Ole Miss’ NCAA reckoning could come by November

Catch up on the Ole Miss vs. NCAA timeline

by Alex Kirshner

May and June 2010: Two staffers under football coach Houston Nutt conspire to fix three recruits’ ACT scores to make them eligible to play, the NCAA alleges. Operations coordinator David Saunders and assistant coach Chris Vaughn allegedly funnel the players to a specific testing site in Wayne County, where they’ve arranged for a proctor to rig their scores.

It’s among the most serious allegations the NCAA will make against Ole Miss.

Oct. 20, 2012: Ole Miss fires women’s basketball coach Adrian Wiggins after less than a year. Ole Miss cites “impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct committed by members of his staff.”

This is how the NCAA lands at Ole Miss, joining the university in a deeper examination of basketball violations.

Feb. 2013: Days before National Signing Day, new football coach Hugh Freeze tweets a challenge to people who’d accused Ole Miss of cheating to put together one of that year’s best signing classes:

“If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family.”

(He’ll later say he regrets this.)

Freeze’s Rebels sign the No. 8 class in the country days later, one of the most shocking rankings ever. It includes four five-star recruits, bringing the school’s all-time five-star count to eight. Those are DE Robert Nkemdiche, OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Laquon Treadwell, and S Tony Conner.

Nkemdiche is the top-ranked prospect in America. Here’s the story of how he winds up in Oxford.

Between April 2014 and Feb. 2015: Per the NCAA, former staffers connect a recruit to a booster cash payment “between $13,000 and $15,600,” and Ole Miss doesn’t even wind up signing him. This will be just one of several Level I allegations — the most serious level — but definitely the most embarrassing.

June 26, 2015: Tunsil is arrested after a physical altercation with his stepfather, Lindsay Miller.

(The NCAA later uses a claim by Miller that Tunsil had impermissible contacts with boosters and agents. Much of the NCAA’s Miller time occurs at the Oxford McDonald’s, which will produce many lols on social media.)

Dec. 2016: Chevin Calloway, a corner who’ll sign with Arkansas, says Freeze has been using religious persecution as a comparison for his program’s battle with the NCAA. This later surfaces in a lawsuit complaint by Nutt, who claims Freeze has been “going to extraordinary lengths … to promote his self-image.”

Jan. 22, 2016: The NCAA notifies Ole Miss of 13 compliance allegations it says occurred under both Nutt and Freeze, including several classified as Level I. Allegations include cash and benefit exchanges and small recruiting violations. One of the Level II charges is that Ole Miss “failed to monitor” for potential violations.

April 29, 2016: On the night Tunsil’s supposed to be the first offensive lineman picked in the NFL draft, someone hacks his Instagram and reveals a video of him smoking marijuana through a gas mask. Also revealed are text exchanges that purport to show Tunsil arranging small payments via an Ole Miss staffer. The public will never know who hacked him. Tunsil falls to the Dolphins at No. 13.

In a press conference, he seems to admit that he took money from coaches during his time in Oxford.

The NCAA’s investigation had been near its conclusion, but now it expands beyond Tunsil.

May 27, 2016: Ole Miss responds to the NCAA’s allegations. It says some are true, including the testing fraud, which the school indicates only involved the two now-former staff members. It contests the “failure to monitor” charge and asks for one recruiting violation to be classified as a Level III instead of a Level II.

The NCAA’s investigation continues.

Feb. 22, 2017: Ole Miss reveals an updated Notice of Allegations, which brings the total count of charges to 21, with all the new stuff pointing toward Freeze’s staffs. The most serious new thing is that the “failure to monitor” charge has become an allegation that Ole Miss exercised a “lack of institutional control,” which could mean heavy sanctions.

Ole Miss announces it’s skipping the 2017 postseason (a postseason ban is a classic NCAA penalty, and sanctioning yourself is a tactic meant to earn NCAA mercy) and forfeiting SEC postseason money. The scandal has already cost the school about $9.4 million, with all those impermissible benefits amounting to only $37,000.

SEC rivals have long been preparing to pounce on a potential transfer exodus from Ole Miss.

June 6, 2017: Ole Miss stands by Freeze, denying that he fell short of his responsibilities and contesting the lack of institutional control charge. That decision puts the school and the NCAA on a no-compromise collision course.

July 12, 2017:Nutt sues Ole Miss, one day before Freeze’s annual scandal discussion at SEC Media Days. He alleges the school tricked the media into pinning the whole thing on Nutt’s regime, which has prevented him from landing another job. Fallout from a hunt by Nutt’s camp leads to Freeze’s resignation.

Sept 11, 2017: This’ll be the date of Ole Miss’ hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. That panel is expected to render a verdict within six to eight weeks.

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