OXFORD, Miss. — It’s finally over.
The NCAA’s attempt to obliterate the Ole Miss football program finally came to an end Thursday when the Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) ruling was released. While the 2018 bowl ban and lack of institutional control charge remain in effect, the ignominious unofficial visit restriction that could have crippled Ole Miss recruiting has been overturned.
In its December, 2017 ruling, the Committee on Infractions originally restricted the Rebels to one unofficial visit per prospect per academic year for the remainder of the Ole Miss probation, which does not end until November 30, 2020.
In February, 2018, Ole Miss appealed the COI decision, with that appeal subsequently being denied. As a result, in July, 2018, school representatives met with the Infractions Appeals Committee in Indianapolis.
Then the waiting began for a ruling that would either confirm or revise the Committee on Infractions’ conclusions. That is the ruling issued Thursday.
According to the IAC, “the Committee on Infractions (COI) abused its discretion when prescribing penalty VII.5.c [unofficial visit restrictions] in that it was based in significant part on one or more irrelevant or improper factors.”
(For the complete decision from the Infractions Appeals Committee, click here.)
It’s not possible to overstate just how critical this reversal is. Yes, the bowl ban and lack of institutional control charge are still in place; however, the unofficial visit sanction would have so severely restricted Ole Miss in the recruitment of prospective student athletes for the next two years that its effects would have been felt for years to come.
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Athletics Director Ross Bjork issued a joint statement Thursday following the appeal ruling:
“While we are pleased by the IAC’s finding that the COI abused its discretion with respect to the unofficial visit penalty, we remain disappointed by the remainder of the ruling, which upheld a 2018 postseason ban and findings of lack of institutional control and recruiting inducements.”
What it all means
In a nutshell, the unofficial visitor restriction would have meant that a recruit would no longer be able to visit Ole Miss at the recruit’s own expense.
While a prospective student athlete may receive only one official visit per school (an “official” visit is one where the school pays the recruit’s expenses associated with the visit, covering such things as travel, lodging, food, etc.), he may take as many “unofficial” visits as he so desires.
Local and in-state recruits, or those who are able to afford the travel expenses, frequently attend football games or make other unpaid visits to schools in which they are interested. Highly-prized, in-state linebacker Nakobe Dean, for example, has taken more than six unofficial visits to Ole Miss already and has another set for the end of November. If the unofficial visitor restrictions were in place, trips such as Dean’s would be impermissible.
Can you even imagine the implications on recruiting of such a vindictive penalty?
The bottom line
When the final seconds tick off the clock in the Egg Bowl game at Vaught-Hemingway on November 22, 2018, the six-year attempt by the NCAA (and certain members of the media) to put the nail in the coffin of the Ole Miss football program comes to an end.
If the NCAA COI hoped to circumvent a literal death penalty and supplant it with a figurative one that would deliver such harsh sanctions that the end result would be almost as debilitating, they failed with the IAC’s reversal.
But make no mistake, they gave it their best shot.
And in the end, they failed only because this unofficial visitor restriction was overturned. If that were still in place, it would have been nothing short of devastating for the Ole Miss football program.
That being said, it remains a travesty that Rebel players who had absolutely nothing to do with any of the violations–violations that inexplicably took over half a DECADE to investigate and bring to conclusion–are the ones who suffer the most from the postseason ban.
But that is a discussion for another day.
In the meantime, in a Thursday afternoon tweet, Ole Miss football made it clear the program will never quit.