The NCAA is the world’s worst sniper. Its hands shake constantly. It is not really sure who it is by mission and purpose supposed to shoot, or how badly it is supposed to injure its targets, or where it is even allowed to do its work. To be honest, the NCAA isn’t really sure what its work is, if we’re going to be really, really real about this in talking about football and maybe a few other things. It carries a very inexact weapon to do its work, and it uses a child’s pirate-themed toy telescope to do its spotting.
Being in the crosshairs is nothing to worry about at all, actually. The NCAA’s terrible aim typically results in someone around the target getting hit. There is only collateral damage. They aim for an assistant, and take out a trainer. They try to nick a head coach, and instead take out a whole program when they accidentally hit a fuel tank behind them. They miss huge, glaring targets. They miss them all the damn time, because they would rather be protecting the tiniest branded elements of the basketball tournament that pays for almost everything the NCAA does, which is [FILE NOT FOUND IN LARGE BUILDINGS AND EXPENSE ACCOUNTS IN INDIANAPOLIS.]
So, to catch everyone up: Ole Miss is digging in and standing behind their football coach Hugh Freeze. They did this with a united front of university president, athletic director, and coach all appearing in the same twenty minute and twenty-two second long video which no one, the NCAA included, will ever watch all the way through to completion. The theme, to save you some time, is unity, a denial of wrongdoing on the part of the principals involved, and Hugh Freeze looking more tired than a man under 70 should ever have to look.
Ole Miss has 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s accusations, including the nastiest of all, the dreaded “lack of institutional control”—the one Ole Miss will fight hardest here. They should fight that one, and with reason. There is very little evidence that Ole Miss, or any other big FBS program, is out of control when it comes to recruiting. This is the way things work, and have always worked in the SEC and well beyond.
To the contrary, the same schools showing up every year in the recruiting rankings indicates this is a pretty predictable market for talent, and that the biggest issue a member school or competitor might have with an Ole Miss is a.) public disclosure of black market wages, or b.) paying beyond scale and upsetting everyone else’s salary caps.
That’s it. Beyond that, the rest is a shammy defense of a particularly skinflinty strain of amateurism, or personal invective against Hugh Freeze.
To be fair, Hugh Freeze did and does make it really easy to do that exact thing. He coaches in a very kickable dirt-poor state known mostly for exporting catfish and soybeans, and at a university known for importing a well-off undergrads from the Nashville and Atlanta suburbs for what they think is going to be a four year overnight stay inside a Luke Bryan video. That might not be what it is—there’s less flannel, for one—but it’s what people think Ole Miss is. Let’s put this gently, too: Their academic standards for football players are forgiving, and their academic assistance for them once enrolled is very, very generous.
The point is: If you were going to pick a cartoon punching bag of an SEC school to bag on, it would be Ole Miss, and its most cartoonish huckster ideal of a coach would look and sound a lot like Hugh Freeze. He “recruited hard” against the Alabamas and LSUs of the world while simultaneously daring people to contact Ole Miss compliance about alleged recruiting violations. He won big against the best the nation had to offer, beating Alabama and LSU, taking Ole Miss to nine and ten win seasons in 2014-15 and immediately following it up with a dismal 5-7 in 2016. That season ended with the inexcusable: An Egg Bowl rout to Mississippi State, and Dan Mullen chomping a cigar while bragging about beating the Rebels with a quarterback recruited from the clutches of UT-Chattanooga alone.
Freeze also broadcast his churchy side at full volume while running one of the most ruthless recruiting operations in the nation. He pulled down the Robert Nkemdiches of the world off other, bigger teams’ recruiting boards and led them to Oxford while tweeting Bible verses the whole time. Freeze opened his 2013 recruiting war room meetings with 6:30 a.m. discussions of the definition of love with his staffers. When the NCAA came calling, the embattled coach compared Ole Miss’s struggles to Jesus’s trials on the cross in a conversation with a recruit.
That combination of hard-pitched faith and football recruiting isn’t unusual—not one bit, not in the SEC, the ACC, or much of anywhere in college football.
What it is, in this case, is the worst possible instance of stereotypical Southern central casting imaginable, so hamhanded you wouldn’t buy it in an episode of True Blood, so badly and broadly written it wouldn’t pass muster as a Charleston accent in the mouth of Kevin Spacey. Of course the preacher type gets caught by the authorities, all while doing it at the SEC’s most cartoonishly stereotyped capital-S Southern school. Of course the players involved went to the rival school after getting paid. Of course the rules are written sideways in the first place, protecting no one deserving of protection, and enforced haphazardly by ineffectual, distant authorities with too much power and not enough eyesight to see what they’re hitting in the first place. Cover everyone’s faces in vaseline and have them yell at each other in a stately courtroom without AC for maximum effect here, and you get the idea.
The rest of this story is a matter of following the Kierkegaard Express rule: Just reverse what everyone’s saying and what you’re seeing, and you’ll understand what and how everything will happen.
Ole Miss is voluntarily out of a bowl game this year, so just assume they’ll go undefeated, because that’s the opposite of what should happen in all this. The University of Mississippi’s administration is standing by Hugh Freeze. He will therefore be fired for this at one point. Whoever is in charge will talk about the Ole Miss family, and how the roster should stick together to get through tough times; therefore, the roster will eventually be picked clean and cannibalized by rival schools happy to take transfers while expressing half-hearted regret at what happened to Ole Miss.
It looks like other teams could get punished in a round robin of world-class recruiting snitching. Therefore, nothing will happen to any other schools at all.
Oh, Ole Miss will probably go undefeated, too, because Ole Miss football only goes undefeated when it can’t possibly deserve it or benefit from it. It’s happened before to them under much, much, much worse conditions. The timing would be awful, the circumstances bad, the outcomes kind of pointless no matter what the scores say. That would be history repeating itself in the meanest way, but maybe you define history a little differently than we would. The darkest but most useful definition history for us in almost any context is that it is “the bad thing that keeps happening over and over again whether you want it to or not.” Related: Ole Miss football is happening again.