Ole Miss self-imposes double-digit reduction in football scholarships

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Friday, May 27, 2016

Ole Miss has self-imposed a double-digit reduction in scholarships for football, as well as an already-served postseason ban for women's basketball, as part of its response to an NCAA notice of allegations that was released Friday morning.

In a 154-page response to the NCAA, Ole Miss announced that it had self-imposed the loss of 11 total scholarships in football over a four-year period from 2015-18, including a reduction of three initial scholarships in each of its next three recruiting classes, which would allow the school to sign a maximum of 22 players in each class.

Ole Miss officials also asked the NCAA to delay the school's hearing with the Committee on Infractions so they can have more time to investigate whetherMiami Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsilreceived additional improper benefits while playing for theRebels.

The Rebels also previously self-imposed a ban on unofficial visits from Feb. 21, 2016, to March 31, 2016; a 10 percent reduction in off-campus evaluation days for coaches during the 2015 evaluation period; and a 12.5 percent reduction during the 2016 evaluation period.

According to the NCAA notice of allegations, which Ole Miss received on Jan. 22, the school was accused of 28 NCAA rules violations in football, women's basketball and track and field, including 16 that were determined to be Level I violations, the most severe under NCAA rules.

The Ole Miss football program was accused of 13 rules violations, including eight that were determined to be Level I. Nine of the 13 allegations levied against the Rebels occurred under current coach Hugh Freeze, including four Level I violations, two Level II violations and three Level III violations.

Most of the more serious violations involving the football program had been previously reported in the media.

In a letter posted on the university's website Friday morning, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork and chancellor Jeffrey Vitter wrote that the school has requested additional time to investigate whether Tunsil received additional improper benefits while playing at Ole Miss from 2013 to 2015.

The school asked the NCAA that it not have to appear before the Committee on Infractions this summer so it could continue investigating allegations that Tunsil received money from Ole Miss officials to pay his rent and his mother's utility bill.

Tunsil, a former All-American from Lake City, Florida, was named in three of the more serious allegations made by the NCAA.

The NCAA previously suspended Tunsil for the first seven games of the 2015 season for his use of three loaner vehicles at no cost during a six-month period. The NCAA alleged he also received an interest-free loan for a $3,000 down payment for the purchase of a used car from the same dealer.

As part of Tunsil's reinstatement last season, he had to repay the value of the extra benefits to charity and make a $3,000 down payment to the dealer.

The NCAA also alleges that Lindsey Miller, Tunsil's estranged stepfather, received $800 from an Ole Miss booster on Aug. 22, 2014, and that a booster provided Miller and other members of his family free lodging in Oxford, Mississippi, on 12 occasions between June 2013 and May 2014. The NCAA determined the value of the extra benefits was approximately $2,253.

"[Miller] used his relationship with [Tunsil] and [Tunsil's mother] to solicit and receive impermissible benefits," Ole Miss officials wrote in the NCAA response. "[Miller's] actions and the actions of these boosters were contrary to rules education they had received from the University.

"It is unclear whether [Tunsil] knew about [Miller's] misconduct. [Tunsil] and [Miller] were never close; in fact, [Tunsil] and [Miller] were estranged during significant stretches of time, including in the months leading up to their highly publicized physical altercation in June 2014. Had it not been for this altercation, which resulted in [Miller's] decision to disclose his secret dealings in an effort to harm [Tunsil], it is unlikely that the University or the enforcement staff (or [Tunsil]) would have discovered [Miller's] connection to the two boosters."

According to Ole Miss' response, Tunsil made restitution for the benefits that Miller received, and the school disassociated the two boosters who provided Miller with improper benefits.

Last year, Tunsil and Miller filed domestic violence charges against each other. Tunsil said he attacked Miller after his stepfather shouted obscenities at his mother, Desiree Polingo, and pushed her into a table and chair. Miller said Tunsil's attack was unprovoked and that he was trying to stop his stepson's contact with agents. The criminal charges against both men were dropped in August.

In April, Miller filed a civil lawsuit against Tunsil, alleging that his former stepson attacked him and defamed him, causing "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Among the NCAA's allegations regarding the Ole Miss football program:

Former assistant coach David Saunders arranged for fraudulent ACT scores for three prospects in the summer of 2010. Saunders and former Ole Miss assistant Chris Vaughn were also accused of unethical conduct related to the testing fraud, and they are accused of providing temporary lodging, meals and entertainment for recruits in June and July 2010. In its response, Ole Miss officials agreed that the testing fraud occurred.

Vaughn violated the NCAA cooperative principle by communicating with witnesses of an NCAA enforcement investigation, even after being admonished on several occasions to refrain from having such conversations. The NCAA determined his conduct to be a Level I violation.

During the 2012-13 academic year, an Ole Miss booster assisted the school in the recruitment of four prospects by engaging in recruiting activities and providing them with recruiting inducements totaling approximately $2,250. The NCAA alleges assistant coach Maurice Harris knew of the booster's involvement and, at times, facilitated his involvement, a Level I violation.

Related Video