August 12, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. -- The NCAA is looking into Ole Miss' recruitment of former five-star defensive lineman Chris Jones, according to a CBS Sports.com story published late Sunday.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was asked about the report following Monday's practice said he has had no contact with the NCAA and has "no clue" about the NCAA's reported inquiry into the Houston, Miss., product.
"I know nothing about it other than what one of you guys told me last night," Freeze said.
Sunday's story was the second in a week revealing alleged NCAA inquiries into Ole Miss' recruiting. Earlier last week, the (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial-Appeal reported the NCAA talked to a Philadelphia, Miss., furniture store regarding allegations that defensive end C.J. Johnson received improper benefits in exchange for his signature. Ole Miss officials said the school was cleared of any wrongdoing following the inquiry.
"I hope that I'm the only one that deals with it," Freeze said Monday when asked if the media reports are a distraction for his team, one preparing for the Aug. 29 season opener at Vanderbilt. "I certainly don't want it to affect what our team's doing or what our coaches are doing. I'm confident in the way we go about things. I've said that from Day One.
"Whoever their sources are, I'm sure they'll check them out like they do every other one. But again, I'm very confident in the way we're going about our business here and the way we want to do it. We've got to get ready for Vandy, so we certainly can't let whatever all that is affect us."
Asked why these stories seem to be popping up now, Freeze said: "You'd have to ask y'all's sources who give y'all all the stuff you write stories about. I don't know who those sources are. Certainly the NCAA doesn't talk about it, so I don't know where you're getting it. Y'all tell me where you're getting it and then we'll try to figure out what's going on."
I don't know who the sources are, either, though I could hazard a strong guess on where Jeremy Fowler learned of the NCAA's inquiry into Jones. I'm not criticizing Fowler, either; a five-star prospect's recruiting being investigated is newsworthy. However, it's a safe bet Fowler's source is in Starkville, which begs another question: Why would anyone around Mississippi State want the NCAA digging into Chris Jones?
I'm not naive. I know college football recruiting isn't squeaky clean. However, Jones' recruiting was more bizarre than any recruiting story I've ever followed, and I've covered some dandies. Jones made clandestine trips to Oxford, trips that one Mississippi State-based "media outlet" vociferously denied, even when photographic proof of the visits took place. Jones himself appeared to be overwhelmed by the process, lying to reporters about his travels and then finally telling ESPN.com's Kipp Adams that he received death threats in the days leading up to National Signing Day.
The stories regarding Johnson and Jones make it clear that, at the very least, the NCAA is undertaking a fishing expedition of sorts into Ole Miss. The Rebels' 2013 recruiting class, one ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's seventh-best, ruffled some feathers. Under Houston Nutt, the Rebels were not a factor on national recruits not from Mississippi. Before that, the same basically held true on national recruits not named Eli Manning. It's not all that surprising the NCAA would throw a few poles in the water.
Further, when Freeze challenged anyone with knowledge of recruiting improprieties involving Ole Miss to contact the school's compliance office, that almost invited the scrutiny.
My opinion is we'll see more reports like these in the next few months, but unless they have a lot more bite to them, there's not a whole lot for Ole Miss fans to worry about. On top of that, the NCAA is understaffed, hasn't displayed much of a taste for blood recently and has more than enough problems of its own these days.
Take a look at Ole Miss' current commitment class. Unlike a year ago, when the Rebels landed national recruits such as Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, this one has a strong Mississippi flavor to it. Outside of Gerri Green, Mississippi State doesn't have a commitment from any player in the Magnolia State that the Rebels covet. There seems to be a sense among prospects in the state that Freeze is stealing momentum away from Dan Mullen, who previously ripped it away from Houston Nutt. Planting a seed of doubt about Ole Miss, even a small one, in the minds of prospects might not be a bad strategy on MSU's part.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's a smoldering gun somewhere. This just feels like a goose chase of sorts, one that will likely lead to increased rhetoric among fans, a salicious headline or two and a little more fuel for both sides leading up to Thanksgiving night.