NCAA issues ruling on Mississippi football’s appeal of sanctions

OXFORD — The NCAA has announced the fate of Mississippi's appeal of sanctions to its football program.

The NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee released its verdict Thursday, accepting the Rebels' appeal of the limits on how many unofficial visitors the Rebels can accept. The committee did not overturn Ole Miss' 2018 bowl ban, keeping Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play this season.

The NCAA case against Ole Miss is now officially closed.

"As leaders at the University of Mississippi, we are sorry for what the Ole Miss family has endured throughout this long, arduous process," chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and athletics director Ross Bjork wrote in a joint statement. "As the state’s flagship university, our resolve has been tested many times in our history, and we have prevailed by staying true to our core values combined with the amazing support of the Ole Miss family. This challenge will not define us, and we will be stronger because of it."

When it comes to the specific allegations against Ole Miss, the committee ruled the following: Violation IV.G alleging Ole Miss of giving out impermissible recruiting inducements (clothing and merchandise) was affirmed. Violation IV.P alleging lack of institutional control was also affirmed. That committee concluded that it "did not abuse its discretion" when doling out a second year of Ole Miss' bowl ban for 2018, arguing the case involved multiple Level 1 violations and involved multiple staffers over a five-year span.

That said, the committee conceded that it "abused its discretion" in levying restrictions against unofficial visitors. According to the decision, that choice was based on "irrelevant or improper factors" that were misapplied per NCAA bylaw 19.9.6. 

In short, Ole Miss will be eligible to return to postseason play for the 2019 season. No restrictions on number of football visitors will be in place moving forward. 

The investigation into Ole Miss spanned nearly six years. The affirmed violation of improper recruiting inducements relates to actions that occurred between 2013 and 2015 where an assistant coach and an assistant athletics director were found to give free clothing and merchandise to prospective student-athletes, their families and their acquaintances. Ole Miss' appeal of this violation related to the finding being contrary to the evidence that was presented. The committee found neither procedural error nor contrary evidence in its investigation.

As for the appeal into a lack of institutional control, Ole Miss' appeal argued three factors. First, Ole Miss argued there was no evidence of a specific institutional failure. Second, Ole Miss contended that the institution demonstrated and exercised control over the program. Third, the school argued there was a procedural error in the investigation into the women's track and field and basketball programs. None of this appeals were accepted.

The NCAA's initial punishment against the Ole Miss football program was enacted on Dec. 1, 2017. Ole Miss' athletics department officially filed its written appeal on Feb. 5, 2018 and the case was considered by the Infractions Appeals Committee on July 18, 2018.  

Because of the looming investigation prior to and during the appeal, Ole Miss self-enforced a series of regulations against itself that have altered the makeup of the football program. Most notably, the Rebels self-enforced a bowl ban in 2017, keeping the team out of postseason play, and prohibited unofficial visitors from campus for seven weeks in 2017 and for five weeks in 2016. 

Mississippi returns to action on Saturday with a home game against South Carolina. 

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