Last Wednesday, following the conclusion of the NCAA’s investigation of Ole Miss’ football program and subsequent amended allegations, Athletics Director Ross Bjork self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the Rebels’ 2017 season. The amended notice of allegations included eight additional violations. This bumps the total number of allegations up to 21 and implicates both current and past members of the coaching staff.
Bjork and head coach Hugh Freeze have both noted even though at least three of the new allegations have been supported by significant amounts of evidence, the charges of lack of institutional control and failure to monitor will be fought. This, in turn, means that if the university loses its case against these two charges, the NCAA possesses a much greater authority to punish the school and increase regulations. At the university level, lack of institutional control is perhaps the most dreaded of all the NCAA’s charges and can lead to vacated wins, further bowl bans and even further reduction of scholarships.
The outlook for Rebels fans appears bleak, especially considering that, even if the charges of lack of institutional control and failure to monitor are successfully defeated, the NCAA could still impose further bowl bans and scholarship reductions on Ole Miss. There have been rumblings across Oxford, as well as the rest of the nation, that perhaps it would be best for Ole Miss to simply cut its losses and fire Freeze. Here are a few of the pros and cons of moving on from Freeze:
At first glance, it seems tempting. A disappointing season with a less-than-optimistic outlook for next year is more than enough for fans to cry mutiny. Firing Freeze, or accepting his resignation, would represent tangible action from the university in acknowledgement of the program’s struggles and mistakes. Regardless of further punishments, Ole Miss will face a rebuilding process over the next few years to some extent, and it seems logical to simply start the process with a clean slate, a slate that doesn’t include Freeze or the recruiting baggage – whether the allegations are true or not – he carries. If nothing else, firing Freeze as soon as possible would give Bjork extra time to find Freeze’s inevitable replacement. Plus, if the Rebels clean house, the NCAA could potentially reduce any additional penalties it plans on imposing.
Without question, some might see firing Freeze as an admission of guilt from the university. After all, why let an innocent coach go? Ole Miss would be forced to fire Freeze “for cause” – that is, for reasons other than underperformance on the field. Yet, to the public, it again raises the question: Why fire Freeze if he didn’t do anything wrong? Moreover, removing Freeze from his position would put the Ole Miss coaching staff at a disadvantage going into next season. Ole Miss is surely one of the least inviting schools for head coaches at the moment, and Freeze’s successor would be forced to face the consequences of allegations in which he was not involved. Matt Luke, the Rebels’ offensive line coach, would fit the bill for an internal hire for the short term, and possibly through next season but probably isn’t a permanent solution.
Ole Miss football is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Firing Freeze may help ease further sanctions from the NCAA, but there are plenty of reasons to keep him on board. Regardless of whatever action Bjork and the athletics department take, the Rebels have quite the a tough decision to make.