One of the first things any school does when publicly acknowledging an NCAA investigation is to spin.
Priority One becomes controlling the message.
You’ve been accused of breaking the rules, and you want to get out your version of the truth.
The truth will come out some time this spring, give or take, for all to see.
In the meantime we’ve entered a somewhat quiet time unless someone close to the investigation gets the urge to leak something. In fact, that’s happened twice, and last week’s Associated Press report launched into the public domain some numbers that hadn’t been there previously.
The AP report said there are 28 total allegations across the three sports investigated, that 13 of those deal with football and that nine deal with the current administration of coach Hugh Freeze.
Since a Yahoo report on Jan. 29 said the school had received a letter from the NCAA notifying it of alleged violations of NCAA rules Ole Miss has issued two public statements through athletics director Ross Bjork.
The first simply reminded the eager reading public that the school was bound by confidentiality. Bjork expressed confidence in his coaches, not for the first time, and said the school is working hard to seek a resolution of the case.
It’s part of the second statement that is getting twisted in social media conversation.
The statement was three paragraphs in length. It noted allegations in women’s basketball and track “and in football with many of the allegations dating back to the former football staff in 2010 and the withholding and reinstatement process around Laremy Tunsil in the fall of 2015.”
Until it makes its response to the NCAA public – and it has 90 days from receipt of the letter to respond to the NCAA – this is the Ole Miss response. This is the Ole Miss version of truth.
The school has not confirmed the numbers put forth in the AP report, but let’s use those numbers now – 13 football alleged violations, nine attached to the Freeze staff.
The school in October released the allegations against Tunsil just prior to his reinstatement. There were five violations in the release.
There was the matter of sophomore defensive back C.J. Hampton who was suspended and reinstated early in the season. The AP tacked on at the end of its story two infractions previously self-reported to the NCAA by the school.
Add those up, and you’re just a violation away from nine.
Maybe there’s a smoking gun out there that occurred on Freeze’s watch and unravels the progress the program has made the last two years. If so, it hasn’t been reported, and it’s not being discussed in the shadows by Oxford citizens even after the NCAA has spent three years investigating the school.
Houston Nutt was coach from 2008-2011 and was on sports radio in Arkansas with Bo Mattingly a couple of weeks ago.
He said, “I haven’t had a major violation in 30 years of coaching, Bo, not one. You got to have a letter from the NCAA, so, ... They would already let me know if there was something that I did, because I would have gotten a letter from the NCAA. That’s disappointing. It seems like there’s some deflection going on, but we’ll see when it all comes out. It’s got to eventually come out, what happened, we’ll see.”
At press time, I’ve gotten no response from the NCAA as to whether it would have informed Nutt by letter of violations it uncovered from five or six years ago.
Fans will believe what they will. There’s a narrative, though, that says the school has lied by saying Freeze and his staff are not part of the allegations.
Nutt is right. The truth will come out. It may or may not set Ole Miss free, but for now, the school has clearly not said or implied that Freeze and his staff are not part of the allegations.
By laying out the Tunsil violations, it admits the opposite.
Parrish Alford (email@example.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.