Two games and two victories into his first season as head coach of Ole Miss football, Matt Luke would likely prefer to focus his time and energy preparing for next weekend’s road test against 2-0 UC Berkeley. Despite the upcoming matchup, Luke will be forced to set aside his strategizing and instead represent the university at the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions hearing, scheduled for Monday.
The hearing, which could last two or three full days, will culminate in the committee’s official ruling and subsequent punishments for the program’s 21 allegations. Luke, in just his second full month as head coach of the Rebels, is required to attend the entirety of the hearing, set to take place in Covington, Kentucky.
Just how long the highly anticipated hearing will last is still an unknown.
“I do have to go,” Luke said following his team’s victory over UT Martin this weekend. “I’m not sure how long it’s going to last. I’m hoping to be back where I don’t have to miss a practice.”
Luke’s absence could prove consequential in his team’s preparation for Saturday, especially if the meetings do not begin until Wednesday.
Luke stressed to the media that his players and staff would be well-prepared for their third game of the season. The Committee on Infractions request that running backs coach Derrick Nix and tight ends coach Maurice Harris appear before the panel may however put an even heavier burden on offensive coordinator Phil Longo and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff to keep Luke’s ship steady.
The hearing, which wraps up a nearly year-and-a-half investigation from the first round of allegations, will have serious implications for the future of Ole Miss football. While the air in Covington will certainly be heavy with anticipation for the committee’s ruling, the mindset in Oxford seems relaxed.
“It’s something we’re not worried about,” quarterback Shea Patterson said, not long after eclipsing former quarterback Chad Kelly’s single-game passing yards record during the game against UT Martin. “Right now, we’re just focusing on the next game: Cal.”
Longo stood by his star quarterback’s confident statement, shrugging off the significance of the hearing’s effect and Luke’s absence on the team.
“We’ve got some mature players at each of those positions, and we have some (graduate assistants) who do a phenomenal job, so we’ll cover for the day and be just fine when they get back,” he said.
While the Rebels will surely be able to overcome a practice or two without their head coach, the real hurdle will be handling the news from the committee’s hearing. Whatever the committee decides, the effect will be far-reaching in determining the future of Ole Miss football. Even with such weighty decisions clouding the forecast, the Rebels have proven they can drown out noise and compete without distractions when necessary.