In 2013, after signing a top-five recruiting class seemingly out of nowhere, Hugh Freeze tweeted, “If you have facts about a violation, email email@example.com. If not, please don’t slander the young men.”
In hindsight, Freeze may have dug his own grave with that one.
“Look, in retrospect, the arrogance and the ignorance of doing that certainly didn’t help Hugh Freeze in all this,” Sports Illustrated senior writer Pete Thamel told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Inviting the criticism – more eyes rolled around the SEC when he did that. At the end of the day, he calls it the narrative that we were buying players. Well, the narrative was being written and spoken about because that’s what everybody believed in college football. . . . Whether it happened or not is going to be judged by the committee on infractions, sooner than later, but it was what everyone believed. So if you are going to fight it that ardently, you better be sure your own house is clean.”
It wasn’t. The NCAA has alleged numerous violations against Ole Miss, including lack of institutional control and cash payments from boosters. Ole Miss has self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season.
“Freeze, in some ways, kind of raised the middle finger to the media, too, and to anyone who was skeptical,” Thamel noted. “(Wednesday) was sort of the beginning of their comeuppance – and I said the beginning because this was a self-imposed ban, and they’ve already self-imposed scholarship losses. So the NCAA hasn’t even punished them yet. There’s a long way to go. There’s certainly a potential that a lot more bad can happen to Ole Miss. The baseline that’s bad is scholarship loss, I think a $7 million penalty and a one-year ban. The recruiting class in February was pretty much garbage. Their next one is going to be garbage inherently because they’re going to have this cloud over them for the next year. So you’re talking already, at the best, you have a penalty that’s really going to inhibit your program for years to come.”
Freeze, 47, led Ole Miss to a 10-3 record in 2015, including a win over Alabama, but went 5-7 in 2016.
Expect something closer to the latter than the former in the coming years.
“They are severely handicapped from their ability (to compete at an elite level),” Thamel said. “Does Freeze survive is a legitimate question that comes out of this. But ultimately, one of the things people always say about NCAA investigations – and Carolina people will tell you this, Jim Boeheim would tell you this – is that the cloud of it is almost a bigger punishment than the actual punishment.”
The ruling-and-appeals process might not end until next year.
“So that means at the very least you have a cloud until ’18,” Thamel said. “Then you have to figure out is there a second year of a postseason ban. You can’t rule that out as a possibility.”