Ole Miss Rebels

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13:  Greg Sankey the new commissioner of the SEC talks to the media before the quaterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Getty Images

SEC expands conduct policy for transfers, not incoming freshmen

4 Comments

Jeffery Simmons caught what many considered an undeserved — and wholly unacceptable — break from Mississippi State Thursday.  A day later, the five-star 2016 signee caught a break from his conference for good measure.

In April of last year, the SEC voted to ban member institutions from accepting transfers who had been disciplined for serious misconduct at his previous school, with that defined as sexual assault, sexual violence and domestic violence.  As the SEC wrapped up its annual spring meetings Friday, and as had previously been expected, the conference announced that it will be expanding that policy to include “dating violence, stalking or conduct of a nature that creates serious concern about the safety of others.”

Additionally, the expanded policy will require schools to perform background checks on any transfer before they are permitted to practice or play with the team.  Those checks are expected to satisfy what’s described as the SEC’s “minimum due diligence expectations.”

However, the new policy still only applies to transfers; incoming freshmen are not subject to the policy.  That, though, could change, especially in light of the Simmons situation in Starkville.

“I can envision a continuing dialogue that looks at what we’ve done on serious misconduct relative to transfers, and the question will be asked is that sufficient?” commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Should we remain there? That doesn’t predict outcomes, but I envision that will be a conversation topic going forward. But I never anticipated that we were done.

“This conference has been wrestling with the issue, and it’s not easy. I hope people can appreciate that. It’s not as if this is done in a sterile environment, and I think that’s an important conversation. I said that last year, and I’ve said that this year. There’s a point at which the legislation concluded for this week, and we’ll see what the future might hold without prediction.”

Brad Nessler to replace Verne Lundquist as voice of SEC on CBS after 2016

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 30:  President of the United States Barack Obama (C) talks to CBS annoucers Clark Kellogg and Verne Lundquist during a college basketball game between Georgetown Hoyas and the Duke Blue Devils on January 30, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

Rumors have been swirling throughout the off-season, but CBS made the news official on Tuesday by announcing Verne Lundquist will step down as the lead voice of the network’s college football coverage — primarily the SEC, but also Army-Navy and the Sun Bowl — to be replaced by Brad Nessler after the upcoming season.

“Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC on CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage.  We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.”

Lunquist will continue with the network covering college basketball and golf, but will cede the college football chair in what was certainly a contract bullet point to lure Nessler away from ESPN.

“Being a part of the SEC on CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” said Lundquist. “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth. I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC on CBS is in great hands. Brad and Gary will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”

Nessler leaves a plum gig at ESPN, where he, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe called the ESPN Saturday primetime game and one of the two College Football Playoff semifinals each of the past two seasons.

“Verne has been a friend for over 30 years and someone I’ve always looked up to in this business,” said Nessler. “I’m not replacing him as it would be impossible to replace Verne. I am truly honored to carry on where he leaves off and work to maintain the standard of excellence he has set calling the SEC on CBS. I am excited to rejoin the CBS Sports team this season and look forward to working alongside Gary again in 2017.”

Hugh Freeze denies Ole Miss staffers knowingly broke NCAA recruiting rules

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels takes the field with his team prior to a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Getty Images
11 Comments

In a tweet that he surely regrets on a daily basis, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze famously challenged anyone with information regarding any possible NCAA violations to come forward with them.

“If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he posted in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 1, 2013, the day Freeze inked his highly-touted, highly-controversial class headlined by Laremy TunsilRobert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

Which, of course, the NCAA did.

The Rebels were hit with 28 total violations — nine of which the school confirmed originate from Freeze’s staff. And that’s not including the allegations regarding Tunsil that popped up on NFL Draft night.

Ole Miss has suspended unnamed assistants from recruiting in the wake of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, but Freeze has denied anyone under his employ knowingly broke rules.

“The first thing I would say is that I own it. That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad,” Freeze told ESPN’s Chris Low from the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. “But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”

As for the text messages showing Tunsil asking off-the-field staff member John Miller for mone, which were not included in last week’s release?

“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”

To be fair, most of the allegations against the Rebels’ current regime are relatively minor in nature. A comped hotel room here, a loaner car there. Because of that, Freeze said he won’t fire anyone on his staff.

“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits. There’s none of that in there.”

However, there are major allegations against coaches wearing Ole Miss red and blue, as former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders are accused of running an ACT fraud scheme. Unfortunately for Freeze, the NCAA may take out the sins of Houston Nutt‘s staff on his own.

Houston Nutt steps out of the shadows following Ole Miss Notice of Allegations

Nutt
Getty Images
6 Comments

Ole Miss dropped its long-awaited Notice of Allegations, which revealed the spin of the majority of the 28 allegations being against non-football sports and former head coach Houston Nutt‘s staff to be technically true but also just that — spin.

Of the 13 allegations against the Rebels’ football program, nine came against current head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff. However, the majority of those were relatively minor in nature (free rental cars, comped hotel rooms), and the largest did come against two former assistants. Former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and former operations staffer David Saunders were accused of setting up a fraudulent ACT system to get players into school.

“We usually know about who is going to make it in by May,” Nutt said of the players whom those ACTs got into school. “We were gonna place them in junior college.”

Still, Nutt told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he felt a twinge of validation from Friday’s release.

“It’s the most frustrating thing there is,” Nutt said, “to be on the sidelines and hear your name keep getting mentioned and mentioned. It’s hurtful. It makes you mad.

“I don’t have a major violation in 30 years of coaching.”

Nutt won 75 games at Arkansas and led Ole Miss to a 19-8 mark and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories in his first two seasons in Oxford — read: with Ed Orgeron‘s players — and fell to 6-18 (1-15 SEC) in his final two seasons. That, plus the sting of these violations falling on his record, is likely to continue to keep Nutt out of coaching — at least at the highest levels of FBS.

Still, he remains optimistic.

“I’m going on five years without a team,” he said. “There were a few opportunities I went after. I’d love to coach again. I feel like I’ve got 10 more seasons in me.”

Ole Miss to suspend assistants, reduce scholarships in response to NCAA Notice of Allegations

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 25:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels reacts to a call during the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
12 Comments

A day after Baylor fired Art Briles and a day before Memorial Day weekend, Ole Miss has released its long-awaited response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations.

The 52-page document details the breadth and nature of violations committed by the Rebels’ football program. A sizable chunk of the 13 violations pertaining to football occurred under the four-year watch of current head coach Hugh Freeze.

Current assistant coaches Chris Kiffin (defensive line), Derrick Nix (running backs), Maurice Harris (tight ends) and Matt Luke (offensive line) were named in the report. Most of the violations come in the forms of paid cell phone bills, comped hotel stays, paid ACT prep courses and free loaner vehicles.

Many of the violations are downright silly.

The most serious allegation comes from the Houston Nutt era, when assistant coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders arranged for three future Rebels to commit ACT fraud. Vaughn was fired from his assistant coaching job at Texas due to his involvement in this case.

Ole Miss requested to exclude the Laremy Tunsil NFL Draft night fiasco from this summer’s report since those allegations are still being investigated, and the NCAA granted that request.

Ole Miss has released this graphic detailing the scope and timeline of the case. The Rebels submitted its NOA response on April 21, and the NCAA has 60 days to submit its rebuttal. The two parties will then appear before the Committee on Infractions, who will then have around six weeks to release their verdict. A rough timeline would have the case wrapped up in full by October.

Ole Miss graphic

Ole Miss has also self-imposed the following penalties, plus a fine of nearly $160,000:

Those sanctions are just a baseline punishment. The NCAA can — and likely will — argue to increase them during the Committee on Infractions hearing later this year.

Ole Miss has suspended two unnamed assistants from recruiting.