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So often for so long, University of Mississippi officials reiterated the school couldn't wait to tell its side of the story.

After a years-long investigation, it is set to leave the on-deck circle. Ole Miss will get its stage in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions when its hearing begins Monday in Covington, Ky.

The panel hearing this case set aside two to three days to go through all 21 allegations, which include 15 Level I violations, alleged against the university from the NCAA enforcement staff's most recent Notice of Allegations, delivered in February.

With a case of this magnitude and significance, there are plenty of story lines to keep track of.

What's being contested?

Of the 21 allegations, the university is challenging at least portions of nine. The heaviest among them is the dreaded lack of institutional control.

"The facts uncovered during a fair and thorough investigation substantiated numerous violations and revealed a culture of non-compliance infecting the football program," the enforcement staff's response read, "both internally among personnel and externally among boosters."

Hugh Freeze is charged with violating his head coach responsibility legislation. The university is contesting both of those allegations, which are deemed Level I violations.

Ole Miss is in the odd spot of having to defend Freeze's compliance record less than two months after he resigned once the school discovered a pattern of personal misconduct, which was tied to calls to escort services.

Aside from that, Ole Miss is mostly contesting cash payments. The big one is alleged payments of between $13,000 and $15,600 from Booster 14 to Mississippi State's Leo Lewis. Ole Miss admits contact between the booster and Lewis occurred, but it contests the fact that payments did.

It's also contesting the allegation that former staffers Barney Farrar and Chris Kiffin arranged for Lewis, teammate Kobe Jones and Lindsey Miller, Laremy Tunsil's estranged stepfather, to receive approximately $2,800 worth of free merchandise from Rebel Rags.

That allegation has led to a much-publicized lawsuit.

The university conceded that Lewis and friends received free food and drinks at Funkys, an Oxford daiquiri bar, on at least one occasion but disputes that alleged cash payments between Lee Harris, the owner of Funkys, and Lewis took place.

The most serious allegations, in general, are those of ACT fraud committed by former staffers David Saunders and Chris Vaughn many years ago, which the university agreed happened.

What's at stake?

The direction, or outlook, of Ole Miss' football program for the next few years will be determined by the hearing. The university has already announced a self-imposed one-year postseason ban. It's trying to avoid a two-year ban, which leaves the door open for players to transfer without penalty.

On top of that, Ole Miss would likely get hit with scholarship reductions in that scenario, which would seriously also hinder its depth for years.

And if the worst — a two-year postseason ban — occurs, there's no telling what that could mean for the athletics department. It has already had to forfeit nearly $8 million in postseason revenue this year and might have to do it again next year.

Not to mention the possibility of administrative changes that could potentially come with such penalties.

Freeze's career hangs in the balance as well. If he were to receive a show cause from the NCAA, it would put a serious damper on his coaching prospects going forward at the collegiate level.

What's next?

Expect an announcement between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6. But when Ole Miss had its hearing before the committee on its women's basketball and women's track and field case, 74 days passed between the hearing and an announcement.

Say the university is hit with a two-year bowl ban, then it would likely appeal the decision, which would add months to this timeline.

Morales writes for the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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September 11, 2017


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