Lineman Tunsil eligible, Ole Miss still under NCAA scrutiny
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) The NCAA has ruled that Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil can return to the field on Saturday against No. 15 Texas A&M after a seven-game suspension for receiving improper benefits.
That news, which came last week, was a welcome development for the 24th-ranked Rebels, who have lost two of their last three games.
The bad news is the NCAA’s interest in the Ole Miss athletics department isn’t necessarily over.
A three-year NCAA investigation – which started with the women’s basketball program in 2012 after coaches were fired for recruiting and academic misconduct – remains open. Compliance issues with the football program are also unresolved.
Ole Miss would obviously like some closure to the lengthy NCAA probe, but has had to deal with a series of incidents that may have helped prolong it:
– Last week, Louisiana-Lafayette released documents about its own NCAA investigation involving former football assistant David Saunders. The school, in its response to the NCAA, said Saunders’ issues – which include academic impropriety – might date back to his days at Ole Miss.
The response also says that Ole Miss’ legal counsel and NCAA enforcement staff interviewed Saunders in 2013.
Saunders worked for the Rebels on three separate occasions, most recently in 2010 when Houston Nutt was the football coach. Freeze was hired in 2012 and also worked as an assistant at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007.
– In October 2012, the investigation began when Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Adrian Wiggins and two assistants were fired after the school found ”impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct.” Two players were ruled ineligible and the school self-imposed a one-year postseason ban.
– In February 2013, the Ole Miss football program signed one of the school’s most highly-regarded recruiting classes, which included current stars like defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell, safety Tony Conner and Tunsil.
In the aftermath, questions were raised on social media how Ole Miss could have signed such a talented class without cheating.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze responded on Twitter that anyone with information on improper recruiting should email the school’s compliance department.
A total of 85 responses were received and Ole Miss later released 54 of the documents. The school has withheld the other responses, saying releasing the documents ”may violate the university’s duty of confidentiality under NCAA rules or otherwise interfere with the university’s duty to or ability to inquire into potential rules violations.”
Freeze has said several times that he believes his staff recruits by NCAA rules.
– In June, Tunsil was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence, along with his stepfather Lindsey Miller, after a fight between the two men. The charges were later dismissed.
Later in the summer, Ole Miss acknowledged it was working with the NCAA on accusations made by Miller that Tunsil had illegal contact with agents and received improper benefits.
Tunsil received a seven-game suspension on Monday after the NCAA found he received several benefits. Among them: Use of three loaner cars over a six-month period, an interest-free four-month promissory note on a $3,000 down payment for a used car and a plane ticket.
While Tunsil’s eligibility has been restored, the athletic department’s culpability regarding the issue could still be examined by the NCAA.
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James wrote in an email response that the organization won’t comment on current, pending or potential investigations. She did write that, in general, there are a ”number of things that impact the length of an investigation – new information or allegations, complexity of the case, etc.”
Ole Miss officials have acknowledged working with the NCAA on unrelated issues concerning the women’s basketball program and football program over the past three years, but have not received a notice of allegations in either sport.
Athletic director Ross Bjork said he couldn’t comment on specifics of the investigation.
”There is nothing new to report as far as the NCAA is concerned,” Bjork said. ”I am confident in what our coaches and staff stand for, and how we operate our program.”
The AD said the school would continue to work with the NCAA until all matters are resolved.
”We take compliance seriously and do our best to adhere to all NCAA and SEC rules,” Bjork said.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP .