'Reforms are needed': Ole Miss wins part of appeal, calls out NCAA

Sam Cooper
In its NCAA appeal, Ole Miss got a victory on the recruiting front. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
In its NCAA appeal, Ole Miss got a victory on the recruiting front. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Ole Miss won part of its appeal case against the NCAA.

Back in February, the school filed a formal appeal of some of the sanctions levied against the football program by the NCAA. The school conceded that “serious violations took place” in its football program, but fought back against a series of charges.

One specific penalty levied by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (COI) was restricting the number of unofficial visits in recruiting. Ole Miss said that sanction in particular was “unprecedented and unauthorized.” The NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) agreed and overturned the decision entirely.

From Ole Miss:

The university prevailed in its appeal of the most onerous sanction, the penalty restricting unofficial visits. According to the IAC, “the Committee on Infractions (COI) abused its discretion when prescribing penalty VII.5.c [unofficial visit restrictions] in that it was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.” The IAC overturned the penalty entirely, clearing the way for the football program to move forward and continue recruiting at a high level.

Previously, recruits interested in Ole Miss could only take one unofficial visit to Ole Miss per academic year. Per Ole Miss, a penalty of that nature had “never been imposed” by the Committee on Infractions. Now the school will no longer be limited on that front, an unquestioned boon for its recruiting efforts.

Other NCAA sanctions against Ole Miss will stand

Ole Miss appealed other NCAA sanctions as well, but those will remain in place. The school appealed the NCAA’s decision to add an additional year to a self-imposed one-year bowl ban, the dreaded “Lack of Institutional Control” charge and some violations related to Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based retail store alleged to have provided free gear to recruits.

The IAC decided to keep those in place. Thusly, the Rebels — who currently have a 5-3 record — will remain banned from postseason play.

“While we are pleased by the IAC’s finding that the COI abused its discretion with respect to the unofficial visit penalty, we remain disappointed by the remainder of the ruling, which upheld a 2018 postseason ban and findings of lack of institutional control and recruiting inducements,” Ole Miss said.

Ole Miss claimed its case did not meet the “type of institution-wide failure required by precedent” for lack of institutional control, one of the most serious charges given out by the NCAA enforcement team. Per the NCAA, lack of institutional control is found when the COI determines that major violations occurred and the institution “failed to display adequate compliance measures, appropriate education on those compliance measures, sufficient monitoring to ensure the compliance measures are followed and swift action upon learning of a violation.”

With respect to the Rebel Rags allegations, the NCAA says the store provided $2,800 worth of free merchandise to recruits (including current Mississippi State players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones) as arranged by two former Ole Miss staff members. Ole Miss maintains those assertions are “contrary to overwhelming evidence.”

[Related: Here’s how bad the deception was at Ole Miss. – Pete Thamel]

Ole Miss: NCAA enforcement model is broken

In its public update to the appeal, Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and athletic director Ross Bjork were critical of the NCAA, agreeing with the Commission on College Basketball’s conclusion that the NCAA enforcement model is “broken” and “ill-equipped to handle complex cases.”

“We believe our case was adversely impacted because of it. In the early part of the investigation, our cooperation with the enforcement staff allowed us to contain the case to allegations that were based on credible and persuasive evidence instead of speculation and rumor. However, in April 2016, unbeknownst to us, the enforcement staff shifted and excluded us from the investigation for several months,” Vitter and Bjork’s update said.

“The results of this shift spawned allegations based on inconsistent testimony by individuals with clear motives and conflicts of interest. In fact, the IAC found that various witness accounts ‘could have led a reasonably prudent person to a different interpretation of the facts.’”

Vitter and Bjork are especially miffed that the IAC allowed the COI to use cases from decades ago in this decision.

“Every institution that has decades-old cases should remain alarmed over this decision and skeptical about the discretion afforded the COI. If the COI can ‘accord significant weight’ to prior cases from a 30-year time frame when prescribing penalties, then no program will ever get a clean slate,” Vitter and Bjork said.

“We are troubled that the IAC, in its written decision, ignored this overreach by the COI. All of this suggests that additional NCAA reforms are needed, and we will be a leader in that effort.”

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