The NCAA hails its new system of rating violations a game-changer. A Level I violation is the most severe and from there, things are tapered all the way down to a Level IV, which would be considered borderline major, something that self-imposed sanctions would probably cover every time. Supposedly, the new system will make it easy to dole out punishment.
The test case for the new system will be Ole Miss, which has to answer for 28 violations in 3 sports, with 13 from the football program. Nine of those 13 violations occurred on the way of current Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and 8 of these are considered Level I. Most of the violations center around Laremy Tunsil, the Lake City native who was a first round choice of the Miami Dolphins in the most recent NFL Draft. They include some $2,253 of improper housing and lodging benefits provided to Tunsil’s mother and former stepfather Lindsey Miller, use of 3 loaner cars between August 2014 and June 2015 (Tunsil was suspended 7 games by the NCAA for that), and an $800 payment made to Miller allegedly arranged by defensive line coach Chris Kiffin.
One thing that has to be taken into account is that nearly all the allegations that involve Tunsil involve Miller, since divorced from Tunsil’s mother. This has the makings of a hell has no fury like the scorned former stepfather of a brand new NFL millionaire scenario. Because the NCAA has no subpoena power, it does have to rely on accounts of willing witnesses and that certainly can involve ones with an axe to grind and that would qualify Miller. Expect Ole Miss lawyers to make Miller’s credibility a key issue when it defends itself before the Committee on Infractions.
There are other players involved in these NCAA allegations against Ole Miss and there are even four allegations of misconduct (fixing ACT scores for recruits) that involve a former assistant coach during the time Houston Nutt was the football coach. But most involve Freeze who seems to discount these allegations as nothing to really worry about. For its part, Ole Miss has self-imposed some sanctions and while you may argue that self-imposed sanctions aren’t good enough, the NCAA has set precedent for letting some schools practically skate by self-imposing when the allegations would seem to merit far worse punishment.
A case in point is the University of North Carolina where years of academic fraud involving athletes in various sports and the athletic department have been documented. Amid speculation that UNC could receive the death penalty from the NCAA, a new notice of allegations was received in the spring that essentially exonerated the men’s basketball program even though its rosters on NCAA championship teams (2005, 2009) were stacked with players who took phony African-American Studies courses. Now, all this academic fraud dates back to the 1990s and you would think the NCAA would drop the hammer, particularly since it was severe enough that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put the University of North Carolina on a 1-year probation. A 1-year probation for an entire university that is considered an academic blue blood among public schools is harsh, to say the least.
What the NCAA did, however, isn’t the least bit harsh when it comes to UNC men’s basketball. The new notice of allegations barely mentioned men’s basketball nor did it conclude that UNC was a repeat offender because the NCAA leveled sanctions on the football program from the time Butch Davis was the head football coach. Instead, women’s basketball and former faculty chairperson and tutor Jan Boxill will take the hit.
This almost reminds us of that famous line by then UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who once quipped, “The NCAA was so mad at Kentucky that they gave Cleveland State two more years of probation.”
We could also bring up the Syracuse situation here. Syracuse got caught up a years-old scandal that involved academic fraud that included changing grades and some improper benefits. Both football and men’s basketball were involved. Syracuse vacated a season of wins in football, self-imposed an NCAA Basketball Tournament ban for 2014-15, lost some basketball scholarships and basketball coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for 9 games during the 2015-16 season. The Syracuse penalties seem harsher than the ones the NCAA is setting up for North Carolina.
When North Carolina gets sanctioned for the academic scandal, there will be no death penalty even though the many years of fraud and apparent athletic department complicity would seem to merit something substantial. Those two NCAA basketball titles are safe and while folks will wonder out loud how could it be that Roy Williams got away with doing a Sergeant Schultz (“I see nothing! I know nothing!”), the NCAA is giving him the equivalent of an advance to Go and Collect $200 card.
How can that be?
Well, North Carolina is an NCAA blueblood. So is Syracuse.
Ole Miss is not a blueblood whether we’re talking academics or athletics. There was a time when Ole Miss was one of the nation’s football powerhouses but that was from 1947-63 when Johnny Vaught was patrolling the sidelines. Vaught won 6 SEC championships and a 1960 national championship, but that was a long time ago and now Ole Miss is viewed as a relative upstart for its recent success, causing folks to ask, “How can Ole Miss be any good in football (or any other sport) without cheating?”
If the NCAA drops the hammer on Ole Miss, whether it deserves it or not, having not lowered the boom on North Carolina and Syracuse, which both had more violations over a longer period of time, then you have to question the ability of the organization to make fair and impartial judgments that are for the good of all college sports. Contrarily, if the NCAA lets Ole Miss skate, it’s not difficult to arrive at the same conclusion.
If this new system for scoring violations is to work, there has to be a general feeling that the NCAA works for everyone from its bluebloods to its nobodies. Ole Miss is far from a nobody but it’s equal distance from the blue bloods. How the NCAA handles this will go a long way toward defining its ability to deal with the problems that lie ahead.
Where do SEC football teams rank nationally in terms of returning experienced players? Here is Phil Steele’s list for 2016:
3. Tennessee (last year #58)
6. LSU (last year #52)
36. Vanderbilt (last year #11)
38. Georgia (last year #95)
83. Missouri (last year #48)
84. Kentucky (last year #23)
92. Arkansas (last year #40)
97. Mississippi State (last year #93)
100. Ole Miss (last year #43)
103. FLORIDA (last year #125)
108. South Carolina (last year #106)
114. Texas A&M (last year #72)
116. Alabama (last year #124)
THE 10 BEST DEFENSIVE ENDS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, JR (59 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 1 interception, 10 QB hurries, 5 forced fumbles, 1 punt block)
2. Jonathan Allen, Alabama, SR (36 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles)
3. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State SR (58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 QB hurries, 4 fumbles forced, 1 punt block)
4. Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss, JR (43 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 3 fumbles forced)
5. Ejuan Price, Pitt, SR (48 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 punt block)
6. Derek Barnett, Tennessee, JR (69 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 7 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble)
7. Charles Harris, Missouri, JR (56 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 10 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles)
8. Dawuane Smoot, Illinois, SR (40 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles)
9. Josh Carraway, TCU, SR (47 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble)
10. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State, SO (54 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 2 QB hurries)
Just missed: Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama, JR; Lewis Neal, LSU, SR; Kyle Fitts, Utah, SR; Bryan Cox, Florida, SR; Chris Wormley, Michigan, SR; Deatrich Wise Jr., Arkansas, SR
PHIL STEELE RATES THE TOUGHEST SCHEDULES FOR 2016
Here are the top 10 toughest schedules followed by SEC teams not in the top 10:
1. Southern Cal (last year #3)
2. Ole Miss (last year #28)
3. Alabama (last year #4)
4. California (last year #5)
5. Auburn (last year #7)
6. Iowa State (last year #2)
7. Texas A&M (last year #25)
8. Arkansas (last year #8)
9. Wisconsin (last year #81)
10. Syracuse (last year #49)
The rest of the SEC:
11. LSU (last year #12)
26. Mississippi State (last year #22)
43. Kentucky (last year #64)
44. Vanderbilt (last year #21)
49. South Carolina (last year #33)
51. Missouri (last year #47)
55. FLORIDA (last year #23)
57. Georgia (last year #61)
58. Tennessee (last year #42)
Others: 14. Florida State (last year #58); 39. Miami (last year #32); 70. UCF (last year #73); 76. South Florida (last year #86); 94. Florida Atlantic (last year #97); 119. Florida International (last year #114)
There are three Title IX lawsuits that have been filed against Baylor. Three women joined three other women in one of the lawsuits Wednesday. It will take a long time before these lawsuits actually see a courtroom. Unless Baylor wants its football program to look like ground zero of a nuclear attack it needs to find a way to settle these lawsuits. The longer this drags on, the more Baylor football is going to look like it did pre-Art Briles, which is to say horrendous.
The Indianapolis Colts wrapped up QB Andrew Luck for the next 6 years. His $140 million contract includes $87 million guaranteed and $47 up front as a signing bonus. That is nice work if you can get it.
Nothing he could say could get Peyton Manning in trouble since he’s retired, but he’s likely to answer questions from the NFL as it delves further into the allegations made by Al-Jazeera America. The NFL sent letters requesting interviews from Manning, James Harrison (Pittsburgh Steelers), Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers (Green Bay Packers) and free agent Mike Neal.
Kevin Durant will meet with the Oklahoma City Thunder today. He becomes a free agent at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Oklahoma City can offer Durant the most money and perhaps the best chance to win an NBA title.
The Orlando Magic traded a future second round draft pick to the Detroit Pistons for Jodie Meeks. Why? He played in only 3 games last year, has a reputation for being injury prone, never meeting a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take, isn’t exactly a defensive wiz and isn’t exactly an ace when it comes to passing or ball handling. Oh wait. I forgot. This is the Magic. All things considered he fits in perfectly.
Wichita State, which hasn’t played college football since 1986 is contemplating restarting the program in Division I even though its 9,000 enrollment would make it one of the smaller schools in the top division. The estimated price tag for a startup? Try $75 million including something in the neighborhood of $28 million to renovate Cessna Stadium and another $21 million for practice and weight room facilities.
Former Murray State, Southern Miss and Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall has a 10-year show cause clause that includes a half-season suspension even if he’s hired in 2026. Tyndall says he’s appealing, claiming the NCAA let Jim Boeheim and Larry Brown (SMU) off easier for similar violations.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What does the NCAA do with Ole Miss: drop the hammer under the new guidelines or treat Ole Miss with the same kid gloves it used when dealing with bluebloods North Carolina and Syracuse?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Kings of Leon hasn’t produced an album since 2013 and played their first concert of the year last weekend at the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. They have only two more concerts scheduled this year, one in Poland and the other in Germany. Here is a video of their show at Chicago Lollapalooza in 2014.