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SEC Country: Timing of Ole Miss’s ‘Allegations’ Report Reeks of a Rival Spilling the Beans before Signing Day

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (left) has only been linked, time-wise, to one of the NCAA allegations involving the Rebels football program -- offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (right) receiving improper benefits and serving a seven-game suspension in 2015. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (left) has only been linked, time-wise, to one of the NCAA allegations involving the Rebels football program — offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (right) receiving improper benefits and serving a seven-game suspension in 2015. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Courtesy of Jay Clemons and SEC Country

This was no ordinary Friday afternoon news dump. This one had a collateral-damage effect in mind.

On Friday, Yahoo! Sports broke the story of NCAA officials formally notifying Ole Miss of allegations involving the football, track and field and women’s basketball programs.

On the football side, the majority of alleged rules violations occurred during Houston Nutt’s coaching regime with the Rebels (2008-11), minus one exception: On head coach Hugh Freeze’s watch, the notion of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (2013-15) — who could be a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft — receiving improper benefits from a car dealership in Oxford, Miss.

For the record, I have no issue with the Yahoo! report of Ole Miss allegations. The NCAA might have a random, seemingly convoluted system of rules, but the member institutions/athletic programs are still obligated to follow these measures to the letter — and then be transparent when certain rules are violated.

However, I find the timing of Friday’s announcement to be somewhat curious, perhaps laughable. Ole Miss officials were anticipating the NCAA allegation findings for roughly three years … and boom, just like that, the news breaks five days before National Signing Day — and also coincides with the Rebels’ final weekend of hosting undecided prep stars (official or unofficial visits).

Through this period of uncertainty, Ole Miss officials have apparently been forthright with the NCAA in addressing the football-related violations — overseeing measures like restricting off-campus coaching visits or honoring Tunsil’s seven-game suspension during the 2015 season. As such, given the Rebels’ relatively clean standing with the NCAA, it’s hard to subsequently foresee any grave punishments in the form of probation, scholarship reductions or bowl bans.

And yet, Ole Miss was still placed in an awkward position before a crucial recruiting weekend … and just days before the nation’s best prep players solidified life-changing decisions with their college choices.

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According to 247Sports.com, Ole Miss currently holds the No. 4 overall recruiting ranking for the 2016 class, rivaling the Rebels’ landmark class from 2013 (led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell and the aforementioned Tunsil — all of whom could be top-15 NFL picks this spring). But it’ll be interesting to see how the Rebels fare during the final recruiting push, in lieu of Friday’s ‘allegations’ report.

(Shea Patterson, one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks from the 2016 class, has already arrived on the Ole Miss campus.)

We’ll likely never know the school, source or coaching staff responsible for leaking the Ole Miss news to Yahoo! Sports (full disclosure: I do a weekly Sunday spot for the Yahoo! radio network). But it’s feasible to believe an SEC rival could have been involved.

After all, that’s life in the high-stakes, dog-eat-dog world of SEC football, where a school that finishes in the top 20 national recruiting rankings … can still end up in 8th or 9th place, in-conference. Within that rationale, Ole Miss officials shouldn’t have been aghast at Friday’s announcement.

My only gripe here: Perhaps Ole Miss should have sought the assistance of the U.S. State Department in concealing the ‘allegations’ report until after National Signing Day.

Just like how the State Department won’t be releasing the full lot of emails from presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton — regarding her controversial time with that governing body — until after next week’s New Hampshire primary.

Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.


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