NCAA Football: More bad news for Ole Miss boosters and Hugh Freeze

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The biggest offseason story in NCAA football has been Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze and the NCAA investigation. After the Houston Nutt lawsuit, Ole Miss took another blow.

For Ole Miss fans the NCAA football season cannot arrive soon enough. Just before the Ole Miss appearance at SEC Media Days, Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit against Ole Miss for breach of contract due to defamation of his professional reputation.

The main objective for Hugh Freeze at SEC Media Days was to deflect attention away from the NCAA investigation. Doing so was an impossible task.

The Nutt lawsuit and Freeze’s dodging the NCAA issue were not the worst Ole Miss faced during the week. The Ethics Commission of the state of Mississippi ruled Ole Miss could not redact names of boosters as done in the notice of allegations and amended notice of allegations.

The Clarion-Ledger reported,

"Some boosters play a prominent role in the university’s latest notice of allegations, which it received in February. Ole Miss has not released booster names in either of its notices of allegations but has seven working days from the receipt of the final order to produce the notices without the booster redaction."

According to the Clarion-Ledger Ole Miss had intended to originally release the booster names. but

"a “John Doe” booster filed a “Motion to Intervene” in the public records case and contended that an invasion to rights of privacy will occur if his or her name is released by the university."

The Mississippi Ethics Commission order could be reversed upon appeal. Another “John Doe” attempt to block public knowledge of the allegedly involved boosters is key to understanding the stonewall dynamics used by Ole Miss.

For several months the main media focus on the case has been Hugh Freeze’s role in NCAA violations. Last month we wrote about the Ole Miss strategy of All In with Hugh Freeze. Ole Miss is attempting to escape penalties beyond those already self-imposed.

The main Ole Miss argument is that Hugh Freeze did not take part in, and was unaware of any of the rule-breaking activity. As we wrote in How much trouble Ole Miss is in, Ole Miss blames rogue boosters and a rogue Athletic Department employee. Ole Miss has also accused a Mississippi State player of lying to the NCAA.

Our guess is the Ole Miss strategy will not succeed in escaping further penalties. Late this fall or winter Ole Miss will face a NCAA reckoning. Athletic Director Ross Bjork may be more vulnerable than Hugh Freeze. Someone at Ole Miss is ultimately responsible for the NCAA football violations. Someone in charge – and that means Freeze or Bjork.

The NCAA outcome will not be influenced by the Houston Nutt lawsuit. Also, the NCAA is unconcerned about the privacy rights of boosters. Why then are the Nutt lawsuit and the Mississippi Ethics Commission actions so pivotal?

Both threaten an unraveling of booster support for Hugh Freeze. Houston Nutt does not have to win a lawsuit to cause more trouble for Ole Miss. Unlike the future NCAA deliberations, lawsuit trials are public events. A pre-trial deposition process may prove damning to Ole Miss.

Media stories about rogue Ole Miss boosters fighting to hide their actions from public view tarnish the reputations of rules-abiding Ole Miss boosters. Booster support for Freeze can remain staunch – until suddenly it is fragile. If that occurs, someone must be sacrificed. If it is not Freeze, it will be Bjork.

It is easy to pass judgment on Hugh Freeze for failing to run a clean NCAA football program. Whether he was complicit or willfully unaware or even just incompetent, he is accountable.

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We don’t know Hugh Freeze. He may be, as many say, a man of high character and principle. His four seasons at Lambuth and Arkansas State were meager preparation for running a SEC football program. Maybe he was misled or misinformed by impatient Ole Miss people glad to take advantage of his SEC football naivete.

Freeze may survive this mess and remain the Ole Miss head coach for a long while. Even so, Ole Miss football will pay a price. A price that so far it is unwilling to pay.