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Breaking News: Ole Miss Releases Response To NCAA Allegations

Photo by Steven Gagliano

Ole Miss has released their response to the NCAA in wake of the allegations which were presented back on February 22nd. The University’s response outlines their case for several allegations to be dropped while admitting to others. 
To view the full 125-page report in its entirety, click here
Below are some of the key points outlined in the university’s response to the NCAA. 
“Although we agree several violations occurred, we do not agree that credible and persuasive evidence supports all of the allegations in the Notice. Our Response details our position on each allegation, and we look forward to appearing before the Committee on Infractions.”
Introduction
The University of Mississippi (the “University”) has a duty to its faculty, students, alumni and supporters, to fellow members of the Southeastern Conference (the “SEC”) and the NCAA, and to the public at large to operate its athletics programs in a manner consistent with the highest principles of intercollegiate athletics. This duty includes the obligation, whenever the University learns of potential conduct that transgresses those principles, to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of whether that may result in adverse findings or potential sanctions. Simply put, the University’s commitment to integrity, honesty, and fairness in all endeavors requires that it “get it right.” This same spirit has guided the University’s response to the 2016 and 2017 Notices of Allegations.
Consistent with its commitment to getting it right, the University has conducted an exhaustive and thoughtful examination of the evidence. Based upon that review and the high evidentiary standard prescribed by Bylaw 19.7.8.3, the University has concluded that significant violations occurred in connection with its football program over a period of years, including during this investigation. These violations, which include multiple, intentional acts of misconduct by (now former) University employees and (now disassociated) boosters, are serious. As described in this response, the University has held those responsible accountable – many in unprecedented, public ways – and has taken institutional responsibility for what has occurred. The University firmly believes its bold corrective actions will make a meaningful and permanent difference.
In taking responsibility for what has occurred, the University has self-imposed significant and appropriate penalties. To determine the appropriate measure for those penalties, the University considered the breadth and scope of the violations along with two other factors: (1) the fact that all but three of the Level I allegations (i.e., Allegations Nos. 5, 20, and 21) were the result of intentional misconduct specifically intended to evade monitoring systems implemented by the University, the athletics department, and the head football coach; and (2) the University’s proactive approach to compliance, including its efforts to detect and investigate potential violations, and its exemplary cooperation throughout this four-plus-year process. Based upon these factors, the proper classification for this case is Level I – Standard. The University has accordingly imposed meaningful Standard core penalties. As detailed below, these penalties include: a post-season ban, which necessitates the loss of nearly $8,000,000 in SEC revenue; a double-digit reduction of scholarships; a more-than 10 percent reduction in off-campus evaluation days in each of two years; a nearly 20 percent reduction in official visits; a more-than three month prohibition on unofficial visits; the refusal to grant a staff member’s request for a multi-year contract; the disassociation of involved boosters, including a prohibition on attending University home athletic events and a restriction on entering all athletic facilities; violation specific rules education; and a $179,797 financial penalty.  See Part D.3 for additional self-imposed penalties.
Yet, there are instances in which the University disagrees with the enforcement staff’s interpretation of the evidence or its sufficiency. Most importantly, the University contests the allegations concerning institutional control and head coach responsibility (Allegations Nos. 20-21). The University has consistently satisfied each of the four pillars of institutional control: (1) “adequate compliance measures exist”; (2) “they are appropriately conveyed to those who need to be aware of them”; (3) “they are monitored to ensure that such measures are being followed”; and (4) “on learning of a violation, the institution takes swift action.” See Exhibit IN-1, Division I Committee on Infractions’ Principles of Institutional Control (the “Principles”). It has myriad compliance measures in place, many of which have detected or prevented violations. Those measures have been bolstered over time as a result of evolving national best practices and “hot-button” issues, self-evaluation of areas to improve, and analysis of major infraction reports from across the country. The University has also improved its compliance systems based on lessons learned during this investigation. Because an institutional control charge was not included in the 2016 Notice based upon substantially similar facts, it appears this charge rests on the increased number of allegations, which has never been – and should not be – this Committee’s focus. Instead, the question before the Committee in evaluating the institutional control charge is whether the University had appropriate policies and procedures in place at the time of those violations, and if so, did the University implement and enforce those policies. Second, after careful analysis of the testimony and supporting records, the University has concluded that head football coach Hugh Freeze has met it and membership’s expectations to emphasize and promote compliance and to implement strong and comprehensive monitoring.


Reply To Charge Of Lack Of Institutional Control 

7.   The Lack of Institutional Control Allegation
Like the head coach responsibility allegation, the lack of institutional control charge is not supported by the evidence. This is not a case about ignoring red flags or a failure to implement a necessary institutional policy, rule, or best practice. To the contrary, the University has been operating, consistently monitoring, and improving its compliance systems to prevent and detect potential issues and violations in real time. Strong compliance measures existed throughout the relevant period, and the institution’s expectations with respect to integrity and the NCAA rules were appropriately conveyed to the right people. Indeed, the enforcement staff has acknowledged that the University’s rules education programs and compliance policies are adequate, a fact confirmed in the University’s 2016 outside audit mandated by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter shortly after his arrival. See Exhibit IN-6, Bond, Schoeneck & King Athletics Assessment Report (2016). This case has confirmed the reach of the University’s rules education program, in that no involved individuals claim ignorance to excuse their conduct; they ignored specific educational materials that explicitly covered the exact rules they chose to break. See Exhibit IN-7, Rules Education Materials.
According to the University’s research, an institutional control violation has never been triggered by the mere existence of an underlying violation or even multiple, serious violations. Instead, it is a unique, stand-alone allegation that requires a big-picture review of the University’s commitment to compliance with NCAA rules. The University’s systems and efforts have met and continue to meet the appropriate standards.
In particular, none of the Level I violations in this case could have been prevented, detected, or deterred by any reasonable compliance or monitoring system, especially those violations committed by relatively unknown boosters who acted on their own or individuals who intentionally avoided monitoring systems and hid their actions from the University’s compliance and coaching staff.


 
The University’s Self-Imposed Penalties and Corrective Actions
The University concluded that the football case in the 2016 Notice was appropriately classified as Level I – Mitigated after analyzing several Committee decisions that provided guidance about the application of that penalty structure and limited the imputation of unethical conduct committed by an employee to the responsible institution. Since then, the University has discovered additional information about violations. Based on that information, the University has determined that this case should be classified as Level I – Standard. Considering the core penalties prescribed for a Standard case, the University announced on February 22, 2017, that it would withdraw its football team from postseason competition after the 2017 season. Under SEC Bylaws, the University will forfeit its share of $8,000,000 in projected postseason revenues. The University has self-imposed additional scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions, many
10 The University found and developed the specific information supporting at least four of the football allegations in the 2016 Notice, all of which have been re-alleged in this case (Allegation Nos. 5, 6, 8, 19). Similarly, the University located and provided to the enforcement staff probative information confirming parts of Allegations Nos. 14 and 16.
[11]
of which now approach the line between Aggravated and Standard: (1) scholarship reductions of approximately 15 percent over four years; (2) a complete prohibition on unofficial visits between September 1, 2017 and October 19, 2017 (seven weeks/three home football games/one SEC game); (3) a nearly 20% official visit reduction in the 2014-2015 academic year; and (4) a financial penalty of $179,797.
The University has also taken strong corrective actions, including:

  •  The University has disassociated every booster involved in violations (Allegations No. 5, 11, 15, 16, 18 and 19). For boosters who acted intentionally or whose accounts were not credible, that dissociation includes an unprecedented prohibition from attending University home athletics events and a restriction on entering all athletic facilities (Allegations No. 5, 11, 15, 16, 18 and 19). See Exhibit IN-8, Disassociation Letters.
  •  The University has created a Test Score Validation Form to gain more information regarding ACT and/or SAT examinations where a prospect’s test scores increase by a certain amount (Allegation No. 1);
  •  The University’s compliance and football recruiting staff now incorporate a description and discussion of official visit itineraries specific to each prospective student-athlete (Allegations Nos. 6 and 7);
  •  The University has revised its Official Visit Approval Form to require names of those accompanying a recruit and their exact biological relationship to the recruit. See Exhibit IN-9, Revised Official Visit Form (Allegation No. 8);
  •  The University refused Chris Kiffin’s request for a multi-year contract based in part on his handling of potential and actual violations;11 (Allegations Nos. 8, 10 and 13);
  •  The University has revised its unofficial visit paperwork to include a personal statement that each prospect signs acknowledging the prospect has been informed about what benefits are allowed during an unofficial visit. See Exhibit IN-10, Revised Unofficial Visit Paperwork (Allegation No. 14);
  •  The University ended Barney Farrar’s employment after it was determined he committed serious infractions, hid evidence from the University, and was less-than-truthful with investigators (Allegations Nos. 14, 16-(a) and 17);
  •  The University’s compliance staff has already implemented rules education with [Booster 3], the dealership that provided the improper loaner cars at issue, regarding the provision of extra benefits to University student-athletes and is providing specific rules education to student-athletes concerning loaner car violations as part of its annual NCAA instruction (Allegation No. 19);
  •  The University has enhanced its monitoring of student-athlete vehicles, creating new systems and processes to track which vehicles student-athletes are using and to highlight potential violations (Allegation No. 19);
  •  The University has expanded its compliance staff and reallocated resources to increase monitoring and to respond to inquiries on a round-the-clock basis; 
  • The University continues to implement (or has already implemented) every recommendation received as part of an external review the chancellor required upon his hiring.


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