The Ole Miss Scandal Breaks Contain
Yesterday, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued its second Notice of Allegations to the University of Mississippi regarding the school’s football program. For Ole Miss, the new notice is trouble. It adds eight charges to the thirteen the Committee levied against Ole Miss in January 2016, including the first degree murder of NCAA allegations — a lack of institutional control. Possibly acknowledging the harsh penalties it faces, Ole Miss has abandoned its earlier position that does not deserve a post-season bowl ban. Contrition and self-punishment may be the only way it avoids more serious doom.
Notably, the new allegations cripple the defense Ole Miss has used to this point. In its well-written response to the January 2016 charges, the university argued that its violations were not systemic. Further, when Ole Miss uncovered violations, it reported them and took corrective action. But the latest charges include too many new incidents for the university to claim its problems do not run deep.
In its January 2016 brief, Ole Miss attempted to show that its violations were isolated by dividing them into three categories: (1) violations committed by former staff members Dave Saunders and Chris Vaughn; (2) violations from 2012 and 2013 that the school self-reported; and (3) violations committed by boosters who ignored the school’s booster education. Essentially, if the allegations were examined in isolation, they appeared, well, isolated. In addition, according to Ole Miss, the violations were committed on the fringes of the program, by rouge staff members or boosters, all of whom the university disassociated itself from as soon as it uncovered the violations.
This line of reasoning is no longer viable. There are now more alleged incidents where rules were broken. They involve more boosters and the incidents involving staff members now extend beyond Saunders and Vaughn. In other words, the isolated violations have become too overwhelming to be isolated. Rather, if true (and Ole Miss has admitted some are), they form a pattern — one where coaches feel little need to comply with the rules and boosters feel no pressure to heed Ole Miss’ direction. In fact, if numerous boosters ignore the school’s guidelines, it would be logical to question why enforcement of those guidelines is so weak and whether that weakness is deliberate.
In short, Ole Miss has lost the argument that these allegations do not identify a systemic problem. The alleged violations are too many and too varied for that. Now, its only route is the one it has chosen: contest the most serious charges, admit its failings where possible, hit itself with a harsh, self-imposed punishment, and throw itself on the mercy of the Committee.