Mississippi finishes first day of NCAA infractions hearing

Mississippi interim head football coach Matt Luke watches his players during the final minutes of the second half of an NCAA college football game against UT Martin in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. Mississippi won 45-23. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi’s football program began its hearing in front of the NCAA’s infractions committee panel on Monday, nearly five years after the governing body first launched its investigation.

The Rebels are facing 21 allegations, including 15 that are classified as Level I, which the NCAA deems the most serious. The charges in the wide-ranging case involve academic, recruiting and booster misconduct.

The hearing is being held at a hotel in Covington, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati. The NCAA has set aside up to three days for the case.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork declined comment after Monday’s meetings.

The school has already self-imposed several penalties, including a postseason ban for this season, three years of probation, scholarship losses and recruiting restrictions. The NCAA could accept the Rebels’ self-imposed penalties or add to them when it reaches a decision, which could be several weeks to months after the hearing ends.

All 21 of the alleged football violations happened under the program’s two previous coaches – Hugh Freeze and Houston Nutt.

Nutt was the Ole Miss coach from 2008 to `11 and his staff members are responsible for alleged academic issues, including arranging for fraudulent ACT scores for three prospects.

Freeze and his staff are responsible for the majority of the 21 allegations and the school is facing the charge of lack of institutional control. Ole Miss has acknowledged that it committed some of the violations, but is contesting others, including the institutional control charge.

Freeze – who coached five seasons at Ole Miss from 2012 to ’16 – resigned in July, but the school says his resignation wasn’t related to the NCAA case. Instead, the school cited a ”pattern of personal misconduct” after an investigation into Freeze’s phone records.

The long-running case has had several twists and turns.

The school has received two Notice of Allegations letters from the NCAA over the past two years. The first alleged 13 rules violations, including nine that were classified as Level I.

But the case expanded in April 2016 after former offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil became the focal point of the NFL draft after a bizarre video of him smoking from a gas mask-bong contraption was posted on his Twitter account just before the selections began.

There was also a post on Tunsil’s Instagram account showing an alleged text conversation with a football staff member about arranging payment for bills.

Though the NCAA didn’t appear to find much from that particular exchange, it did reopen its investigation, resulting in a second Notice of Allegations earlier this year that expanded the case to its current 21 charges.

More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25 .