There is no murkier swamp than an NCAA investigation. If you, as a fan, can avoid wandering into one, do so. If you do wander in, you will need a good guide to lead you out, or at least put you on a path that might get you out. Only you can’t trust the guides, either, because no matter if they swear to you that they know every peril, they don’t. Derek Mason is an SEC football coach and he says no cheating is going on anywhere in the league. Other coaches say different things, although not for publication. Which one are you going to trust? Both are SEC football coaches. Isn’t that a good source? Or does everyone — every single person that you might encounter in the miasma — equipped with his or her own perspective, but not with the full picture?
For that reason, the best policy on the Ole Miss case and its latest developments, which involves the responses by the University of Mississippi and head coach Hugh Freeze to the NCAA Notice of Allegations, is to wait. Those responses, in turn, brought a response from assistant coach Barney Farrar, a backlash against Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, who has been identified (not by the NCAA) as offering incriminating evidence against Ole Miss under a grant of immunity, a lawsuit against Lewis and others by an Oxford clothing store called “Rebel Rags” and more.
In a fairly uninterrupted stretch of NCAA cases that ran from 1993 until 2000, there were the same stories, the same dialogue, the same hostility, the same sort of sources in Tuscaloosa. It would take thousands of columns, not one, to recapitulate it all, even if half of the story were omitted. No cases are identical, of course. But the basic reactions — ranging from self-preservation in a multimillion-dollar industry to good old-fashioned conspiracy theories — abound. The NCAA has changed since 2000, but it almost always manages to keep a narrow focus on hitting its target. That will probably be the case here.
I have no vested interest or animosity against Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Their fierce hatred of each other in a small, relatively ignored part of the college football world does remind me of the Balkans where Serbs and Croats, to pick one blood feud out of many, have been fighting for hundreds of years. The result is usually sad, more than anything else. Occasionally, the fighting blows up into something bigger but I cannot guess if Leo Lewis will turn into the SEC’s Gustavo Princip, nor can anyone else.
One question that has arisen frequently in the days since the response documents were released: Why is Ole Miss so staunch in its support of Freeze, to the point of laying some very damaging allegations squarely on Farrar’s shoulders? Again, cases are complicated, but look no further than October 4, 2014. I do not speak for the Ole Miss fan base, and it wasn’t strictly limited to “beating Alabama” (which Freeze did again in 2015.) But that win was symbolic of the end of 50 years of frustration, of no SEC championships, of no Sugar Bowl trips or any of the other amenities that Alabama (and other power programs) enjoy more regularly. Freeze accomplished that. So what, the logic then goes, if the NCAA unleashes sanctions that hobble the Rebels for a decade? Is there some successor to Freeze that could come in and do the same thing? No one had, for years and years. But there is faith in Freeze, unless he can weather the storm.
These are just superficial thoughts, neither “sourced” nor profound. The results will be interesting but you always have to remember that, no matter who promises a clear path to daylight — and for Ole Miss’ sake, I hope there is — the odds are much better for the swamp.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.