I keep hearing Ole Miss fans talking about being unfairly targeted by the NCAA and calling it a “witch hunt”. In case you have not heard, the NCAA finally concluded its investigation into recruiting violations at the University of Mississippi. New information available to the NCAA stemming from Leremy Tunsil’s draft day publicity allowed the investigators to extend their research into leads they were already following from a previous investigation and it turned up even more violations. This led the NCAA to announce a new list of accusations including the dreaded “lack of institutional control” against the university and “head coach responsibility legislation” against head coach Hugh Freeze.
Most sensible people assumed some questionable things occurred with the Rebels’ incredible 2013 recruiting class. This was a football program drowning in obscurity and losses. Suddenly Hugh Freeze comes in and lands the top players in the country at three different positions. While it was at least remotely possible that this was done properly, the sensible outsider assumed that improprieties had occurred. Ole Miss fans, and Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze, cried foul calling out anyone who suggested all was not above board.
As the three big name recruits were in the process of leaving Ole Miss early via the NFL draft, new issues surfaced with a player’s relative claiming that family members were paid and a player even saying on camera that he would have to say “yes” if asked if they had received money. So, the NCAA extended its investigation and continued to dig. Last week the NCAA levelled a new list of accusations including to the level 1 violation of lack of institutional control.
Most of you already know about all of this. It is reasonable to accept the NCAA’s new list of accusation as further evidence that Ole Miss did indeed circumvent the rules to some extent in order to land their stunning 2013 class and perhaps others. I think most folks will agree that there has been simply too much smoke around the program to give them the benefit of the doubt any longer. Which brings me to my point. Stop whining Ole Miss. It is NOT a witch hunt if you ARE guilty. Stop complaining that people just assumed you were cheating when you were cheating. You only get to be indignant if you were innocent and the evidence does not seem to support you in this case. We get it, the program was floundering hopelessly and you took the risk to see if you could get away with it long enough to establish the program among the elite. You rolled the dice and they came up snake eyes. It happens. Take the penalty and move on with as much dignity as you can retain.
Ole Miss self-imposed a one year bowl ban as penalty for their indiscretions. I find it unlikely the NCAA will consider that enough. There will likely be additional scholarship reductions and possibly even a two-year bowl ban. This is a key point because a two-year ban allows players currently on the roster to transfer to another program without sitting out the obligatory one season. This could lead to mass desertion from the football team which would be tough to overcome for Ole Miss with diminished scholarships and recruiting under the microscope.
There are some among the Rebel program and its surrounding fan base that promise if Ole Miss goes down they will not go down alone. Some claim to have evidence of wrongdoing at other SEC football programs most notably Mississippi State and Alabama. Hopefully, this is just the product of frustration. This is exactly what lead to the downfall of the old Southwestern Conference. While some level of rule-bending almost certainly goes on at all major programs, it is difficult to prove. The people involved are smart and experienced at the art and quite often not actually connected with the coaching staff or athletic department. Unless a player or his family is willing to speak out and testify, it is nearly impossible to prove wrong-doing. Nonetheless, this should be interesting to watch over the next few months.