The NCAA’s protracted investigation of Mississippi has taken a new twist within the last month – investigators have interviewed players at two or more rival Southeastern Conference schools about their recruitment by the Rebels, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.
NCAA Enforcement representatives have visited Auburn and Mississippi State, and perhaps at least one more SEC Western Division school, this summer to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss. The players were granted immunity from potential NCAA sanctions in exchange for truthful accounts of their recruitment, sources said.
Those interviews indicate that the NCAA investigation has expanded beyond the spring focus on former All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
OIe Miss officials declined comment other than to say the school is continuing to cooperate with the NCAA during the investigation. The NCAA, citing longstanding policy, declined comment as well.
Mississippi has been under investigation for years, and in late January was charged with 28 violations in three sports – 13 of them in football, with the rest coming in women’s basketball and track and field. Nine of those alleged violations occurred during the tenure of current coach Hugh Freeze, who has a 34-18 record in four seasons in Oxford.
The investigation was near an end when a new issue erupted in April on the first night of the NFL draft: star offensive tackle Tunsil’s social media accounts were hacked, releasing an alleged text exchange between Tunsil and Ole Miss director of football operations John Miller. In the texts, Tunsil on two separate occasions asks Miller for money – once ostensibly for his rent, and once for his mother’s $305 utility bill. In one of the exchanges, Miller directs Tunsil to assistant athletics director for high school and junior college relations Barney Farrar.
ESPN reported in May that the text messages are real, citing sources, but that the school is investigating whether the messages were altered in any way.
Tunsil already was named in many of the major violations alleged in the January Notice of Allegations, relating to his use of numerous loaner vehicles and impermissible benefits received by his stepfather, Lindsey Miller. In its response to that notice, the university is not disputing the veracity of those NCAA allegations but has questioned the severity of the charges.
This latest development in the ongoing investigation could be a distraction for the Ole Miss coaching staff, which is preparing the No. 11-ranked Rebels for a Labor Day night season opener against No. 4 Florida State in Orlando. With an amended Notice of Allegations still to come from the NCAA, the process is far from over and is unlikely to be completed through the Committee on Infractions ruling until sometime in 2017.
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