Oxford hosted the fourth of seven town hall meetings by Athletics Director Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss Athletics Department.
The open atmosphere allowed fans to air out their feelings and directly ask Bjork questions. Topics brought up by fans included the recently vacated wins, relations with Mississippi State and particular aspects of the NCAA investigation.
One topic of discussion was the timing of the announcement of the vacated wins. Throughout the years-long investigation, the vacation of wins as a punishment was always expected. However, the Athletics Department decided to delay the official announcement for recruiting reasons.
“The last thing we wanted to do — you can criticize this strategy if you want — was to have any story connected to our NCAA case come out before Signing Day,” Bjork said in reference to the delayed announcement. “In my view, our program had gone through enough negativity that we did not want to taint any recruiting.”
Bjork made one statement that every person in the room could agree with. The Ole Miss football program has experienced varying heights of success over its history. Every high has an equal low. Bjork made sure to address this.
“I have been here for seven years. (The fans) have been through a lot more than me,” Bjork stated. “I do not know about you all, but I am tired of this (motions his hand in an up-and-down fashion). Are you tired of roller coasters? Let us get off of that cycle. Let us be a consistent, relevant national program.”
The hot-button issue of college football’s offseason has been the recent popularity of the transfer portal. Bjork responded to questions regarding the ways the new transfer policy has affected football programs.
“I was a part of the transfer working group where we had about 25 people around college athletics that worked on this whole issue for about two years,” Bjork said. “The presidents (of universities) were tired of headlines of coaches blocking players from transferring, so our group came up with the idea of making the process transparent.”
Bjork mentioned that the NCAA now errs on the side of students who are transferring. Student-athletes are being allowed to transfer between programs freely at a rate never seen before.
A divisive topic in Mississippi athletics is the relationship, or lack thereof, between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Recently, the rivalry has become toxic between the two programs, stemming from Mississippi State’s involvement in the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss athletics.
During the most recent Egg Bowl, a brawl broke out on the field, resulting in multiple ejections. Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, was not pleased with the actions of two of the conference’s members, so he released a statement that stated he, Bjork and Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen would have a meeting at conference headquarters to relieve the tension between the in-state rivals.
“That meeting has not been scheduled,” Bjork said. “I am not sure when it will be scheduled.”
Bjork believes that Ole Miss Athletics is focusing on more than just being better than the in-state rival. He wants Ole Miss to strive for success on a national scale.
“They are our rival in-state,” Bjork said. “But they are not the rival. We want to win national championships. We are not just worried about state championships.”