NCAA Football is driven by multitudinous rules. Break any of the most serious ones and a rule from the larger world applies. That rule is simple, “if you want to dance you got to pay the fiddler.” Ole Miss is trying to skip that part.
The Ole Miss situation has become, dare we say it, Faulknerian. What is evolving in Oxford is akin to a classic Faulkner theme about the human capacity for deceit. In a region that has long revered lost causes, Ole Miss appears incapable of accepting its almost assured fate.
But we are getting ahead of our story. If you become seduced by the siren song “the rules ain’t made for me” – and dance outside the bounds of common constraint – and get caught – well then, you got to pay the fiddler – and the fiddler doesn’t take kindly to shirkers.
Ole Miss has admitted guilt to most of the violations discovered during a five-year NCAA football investigation. The school has self-imposed penalties. This week Ole Miss made public its 125 page written response to the NCAA.
Consistent with its commitment to getting it right, the University has conducted an exhaustive and thoughtful examination of the evidence. Based upon that review and the high evidentiary standard prescribed by Bylaw 126.96.36.199, the University has concluded that significant violations occurred in connection with its football program over a period of years, including during this investigation. These violations, which include multiple, intentional acts of misconduct by (now former) University employees and (now disassociated) boosters, are serious. As described in this response, the University has held those responsible accountable, many in unprecedented, public ways and has taken institutional responsibility for what has occurred. The University firmly believes its bold corrective actions will make a meaningful and permanent difference.
Five years of investigation and 125 pages of written response cannot be fully explained in a couple of paragraphs. Based on my read of the document, I can paraphrase the Ole Miss defense as:
- Former Ole Miss Athletic Department employees broke NCAA rules
- Now disassociated Ole Miss boosters broke NCAA rules
- A former recruit and Mississippi State player lied to the NCAA in testimony.
- Hugh Freeze was not involved in, and unaware of NCAA rules being broken.
- Our one-year post-season bowl ban is punishment enough.
- We will go forward and sin no more.
Going all-in with Hugh Freeze was the main message in the 125-page defense. Responding to the “failure to monitor charge” against Freeze, Ole Miss stated:
This case does not involve a head coach who facilitated or participated in violations or otherwise ignored red flags associated with them. Freeze developed and implemented a broad, staff-wide compliance program dedicated to satisfying the NCAA’s amended head coach responsibility legislation in early 2013, and he has continuously worked to expand and improve upon that program ever since.
There are more hosannas in praise of Freeze. Even the Oxford Eagle questions them.
Is Freeze really the coach you want your program taking the fall for if the worst-case scenario plays out?
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Hugh Freeze has two victories over Alabama football as the Ole Miss Head Coach. Those two victories appear to have bought him immense good will among Ole Miss faithful. Otherwise, the Freeze record is 19-21 in SEC competition, including a 2016 SEC record of 2 wins against six losses.
Last week we wrote about how hard it is to describe the trouble Ole Miss is in. This week it is even harder to understand what Ole Miss expects to gain from embattled resistance. Lawyering up is undoubtedly necessary, but NCAA Football Compliance does not have to make its case in a court of law.
By wrapping the reputation of the University of Mississippi around Hugh Freeze – when the eventual NCAA football reckoning arrives, Freeze and the University of Mississippi will have to “pay the fiddler.”
Perhaps if I was seated under a chandelier on the Grove, sipping a Bourbon and Branch, I could better understand the Ole Miss strategy. After a tumbler or three, I’m sure the Ole Miss plan would come into focus. From a sober perspective, it makes no sense.