The Ole Miss football nightmare, one that seemingly never ends, continues.

Wednesday, it got worse.

When the university announced it was self-imposing a one-year bowl ban in response to a new, more lengthy and more harsh notice of allegations from the NCAA, many Rebel fans took to social media.

And several tweeted something like this: “Well, at least it’s finally over.”

But it’s not over. It just entered a new phase. So much about any NCAA investigation is not clear. That much is. The uncertainty will continue a few more weeks, perhaps months.

This seems clear as well: Ole Miss penalties will not end with the one-year bowl ban, not if the NCAA’s added charge of “lack of institutional control” sticks. Ole Miss says it will fight that charge in this next phase of this lengthy ordeal, but if the NCAA doesn’t give in, the one year bowl ban might well become two. There could be more scholarships lost, more recruiting restrictions. Nobody knows. It’s all speculation. We shall see.

There is also a charge against head coach Hugh Freeze that he did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or properly monitor his staff. What this will mean for Freeze’s future is not clear. Ole Miss says it will fight that charge as well.

This probably will continue through the summer and possibly into the 2017 season..

• • •

Where coverage of NCAA investigations of Mississippi college football programs is concerned, I am all too experienced. Been there, reported that: twice before at Ole Miss, twice at Southern Miss, twice at Mississippi State and even at Mississippi College, where a Division II National Championship was forfeited. With that in mind, I’ll try to answer some of the questions folks are asking about this latest NCAA vs. Ole Miss episode.

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

Q. When will the final decision come down?

A. Late summer at the earliest, and Ole Miss could conceivably begin the 2017 season not knowing the final verdict. Ole Miss had 90 days to file its response and the NCAA Committee on Infractions will then examine the response and rule.

Q. How did the Laremy Tunsil draft night fiasco play into this?

A. Depends on how you look at it. Ole Miss says none of the added allegations have anything to do with Tunsil. Yet the NCAA would not have re-opened its investigation if not for the widely publicized draft night interview.

Q. How much money will this cost Ole Miss?

A. Millions upon millions, before we even get to legal fees. (And reportedly two private law firms have been hired by Ole Miss.) The self-imposed bowl ban will cost the school nearly $8 million in revenue because it must forfeit its bowl revenue share from the SEC. As absurd as this may sound, that’s the least of Ole Miss’ worries when you consider the ever-increasing revenue that comes from the SEC Network. Yes, the loss of $8 million hurts. But Ole Miss athletics isn’t about to go broke. Not even close.

Q. Reportedly some of the new, more serious allegations – including payoffs to recruits – arose from NCAA interviews with players who were recruited by Ole Miss but signed with rival schools. Those players were granted immunity from the NCAA. Is this fair?

A. Well, it likely would not stand up in a court of law, but the most important aspect to understand is that the NCAA is not a court of law and there is no due process. The NCAA is the investigator, the prosecutor, the jury and the judge in these cases.

Q. So, could Ole Miss sue the NCAA if it feels the penalties don’t fit the crimes?

A. Not likely. Ole Miss is a member of the NCAA. Don’t think Ole Miss wants to play NAIA ball.

Q. I keep hearing Ole Miss fans say, “We’re getting penalized for something everybody does?” Is that true. Does everybody do it?

A. A 2016 study by Inside Higher Ed found that more than half the members of the NCAA Division I Power Five conferences committed major violations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules over the previous 10 years. And those were the ones that got caught.

We’ve already discussed Mississippi universities’ history of NCAA football sanctions, which have included bowl bans and scholarship losses, game forfeitures and more.

Q. What can be done?

A. Not much unless you overhaul the system. You’ve got coaches who get paid millions of dollars to win football games. They have to recruit the best talent to win the games. You’ve got players, many from poor backgrounds, who are especially susceptible to under-the-table payments. You’ve got alumni with huge egos and deep pockets. You’ve got stadium and indoor facilities debt to pay off. You’ve got student enrollments that rise and fall based, sadly, on football success or failure.

The United States is the only country on the planet where universities are involved in a billions-of-dollars sports industry, an industry that has become a huge part of our culture, for better and, all too often, for worse.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

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