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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
OXFORD — Ole Miss submitted its written appeal to the NCAA last Monday. The university published the document on Wednesday, and in doing so kept up with its recent aggressive tone toward the Committee on Infractions and its ruling.
"This Committee should vacate and reverse the penalties and factual findings," the appeal stated, "because the COI abused its discretion, departed from precedent, committed procedural errors, and reached factual conclusions inconsistent with the evidence."
Ole Miss is appealing its 2018 postseason ban, which was added to a self-imposed '17 postseason ban, limitations on unofficial visits, and the committee's findings regarding a Lack of Institutional Control charge and the allegation that Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based retail store, provided free merchandise to recruits and family members.
The written appeal was submitted on Feb. 5. The Committee on Infractions has 30 days from that point to file its response, then the university has 14 days to submit a rebuttal.
The Committee on Infractions handed down its ruling to Ole Miss on Dec. 1. In its ruling, the committee essentially determined Ole Miss had an out-of-control booster culture, which spanned decades and cited cases from 1986 and 1994.
The use of cases which were more than two decades old as an aggravating factor bothered Jeff Vitter, Ole Miss' chancellor, and Ross Bjork, the Rebels' athletic director, when they addressed the media that day. The written appeal hit on that point again.
"At what point does an institution get a clean slate in the infractions process? For this COI panel," the appeal stated, "the answer appears to be 'never.'"
Ole Miss argued that the addition of the '18 postseason ban was inconsistent and excessive in terms of the committee's precedent. The appeal then points to the NCAA's repeat-violator legislation, which is only applicable within a five-year period.
"This clear error of judgment renders the imposition of a second postseason ban arbitrary, capricious, or irrational," the university argued.
As a result of the postseason ban, Ole Miss had to forfeit nearly $8 million this academic year and will have to do so again next year if the ruling is upheld. That total is essentially cut in half if after five years the university is not involved in another significant infractions case.
As far as the LOIC charge, the university argued: "The COI appears to have based its LOIC finding on two impermissible factors: first, the number of violations; and, second, their unfounded belief that a particular culture of noncompliance "existed for decades" at the University."
The committee also limited recruits to one unofficial campus visit per year until Nov. 30, 2020. It's an unprecedented penalty, and the university contested that the COI did not adhere to its current penalty structure. The penalty is "six times longer than the most severe recruiting restriction prescribed by the NCAA Bylaws," the appeal states.
Then there are the Rebel Rags findings. Ole Miss has contested those from the start and has attempted to poke holes in the testimonies from Mississippi State's Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones, and Lindsey Miller, Laremy Tunsil's estranged stepfather.
The committee ordered Ole Miss to disassociate Rebel Rags owner Terry Warren. That's pending this appeal. The university expressed its issues with those findings as well.
"First, the COI's decision to credit the biased, inconsistency-riddled accounts was erroneous," the appeal stated. "The COI credited these uncorroborated stories because they were 'similar' and '[n]one of the three individuals knew each other at the times they gave their accounts.' But that was not true. Two of the individuals were, in fact, teammates (or future teammates who had already struck up a relationship) at the time of their interviews."
Ole Miss has requested an in-person appeal with the Infractions Appeals Committee over these matters.
The Infractions Appeals Committee consists of five members. Three are known: Ellen M. Ferris, who is the associate commissioner and senior woman administrator for the AAC; Patti Ohlendorf, vice president of legal affairs at Texas, and W. Anthony Jenkins, who is the chief diversity officer at Dickinson Wright PLLC.
Two more members were to be added by the end of January.
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