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Appeals committee upholds Ole Miss findings and postseason ban; overturns unofficial visit penalty

Download the Nov. 2018 University of Mississippi Infractions Appeals Decision

The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee overturned an NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions penalty that required Ole Miss to limit recruits in the sport of football to one unofficial visit per year during its probation period. The Infractions Appeals Committee upheld the prescribed one-year postseason ban in addition to the university’s self-imposed one-year ban. It also upheld the Committee on Infractions’ findings that an assistant coach and an assistant athletics director impermissibly arranged for free merchandise to prospects, their families and their friends and that the university lacked institutional control.

The Committee on Infractions found Ole Miss lacked institutional control and fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting.

In its appeal, the university argued the lack of institutional control and recruiting inducement findings should be set aside because they are clearly contrary to the information presented and violations from an infractions case involving other teams at the school should not have been considered. It also argued that the Committee on Infractions committed a procedural error when it did not compel involved student-athletes to participate in interviews with the university or obtain information from an enforcement investigation involving another school.

In response, the Committee on Infractions argued the institutional control finding was appropriate because the case involved multiple staff members engaging in impermissible activity, boosters were not monitored and the system for tracking cars loaned to student-athletes was insufficient. The Committee on Infractions also argued that it is in its purview to determine the credibility of evidence and the university failed to demonstrate that information supporting that a violation did not occur clearly outweighed information used to support the violation. The Committee on Infractions also denied that it committed procedural error. It explained that it does not have the authority to compel enforcement to disclose information related to another university’s investigation or compel individuals to participate in interviews with the university. 

The Infractions Appeals Committee was unable to find information in the case record that clearly outweighed the information on which the Committee on Infractions relied to make the findings of these violations. The infractions appeals decision also upheld the institutional control finding because the Committee on Infractions clearly stated it arrived at the finding based on the football violations alone, and acknowledging violations in the other infractions case was not procedural error.

With regard to the penalties, the university contended the unofficial visit core penalty should be set aside because the length of the penalty extended beyond the 13-week maximum as outlined in the penalty guidelines. Ole Miss also asked the Infractions Appeals Committee to set aside the additional one-year postseason ban because it believed the Committee on Infractions did not give an explicit reason for the imposition of the penalty.

The Committee on Infractions disputed the university’s arguments by saying the unofficial visits penalty was not a ban, as the penalty guidelines dictate, but a limitation on the number of visits. It argued the limitation was an additional penalty and was appropriate given the significant violations resulting from the university’s failure to control its football unofficial visit process. It also contended the postseason ban was appropriate since the case involved multiple Level I violations over five years and multiple staff members and boosters. The Committee on Infractions also stated that a two-year postseason ban falls within the penalty guidelines.

The Infractions Appeals Committee determined the unofficial visit limitation was a core penalty, as prescribed in this case, and differed from those outlined in the penalty guideline for unofficial visits.  Therefore, the Committee on Infractions should have included in its decision an explanation of the basis for prescribing the unofficial visit limitations as a core penalty since it differed from the penalty guidelines. The Infractions Appeals Committee found the Committee on Infractions failed to accurately apply NCAA rules related to the prescription of a core penalty. As a result, the penalty related to unofficial visits was vacated.

The committee upheld the postseason ban since the Committee on Infractions did not depart from the penalty guideline when prescribing the additional one-year postseason ban.

 The members of the Infractions Appeals Committee who heard this case were Ellen M.  Ferris, associate commissioner for governance and compliance at the American Athletic Conference; W. Anthony Jenkins, attorney in private practice; Patti Ohlendorf, committee chair and special advisor in the office of legal affairs at Texas; and Allison Rich, senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Princeton.