Ole Miss challenges serious charges in response to NCAA

WJTV – Ole Miss released its response to the NCAA’s latest Notice of of Allegations on Tuesday.

In that response, which can be read in full here, the Rebels are contesting 7 of the 21 alleged violations. 15 of these are deemed Level I violations. Those include the two most serious charges: a violation of head coaching legislation by Hugh Freeze and a lack of institutional control.

The University reiterated its belief in Freeze, stating he “has met it and membership’s expectations to emphasize and promote compliance and to implement strong and comprehensive monitoring.” In its response to the allegation of Freeze’s head coaching violation, Ole Miss outlined its argument for how Freeze was proactive in educating his staff on NCAA rules, asked the right questions of his staff, and that individual mistakes made place an “unfair burden” on Freeze.

Furthermore, the response details the Rebels’ case of these charges not demonstrating a failure in Freeze’s program. It contends Freeze was misled and made mistakes in good faith. For example, the University says former assistant Barney Farrar lied to Freeze about the existence and usage of a non-institutional cell phone to contact recruits.

Later in its response to the lack of institutional control allegation, the University calls Farrar “an outlier” and that he “does not represent the culture of “doing things the right way” that has been curated by the University’s administrative and academics leadership as well as its football head coach.” He is also accused of helping provide impermissible benefits to recruits as well as misleading the NCAA’s investigation. Ole Miss fired Farrar in December of 2016.

Also included in that response is the University’s stance that its rules education and compliance monitoring has met NCAA standards. It also states it has acted quickly when violations occurred. In addition, Ole Miss challenges the basis of the allegation, saying it is rooted in the “sheer number of violations.”

It argues this doesn’t line up with the Committee on Infractions’ precedent of a “common sense” approach that suggests institutions with solid compliance programs will still have people that ignore those efforts and commit violations. Ole Miss believes it meets the four fundamental tests of the Committee’s Principles: adequate compliance measures exits; they are appropriately conveyed to those who need to be aware of them; they are monitored to ensure that such measures are followed; and upon learning that a violation has occurred, the institution takes swift action.

Ole Miss also questions the testimony of a central figure in this case: Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, whose name was redacted in the response. There are four allegations (Nos. 9, 14, 15, and 16) dealing with various benefits Lewis allegedly received. Ole Miss says those rely on Lewis’s testimony, which the University describes as inconsistent and being “either contradicted by objective evidence, is denied by allegedly involved parties, and/or is not corroborated by [Student-Athlete 39′s] family and friends.”

The response includes a questioning of Lewis’s motive. It provides an embedded GIF Lewis tweeted out when Ole Miss released its video explaining it had received the new Notice of Allegations. The school cites this as evidence that Lewis was out to hurt Ole Miss.

Specifically, the University asks of Lewis’s allegations: “Does an allegation of cash payments need corroboration beyond a general and inconsistent account of wrongdoing from a biased witness for the Committee to find a violation?”

In addition to these allegations, four alleged Level I violations are centered on fraudulent ACT scores allegedly set up for recruits by former Rebel assistants David Saunders and Chris Vaughn. These occurred under Houston Nutt in 2010.

There are also more allegations dealing with boosters providing free access to hunting land, free food, free merchandise, and more to recruits.

The Rebels have self-imposed many penalties, including a one-year postseason ban, forfeiture of approximately $7.8 million in SEC postseason revenue, and loss of scholarships.

Now, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions will have to determine if those are enough or if more discipline is warranted.

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