During a joint press conference, Athletic Director Ross Bjork announced that nine new allegations have been made against the Ole Miss football program. Seven of the allegations are classified as Level 1, while two are Level III allegations. Perhaps the biggest allegation is the charge of “lack of institutional control” by Hugh Freeze, a charge that will be fought by the University. In response to these allegations, Bjork announced that the football program has self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2017 season.
“Based on number and scope of the allegations in the revised notice, the factual information we have available, NCAA case precedent and penalty guidelines, and most importantly, the involvement of this former staff member in Level I violations, the university is self-imposing a one-year postseason ban on the football program for the 2017 season in addition to our previously announced self-imposed penalties.” Bjork said.
Other allegations consist of payments to prospective student-athletes, as well as impermissible benefits given to those student-athletes, their friends and family members. Below is a full list of the allegations accompanied by explanations from Bjork during today’s press conference.
1. The first allegation – it is alleged that a prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete A) went hunting near campus on private land owned by a booster during his official visit in 2013 and on two or three occasions after he enrolled, and that the access to this land was arranged by the football program. This has been alleged as a Level III violation.
2. The second allegation – it is alleged that between March 2014 and January 2015, a former staff member (Former Staff Member A) impermissibly arranged for recruiting inducements in the form of lodging and transportation for one prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete B) (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions on several visits to campus and for the impermissible transportation of another prospective student-athlete (Prospective Student-Athlete C) on one occasion. The total value of the lodging and/or transportation between the two prospective student-athletes is alleged to be $2,272. It is also alleged that the football program provided approximately $235 in free meals to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and Prospective Student-Athlete C and the friends of Prospective Student-Athlete B during recruiting visits in this same timeframe. The allegation is alleged as a Level I violation.
3. Third, it is alleged that Former Staff Member A violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly committed NCAA recruiting violations between March 2014 and February 2015 and when he knowingly provided false or misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff in 2016. This is charged as a Level I violation.
In the fourth allegation, we agree that evidence exists to support some – but not all – of the events alleged.
4. In the fourth allegation, it is alleged that between April 2014 and February 2015, Former Staff Member A initiated and facilitated two boosters having impermissible contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). It is further alleged that these two boosters provided Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) with impermissible cash payments during that timeframe and that Former Staff Member A knew about the cash payments. The value of the alleged inducements according to the NCAA is between $13,000 and $15,600. This is charged as a Level I violation.
The university believes there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to conclude that the impermissible contact outlined in the fourth allegation occurred. However, we are still evaluating whether there is sufficient credible and persuasive evidence to support the alleged payments and will make that determination over the course of the next 90 days.
Setting aside those four allegations, the university will contest the following allegations in full:
5. Allegation number five – It is alleged that one former staff member (Former Staff Member B) arranged for a friend of the family of Prospective Student-Athlete D to receive impermissible merchandise from a store owned by a booster on one occasion in 2013 and that Former Staff Member A arranged for Prospective Student-Athletes B and E (both student-athletes enrolled at another institution) to receive merchandise in 2014, 15, and 16. The value of the alleged impermissible recruiting inducements is approximately $2,800 and is charged as a Level I violation.
6. Number six – It is alleged and we will contest that, in 2014 a current football coach had impermissible, in-person, off-campus contact with Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution). This allegation is charged as a Level III violation.
7. Allegation seven – It is alleged that a booster provided money, food and drinks to Prospective Student-Athlete B (who enrolled at another institution) and his companions at the booster’s restaurant on two-to-three unspecified dates between March 2014 and January 2015. The value of the alleged inducements is between $200 and $600. This allegation is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
8. Another Allegation that we will contest is number eight – It is alleged that the head football coach violated head coach responsibility legislation. This allegation is not based upon personal involvement in violations by Coach Freeze but because he is presumed responsible for the allegation involving his staff that occurred between October 2012 and January 2016. Although we disagree, according to the NCAA, Coach Freeze has not rebutted the presumption that he is responsible for his staff’s actions. This is charged as a Level I violation.
9. Finally, allegation nine – It is alleged that the scope and nature of the violations demonstrate that the university lacked institutional control and failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program. This charge replaces the more limited failure to monitor charge in the January 2016 Notice of Allegations. This is charged as a Level I violation that we will contest.
The additional allegations announced today are serious. But, we will vigorously defend the university against those allegations we believe are not appropriately supported, including that we lacked institutional control and that our head football coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or monitor staff in our football program. In our official response, we will provide detailed, supporting information that demonstrates the institution’s strong control of the athletics program, including football, and Coach Freeze’s commitment to compliance. We know the Committee on Infractions will review and consider our response in a fair and impartial manner, and we look forward to presenting our case to the Committee at the appropriate time.
Chancellor Vitter expressed his confidence in both Freeze and Bjork, just as he has throughout the process. Vitter turned things over to Freeze who spoke about the notice of allegations and his role in the NCAA investigation.
“This support you and Ross have given me throughout this has been unwavering and for that I am grateful. This has been a long process for all involved, and like everyone up here today, I am saddened by all of the negative attention that has been brought on our great University by the seriousness of this case. I feel terrible for our players and staff who have to handle the consequences of the actions of a very few. Unfortunately, these penalties are necessary so that this program to be responsible and move forward. While it is extremely difficult to ask current players to suffer penalties based on the actions of others, I agree with the decision to self-impose a one-year bowl ban by our University.
From the moment I arrived in December 2011, I have emphasized to all of my staff that our program is founded on certain core values – faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity and love. Integrity – doing things the right way. I am extremely disappointed to learn that any member of my staff violated any SEC or NCAA rules, and as the head coach, I regret those actions. Any behavior by my staff that is inconsistent with that commitment to do things the right way simply does not reflect the emphasis I personally place on NCAA compliance. As the record will show, I am constantly communicating to our compliance office, the SEC office, and industry leaders to make sure we are using best practices when it comes to doing things the right way. Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this entire process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff, and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the Committee on Infractions.
While this is certainly a day of adversity, it is one that has been met with a renewed resolve by our staff and an excitement that we are nearing the end of this process. As I stated earlier, one of our core values is love. That will be the one our players will need the most through this challenge. I know that the Ole Miss family will rally around them and love them through this journey. This team has overcome any many things and we will use this to make us stronger.
Adversity causes some to break, some to bend, some to complain. That will not be the case here. We will be more intentional and more accountable. We will press on, and we will not blink.
I know of no family that goes without challenges. This is certainly one for our Ole Miss family here. I have always said that I believe you should rejoice always, give thanks in everything, and pray constantly. This will be a great chance for me to put that into practice as I have the great opportunity to lead these young men and our program through this challenge.” Freeze said.
The University has 90 days to draft a full response to the notice of allegations. HottyToddy.com will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
For a full transcript of the press conference, click here.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow HottyToddy.com on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat @hottytoddynews. Like its Facebook page: If You Love Oxford and Ole Miss…