UPDATED BREAKING: The latest on Ole Miss football’s NCAA ruling

Posted on Dec 1 2017 - 10:18am by Grayson Weir, Lana Ferguson

Updated with 11:30 a.m. with information from NCAA press conference:

Greg Christopher, chief hearing officer and athletics director at Xavier, led a press conference call with media an hour after the NCAA released its sanctions to the public.

“This case strikes at the heart of what college sports stands for and is a direct result of a culture where rules violations were an acceptable part of the Ole Miss football program,” Christopher said. “That culture has existed at Ole Miss for decades and continued through the investigation of this case.”

Christopher said the 2017 Ole Miss case was strikingly similar to those of the past, in 1986 and 1994. In this year’s investigation, the third case over three decades that involved boosters and the football program, boosters were cited as involved in recruiting and the football staff was found to have been aware and encouraging of the improper actions.

Christopher said that for five years, the university failed to exercise control of its football program. The case surrounding the football team was entirely separate from the recent cases on the Ole Miss track and field and women’s basketball programs, and it amassed more than 53,000 pages throughout the process.

In an effort to understand the full scope of the program’s actions and violations, the NCAA granted six individual athletes limited immunity for their cooperation.

“As demonstrated in this (case) and others, it is an effective fact-gathering tool,” Christopher said. “In the infractions process, we are most interested in the conduct of administrators and coaches, rather than the student-athletes they are leading.”

While coming to a conclusion on the Ole Miss case, Christopher addressed the leaks of information to the media. He emphasized the importance of confidential information as important in helping the integrity of the investigation and those involved. He said nothing the media published influenced the investigation.

“We are committed to fairness,” he said. “I believe we achieved that.”

One of the big questions being asked regarding the NCAA’s decision concerned the penalties imposed on Hugh Freeze. Should the former Ole Miss head coach be hired to another program before Nov. 30, 2018, he will face a two-conference-game suspension.

“For the head coach that was involved, you’re getting at head coach responsibility,” Christopher said. “A lot of people will through head coach responsibility into one big bucket, but a lot of times, people don’t step out and see that there are two prongs. There’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, and there’s also failure to monitor.”

In the committee’s findings, Christopher said Freeze’s structure on compliance was sound and his cooperation throughout the investigation was substantial. However, the committee found he failed to monitor the program’s actions and booster interactions.

Regarding the penalties set for the Ole Miss program, Christopher was confident in the committee’s decision, which stemmed from the penalties the university self-imposed earlier in 2017.

“Mississippi, with the proactive approach, identified where it fit on the scale, and we felt as though the university was pretty accurate in their findings,” he said.

When coming to a decision, the Committee on Infractions looked holistically at the investigation and timeline of events.

“Our objective since early October was to put together a thorough, well-written report in the most efficient timeline as possible,” he said. “I believe we did that.”

Updated at 11 a.m. with statement from the chancellor:

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter released a statement saying Ole Miss will “vigorously appeal” the 2018 postseason bowl ban. The university created a website with all of the documents from the investigation.

Updated with 10:30 a.m. news release from the NCAA:

The NCAA has released to the public the final verdict on Ole Miss’ five-year investigation, in which the football program was deemed to have “lacked institutional control” and “fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting,” according to a Division I Committee on Infractions panel.

According to the report, six football staff members and 12 boosters were found guilty of involvement in the violations. Of the violations, the staffers and boosters were involved with the oversight of approximately $37,000 in payment to prospective recruits, the illicit use of automobiles, lodging, transportation, meals and apparel, as well as arranging false standardized test scores for recruits.

The panel also found former head coach Hugh Freeze guilty of failure to monitor the football program and allowing his staff to commit the violations under his watch. He must serve a two conference-game suspension for the 2018 season should any NCAA school hire him between Dec. 1, 2017, and Nov. 30, 2018.

The panel said this case was a direct result of the culture at Ole Miss, “where rules violations were acceptable in the football program” and these violations were similar to ones committed by the university in the past.

“This is now the third case over three decades that has involved the boosters and football program,” the panel stated in its decision. “Even the head coach acknowledged that upon coming to Mississippi, he was surprised by the ‘craziness’ of boosters trying to insert themselves into his program.”

Penalties from the Committee on Infractions for the university include: three years of probation, which will run from Dec. 1, 2017, to Nov. 30, 2020, a financial penalty of $179,797 that was self-imposed by the university, the 2017 postseason ban imposed by the university as well as an additional year for 2018, vacation of all regular-season and postseason wins in which ineligible student-athletes competed and scholarship reductions through the 2018-19 season.

By NCAA rule, players whose remaining eligibility is covered by the 2018 bowl ban are free to transfer without sitting out a year. As it stands, only the senior class falls under this rule, but the NCAA can waive this restriction if warranted.

The Committee on Infractions is composed of NCAA members and people of the public. The members of the panel who reviewed this case are Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State; Greg Christopher, chief hearing officer and athletics director at Xavier; Bobby Cremins, former head basketball coach at Georgia Tech; Joel Maturi, former Minnesota athletics director; Eleanor W. Myers, law professor at Temple; and Larry Parkinson, director of enforcement for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Original story (published at 9 a.m.):

After a nearly five-year investigation, everything is coming to an end.

Ole Miss received its final ruling from the NCAA Committee on Infractions regarding the 21 allegations levied against the university this morning, 15 of which fell into the most serious classification, Level I.

Ole Miss Spirit’s Chuck Rounsaville tweeted sources say the university will receive a two-year bowl ban, four years probation, a loss of 13 scholarships and $179,000 penalty, but a second source has not confirmed that yet.

The two-year bowl ban includes the self-imposed bowl ban from this 2017 season that was announced back in February. The other bowl ban will affect the 2018 season.

More detrimental to the future of the program, Ole Miss will lose 13 scholarships over the course of three years and remain on probation concurrent to the existing probation for a total of four years with financial penalties. Being on probation means the university is required to make regular reports with the NCAA indicating the program is following the rules.

In addition, every coach named in the NCAA report has received a show-cause, which will blackball the coaches from the NCAA for a period of time.

Ole Miss can still appeal, which would extend the investigation for months.

The official report from the NCAA will be released at 10:30 a.m. in which the final word will be announced. Ole Miss is holding a press conference at 1 p.m.

The Daily Mississippian will continue to report on this story as it develops.