowl game – or more.
Coaches and players often talk about the importance of focusing only on what they can control.
Now the future of Ole Miss football could be greatly impacted by a body it can’t control – the committee on infractions.