The NCAA investigation has finally come to an end with 33 Ole Miss wins erased from the record books. The saga that spanned over five years and included gas masks, escorts and postseason bans is over, and Ole Miss Athletics can start fresh.
The vacated wins from 2010-13, 2014 and 2016 include the 2012 Egg Bowl win, the 2013 win over LSU and the Alabama win in 2014, which was the Rebels’ first win over Alabama since 2003. The wins were vacated because of participation by ineligible players.
While it’s obviously not desirable, this news has been more relieving than negative for Rebel fans, judging by the mood on campus and on Twitter. The overall reaction has been positive from fans and students, who are simply happy the whole situation is over. Indifference isn’t the word, but the NCAA stating that those wins didn’t happen was the least of the Ole Miss faithfuls’ issues.
The final sanction from the NCAA came as no surprise to a fan base that has had a bone to pick with the powers that be since 2012. It has been well documented how the investigation has gone awry at the hands of the NCAA, who granted immunity to student athletes who revealed information about infractions committed by Ole Miss Athletics, ensuring a penalty for Ole Miss. The NCAA’s ongoing incompetence is further evidenced by the situation at Missouri last week.
The NCAA stated that Missouri showed “exemplary cooperation” but proceeded to hammer the university with postseason bans in softball, baseball and football as well as multiple recruiting restrictions. The sanctions given to Missouri challenge universities under investigation to find that sweet spot between cooperation and obstruction.
From what we’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to argue that the correct plan of action when the NCAA knocks on the door is to turn off the lights and act like no one’s home.
The good thing for Ole Miss and Ross Bjork, however, is that it no longer matters what they did or should have done. All of that is now officially in the past. Ole Miss Athletics can operate like a normal program.
At the end of the 2018 season, Matt Luke started the offseason with a clean slate. Since then, the coach who was initially thought to do no more than carry Ole Miss through the murky waters has hit all the right notes for the program.
Luke had an uncertain early signing period with a defensive coordinator being relieved of his duties and an offensive coordinator leaving for another job. Recruiting players while trying to fill the coaching staff with high-profile candidates was a tall task, but Luke managed it well.
Ole Miss hired two successful former head coaches in Rich Rodriguez for the offense and Mike MacIntyre for the defense. The two hires helped finish off a 2019 recruiting class that will lay a foundation for success in the future. Ole Miss finished with the No. 22 class in the country, still far from the groundbreaking class of 2013 but a positive sign moving forward.
Bjork and company will appear at seven town hall meetings across the state as part of a pledge for more transparency to the fanbase. The first at the Grammy Museum in Cleveland on Monday saw the athletic director taking questions from whoever came forward. Bjork will do the same in Jackson, Oxford, Tupelo, Gulfport and Memphis during the month of February.
Football isn’t the only sport on campus trending upwards. Basketball is overperforming. Picked to finish last in the SEC before the season, the Kermit Davis Rebels are in a position to play into the NCAA Tournament. The baseball team is starting out with high expectations coming off an SEC Tournament win. If you had any doubt about the anticipation building for that team, you can ask the students who showed up to the stadium at 4:30 a.m. to camp out and wait for the gates to open at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday for people to claim their spots in right field.
Between the success on National Signing Day, the resurrection of the basketball program and the growing hype surrounding this year’s baseball squad, there is an underlying buzz around Ole Miss. Bjork and Ole Miss want the announcement of the final sanctions to mark a shift. While fans shouldn’t expect a quick turnaround with a ten-win season and Sugar Bowl win in 2019, there is legitimate reason for excitement about the revival of Ole Miss Athletics.