Report: Ole Miss AD goes on the defensive, says NCAA investigation is 'over'
There will be no second letter from the NCAA concerning more NCAA violations, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork insisted in an interview with the Clarion-Ledger on Wednesday.
The Rebels AD went on the defensive during a reported 40-minute interview, defending his athletic program in the face of increasing public scrutiny, much of it aimed at his football team and coach Hugh Freeze.
According to multiple reports, the NCAA sent Ole Miss a notice of inquiry including 28 alleged violations, 13 of which are related to the football team. The same team that just signed the composite No. 6 recruiting class, won the Sugar Bowl and should place as many as three players into the first round of the NFL draft.
The team’s recruiting burst has been surprising to some. Combine that with NCAA infractions by outgoing left tackle Laremy Tunsil (who served a seven-game suspension during the 2015 season) and the on-field success, and it’s easy to understand why there’s a bit of a witch hunt happening among fans of other SEC institutions.
Ole Miss has refused to release the official letter of inquiry from the NCAA despite a public records request from the Clarion-Ledger (and undoubtedly others), citing privacy issues for the individuals involved. But Bjork insists that once the full details of the case are made public, Rebels fans’ worst nightmares will prove unfounded.
“We can’t wait to reveal all this,” Bjork told the paper. “We’re ready to tell that story. We’re looking forward to the day to when we can tell this story and put it out there and be transparent beyond what we’ve already done… We’re welcoming that day to tell our story. We just can’t do it right now.”
Some of the details have leaked through ESPN and Associated Press reports. But it remains unclear how many Level I, II and III violations are associated with the football team. In other words, there is not enough public evidence to definitively characterize the nature of the football violations or to accurately speculate on potential punishments at this time.
The Clarion-Ledger report contains more details about the unanswered questions that remain, if you’re interested.
Ole Miss had 90 days to submit its rebuttal to the NCAA starting when it received the official inquiry. The NCAA then has 60 days to develop a case summary. If the two sides still disagree about the facts surrounding the allegations, the case goes before the committee on infractions.
So we have an idea of the timeline. If there’s a hearing date set, this case will drag into the fall — perhaps September or beyond.
Bjork’s main insistence is that Ole Miss will not be hearing about any additional violations. In addition to Tunsil’s seven-game suspension, the women’s basketball team, accounting for some of the most serious violations, already has incurred significant penalties, including a postseason ban. It’s unclear what penalties, if any, the track team has endured for its alleged violations.
Many of the violations have been investigated for years.
“I believe I can say this without compromising anything, we were pretty much done until the Laremy Tunsil stuff bubbled up last summer,” Bjork told the paper.
The Clarion-Ledger also added these details:
“Through it all, Bjork has remained strident in his defense of the athletic program he inherited only months before this all began in 2012. Bjork said Ole Miss has increased its compliance staff, started a vehicle monitoring program that traces the paperwork of athletes’ cars and developed a “high-profile student-athlete program” to meet with those players on a regular basis.”
At this point, it’s wait-and-see with this investigation. It likely will play out in the next five to eight months. It seems at least possible that the football team could face additional punishment of some kind.
But those hoping that Ole Miss gets hit with “lack of institutional control” and some crippling penalties that deliver a severe blow to Freeze’s program, that seems highly unlikely based on everything that is being reported out of Oxford.