Tuesday night marked the end of the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing involving Ole Miss and the 21 allegations the program is facing.
The hearing, which took place in Covington, Kentucky, had initially been allotted three days for completion but wrapped up after two daylong sessions. Fourteen of the 21 allegations made against Ole Miss were heard and put to the test Monday, with the remaining seven finishing up late Tuesday.
Throughout the two days, various accused and involved parties pleaded their cases to the panel. The panel consisted of Carol Cartwright, president Emerita at Kent State and Bowling Green State Universities; Bobby Cremins, former head men’s basketball coach at Georgia Tech and College of Charleston; Joel Maturi, retired director of athletics at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Eleanor Myers, associate professor of law emerita and interim associate dean for students at Temple University; Larry Parkinson, director of the Office of Enforcement at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Jill Pilgrim, attorney and co-founder of Precise Advisory Group. The committee, headed by Chief Hearing Officer Greg Christopher, director of athletics at Xavier University, will review the hearing and determine an official ruling within the next six to eight weeks.
The much-anticipated finale to the NCAA’s multiple yearslong case against Ole Miss included a variety of actors, some still with the university, some former staffers and others not even affiliated with the university. In attendance for the entirety of the hearing included former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze; his replacement, Matt Luke; Athletics Director Ross Bjork; Chancellor Jeff Vitter; current assistants Maurice Harris and Derrick Nix; and former staffers Barney Farrar and Chris Kiffin.
Also in attendance (for at least portions of the hearing) was Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, who allegedly received up to $15,000 from a booster and free merchandise from Oxford fan shop Rebel Rags.
The two-day meeting saw all of the various case players answer questions and plead their cases for their respective allegations. The university, which faces 15 Level I allegations out of the 21 total, admitted to some and fought others.
One of the biggest areas of contention was the dreaded “lack of institutional control” allegation, potentially the biggest of the Level I infractions, imposed on Freeze and the school. Ole Miss fully denies this charge and hopes to avoid the severe consequences that can result from being found guilty of this particular allegation alone.
Back in the spring, Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban for the current season and a reduction of 11 scholarships over four years. While these self-imposed sanctions by themselves will affect recruiting and the public image in the foreseeable future, the COI could hand down even more devastating punishments, should it find Ole Miss guilty.
From an extended bowl ban to an increased reduction in scholarships to even the rare but plausible “death penalty” (a minimum one-season ban on participation in a certain sport), Ole Miss is facing very serious implications that rest entirely on the hands of the committee.
The future of Ole Miss football is not clear, but it will certainly be affected by the events that transpired in Covington, Kentucky, on Monday and Tuesday. While the team’s fate hangs in the balance, Ole Miss will have its head coach back in Oxford for the remainder of the practice week and will focus on its road trip to California to take on an undefeated Cal Golden Bears team Saturday.