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Ole Miss Looking More Like Ole Mess

By Rick Bouch

The NCAA investigation has been nearly five years in the making and, at some point, Ole Miss football and head coach Hugh Freeze are going to have to answer for some misgivings within the program. The latest in the saga is a civil lawsuit filed by former Rebels head coach Houston Nutt. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Oxford, Miss., on Wednesday and alleges that Freeze created a false narrative by trying to blame the entire NCAA investigation on Nutt.

Nutt, who coached at Ole Miss from 2008 to 2011, is seeking damages to cover lost wages, emotional distress, public embarrassment, and attorney’s fees as well as punitive damages. The lawsuit contends that Freeze engaged in numerous off-the-record conversations for journalists in an effort to place the blame for the current NCAA investigation on Nutt.

While Freeze is focused on the current SEC Media Days and the Rebels upcoming preseason camp, the situation behind the scenes continues to get messier. Ole Miss is now facing 21 NCAA allegations, 15 of which are of the more serious Level I classification. The university had been facing 13 charges, but the NCAA investigation found eight more this week and all of them are against Freeze and the football program. The list of alleged offenses is nothing short of egregious.

Ole Miss boosters are reported to have paid a recruit somewhere between $13,000 and $15,600. A member of the Mississippi Rebels staff apparently set up the boosters with the recruit between April 2014 and February 2015. Ole Miss admits that boosters contacted the recruit but deny knowing anything about an exchange of money. What makes the matter even worse is the recruit never went to Ole Miss.

The university admits three former Rebels players and two former assistant coaches committed test fraud. The two coaches – David Saunders and Chris Vaughn – arranged for the three players to take the ACT college entrance exam at a specific location in Wayne County, Miss., back in 2010. The three student-athletes were instructed to answer questions that they could but leave blank any answers they were unsure of. The correct answers would be filled later and the players would then qualify for admission to Ole Miss. The NCAA says that all three players competed in 2011 even though they were ineligible.

Other Ole Miss boosters were reportedly involved in several infractions. A booster who is a store owner allegedly gave away approximately $2,800 in merchandise to Ole Miss players and their families. Another booster that owns a restaurant gave away a couple hundred bucks’ worth of food and drinks. Still another booster handed $800 in cash to an Ole Miss player’s father. It appears that the player was former Rebel OT Laremy Tunsil, now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

The list of infractions continues with some items that are less severe in nature, but collectively could spell doom for the Ole Miss football program. The university already instituted a one-year postseason ban on its own. The Rebels will not be eligible for the SEC title or a bowl game in 2017. The NCAA could add more penalties if it sees fit. The Rebels’ fate and that of their head coach is in their hands.

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