Ole Miss is back in the news cycle, and once again it’s for reasons Hugh Freeze and the Rebels’ administration can’t be happy about.
The venerable Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported on Thursday that the NCAA is still taking a deep look at Ole Miss athletics, going so far as to interview players from at least two rival SEC schools to ask them how Ole Miss dealt with them as recruits.
“NCAA Enforcement representatives have visited Auburn and Mississippi State, and perhaps at least one more SEC Western Division school, this summer to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss,” Forde reports. “The players were granted immunity from potential NCAA sanctions in exchange for truthful accounts of their recruitment, sources said.”
The terms “NCAA investigation” and “Ole Miss” have gone hand in hand for some time, so the latest development isn’t as much of a surprise as it is a statement of how serious the NCAA is when it comes to getting to the bottom of the Rebels’ recruiting tactics.
Earlier this year, Ole Miss was charged with 28 violations by the NCAA throughout three sports, 13 violations in football. Forde reminds us that none of the violations came during the Freeze era of Ole Miss football, but the Laremy Tunsil scandal from earlier this year at the NFL Draft has certainly put Freeze and his program in the negative spotlight.
“With an amended Notice of Allegations still to come from the NCAA, the process is far from over and is unlikely to be completed through the Committee on Infractions ruling until sometime in 2017,” Forde reports.
While it’s bad news in general to be under investigation as a college athletic department, this drawn- out process could end up hurting Ole Miss football on the recruiting trail. That’s something Freeze and his staff are likely concerned about.
Whether or not anything comes out of the investigation, the fact that it’s happening and is expected to take some time can cast a dark cloud over the Ole Miss program. Recruits may not know what to expect when it comes to the future of the Rebels’ football program. Sure, it could blow over, and perhaps the infringements are simply small ones that will result in slaps on the wrist from the NCAA, but what if it’s worse?
The thing is, recruits and families have no idea what the investigation will conclude and what that could mean for Ole Miss. Uncertainty is one of the worst things a college football program can deal with on the recruiting trail, simply because it makes recruits uncertain.
Normally, Ole Miss is an extremely attractive football program with a great head coach, solid recruiting and national championship aspirations.
Under the cloud of an investigation, though? Recruits don’t know if a national title or sanctions are in the future of the program, and that’s the type of uncertainty that leads recruits to take their commitments elsewhere.
Then consider the effect of negative recruiting from other rival schools, especially when said schools are in competition with Ole Miss for a top target. It’s not an ethical practice, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we pretended rival recruiters weren’t licking their chops at the thought of Ole Miss being part of a long, drawn out investigation.
Again, perhaps nothing comes of it. The problem for Ole Miss is that recruits just don’t know.
That’s bad news — no matter how this shakes out.