Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

So Ole Miss wants us to believe Hugh Freeze knew nothing of infractions?


Ole Miss is about to get slammed by the NCAA. But the school responded Wednesday by admitting to only some of the new serious recruiting violations leveled against the football program and then did the most predictable thing of all: They put a circle of administrators and lawyers around its most prized possession -- coach Hugh Freeze.

The Rebels self-imposed a one-year bowl ban after getting hit with eight new allegations. The most serious charges involve facilitating contact between a recruit and two boosters who provided cash payments of $13,000 to $15,600 between April 2014 and February 2015, as well as the mother of infractions: a lack of institutional control.

The university took the unusual step of releasing a 20-minute video (which you can view below) with chancellor Jeff Vitter, athletic director Ross Bjork and borderline comatose-looking Freeze. These are the comments that stood out to me.

• Vitter said school officials "vigorously disagree with some key allegations,” and conceded that they “have had our differences on occasion with the NCAA about the investigative process.” But he thanked the NCAA for the investigative process ending.

Comment: Mississippi has a right to complain about the length of this investigation. But it was extended after former Rebels offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil said on NFL draft night in April that he accepted cash from an unnamed coach while he was at the school. It's worth noting that none of the new allegations stem from those draft-night comments.

• Bjork suggests that the program and this year's players "will pay the price for the actions of a few.”

Comment: There's some degree of truth to that. However, the suggestion that "only a few" would be aware of impermissible benefits, none qualifying as a superior, strikes me as bunk.

• Vitter again: "The university will fight the charges that it lacked institutional control and that our head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or fully monitor his staff."

Comment: Of course. This broad NCAA allegation can land the hardest blow, including multiple years of probation, significant loss of scholarships, a bowl ban of one or more years and, in extreme cases, the NCAA's "death penalty." Ole Miss has been charged with 21 violations by current or former members of the football staff. Not all are "Level 1" but certainly enough are to crush the program for a while. The program already has self-imposed the loss of 11 total scholarships in football from 2015 to 2018.

In referencing "our head football coach," Ole Miss also is looking to protect Freeze. Why? Because he has won a lot of games (last season's 5-7 record notwithstanding). But the NCAA has charged that an assistant facilitated contact between boosters and recruits. The suggestion that the assistant somehow went rogue and took these actions without the team's head coach and relative CEO of the program knowing about it seems highly unlikely.

Comment from Freeze: "I am extremely disappointed to learn that any member of my staff violated any SEC or NCAA rules and as the head coach I regret those actions. ... Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the committee on infractions."

Comment: I'm not sure how Freeze can provide evidence that he did not know something was taking place. But good luck with that.

In 2013, Freeze sent out the following comment on Twitter amid allegations. He later deleted it but it lives on in cyberspace.

By deleting the Tweet, is Freeze now conceding that nobody has been slandered?

Yahoo sports' reported last August that the NCAA granted immunity to players at Mississippi State and Auburn who had been recruited by Ole Miss. Buckle up, Rebels fans. This is not going to end well.

Subscribe to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast with Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. All episodes also can be downloaded and heard on iTunes or via WSBRadio.com.

Digital jukebox

 


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.