Friday was supposed to feel somewhat like closure for the Ole Miss athletic department. And in a way, it was, as the school released its response to an NCAA notice of allegations and also self-imposed double-digit scholarship reductions for football.
Thirteen of the 28 allegations involve the football team, including nine during coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure. Of those 13, eight are Level I (the most severe). But new findings involving star left tackle Laremy Tunsil mean the school’s dealings with the NCAA aren’t over.
Ole Miss’ football program, which self-imposed the loss of 11 scholarships over the next four years, will have this Tunsil/NCAA cloud hovering over it for the foreseeable future. In its response, the school asked the NCAA to postpone this summer’s hearing with the committee on infractions until Ole Miss can complete a joint investigation with the NCAA regarding Tunsil’s text messages that were released during the first night of the NFL draft.
It’s unclear what the NCAA or the school will do as far as punishment going forward. The NCAA still has to hand out its final ruling on this current investigation before it can add -- or not add -- any extra punishment that could come from an investigation into Tunsil, who admitted on draft night to taking money from an Ole Miss staff member.
So the Rebels aren’t out of the woods.
While there were some damning allegations in Ole Miss’ response, most notably the academic fraud that involved former Houston Nutt staff members Chris Vaughn and David Saunders, there was no bombshell that could cripple Ole Miss’ football program, and Freeze likely won’t lose his job over this.
His reputation may take a hit in some quarters. He’s adamantly defended his staff’s behavior over the years, and now he’ll have to answer for these infractions. Freeze will need to clean things up moving forward. There should also be a more thorough vetting of anyone who comes around the program.
However, the academic fraud took place before Freeze arrived, and most of the violations that occurred with his current staff involved Tunsil. Tunsil was suspended for the first seven games last season for his use of loaner vehicles from Cannon Motors in Oxford, Mississippi. Tunsil also spent two nights at the home of defensive line coach Chris Kiffin’s house, and Tunsil’s stepfather (Lindsey Miller) received $800 from a booster, which is outlined in the NCAA's report.
The loss of scholarships will likely sting, but they aren’t USC-type losses. Ole Miss also wasn’t hit with the “lack of institutional control” label, and the school was cooperative in the investigation, which could go a long way in tempering the NCAA’s final verdict.
But the Tunsil situation will continue to weigh the program down. There’s no telling what will come of it, so Ole Miss coaches and administrators are left to wait even longer for a true resolution.