NCAA Case Press Conference

Dec. 1, 2017

Today, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions issued its report to the University of Mississippi regarding the NCAA investigation of the football program. In the report, the committee disagreed with the institution’s position on most of the contested allegations. In addition to accepting our previously self-imposed sanctions, the committee has imposed a postseason ban for 2018.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Vice Chancellor for Athletics Ross Bjork met with the media Friday afternoon in the Burns Team Meeting Room in the Manning Center to discuss the Committee’s findings.

Jeffrey Vitter - Chancellor

Opening Statement…
“Good afternoon, and thank you for being here. By now you all have read and are certainly aware that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions released its final report regarding a more than five-year review of the Ole Miss football program. The report focused on 21 alleged violations of NCAA bylaws involving former coaches, staff and student-athletes in our football program. We are deeply disappointed and angered by the additional penalty of a 2018 postseason ban. It is simply not warranted and is based on fundamental flaws in the NCAA case and how the investigation was conducted. We will vigorously appeal the additional postseason ban. It is clearly an excessive punishment, and we are outraged at the unfair characterization of our football program and the university culture involving athletics. As we have stated before, for those violations that are backed up by facts, the university is in agreement and has accepted responsibility. And as a chair on the committee himself noted on the press call, we understand how serious the case was, and we took strong actions against those responsible for the violations. Every staff member, coach or student-athlete who was found to have committed an NCAA violation has already been held accountable. We do have institutional control, as those controls are how we discovered many of the violations, and those controls also provided strong compliance education to staff, students and to boosters. Let me be clear: today is a sad day for the entire Ole Miss family. My heart breaks for the young men in our football program who displayed such resolve and focus in competing this season, despite knowing there would be no postseason opportunity for them. And now, the NCAA has unfairly punished these young men who have already been through so much. We will fight for them and appeal. I want to thank Ross Bjork for his leadership throughout this entire process, and for fighting for Ole Miss. And, I want to thank Coach Matt Luke for setting an example of character for our student-athletes.”

On if he feels that the NCAA is corrupt…
“Let me answer more specifically, and you can draw your own conclusions. I think something happened, quite frankly, about a year and a half ago just before the draft night of 2016. The course of this investigation changed. The entire conduct went from one of cooperation to one where we were shut out. Where information that should have been obvious to pursue, that we would have certainly noticed and followed up on, was not. By the time the facts became known to us, that information was no longer available because of the time sensitive nature. That is an example where we could have been led to an entirely different conclusion on some very key matters. I really am very upset about the way this process was conducted. It was unfair. It was not appropriate for our university or our student-athletes.”

On the timing of when the tone changed from the NCAA…
“Roughly around that time was the draft night. Although, I think the change actually happened shortly before that. It was a situation where we were not apprised of situations that the NCAA was concerned about. We could not conduct our own investigation. We could not provide relevant information and we were not given access to the sources of information that the NCAA was looking at. That is grossly unfair.”

On potential regrets about how Ole Miss handled the case…
“We did what we needed to do. We are appealing this case because we were not given proper due course, and we are concerned about that. We are fighting for our students. They have had enough, they shouldn’t deserve anymore. We are also, frankly, bringing up concerns that could be of general use to our member institutions in the NCAA because it is important to raise issues of concern that affect the entire membership.”

On if Ole Miss has a culture problem with its boosters…
“If there is one booster that acts inappropriately, to me, that is a problem and we are going to make sure that we do everything we can to not have that. As Ross (Bjork) pointed out, we are one of three institutions out of the 14 in the SEC that went 20 years without a major infractions case. We are having to deal with cases from over 20 and over 30 years ago influencing ultimately this imposition of a 2018 bowl ban. We take everything seriously. That is why we are going to be doing things, I don’t know other institutions putting publically on the web who the boosters are that violated our procedures, what they did and our penalties. They are not going to be welcomed at athletics events, and we take this very seriously.”

On how Ross Bjork has led this response…
“I have the highest regard for Ross. He is a great athletics director. Everyone who has been responsible for NCAA violations has either severed from the university or has been held accountable. Ross is going to provide the continued leadership, so we can forge ahead and reach new heights in our athletics program.”

On if 2016 NFL Draft Night affected the way the NCAA approached this investigation…
“I don’t want to speculate on why it (the change in tone of the NCAA investigation) occurred, but what was up to that point a process where we could investigate and contribute stopped. We were kept out of the process, and it became a one-way process. For that reason, I just don’t think it was very fair. There were thinks that were pretty obvious that should’ve been done, should’ve been questioned and should’ve been looked at that weren’t, and in some cases to the point where now it’s even impossible to do that. The tenor changed. It’s also important to point out that nothing from draft night, any of those allegations, were found ultimately even to be credible and were not part of the case.”

On if the bowl ban didn’t happen, would Ole Miss accept the results of the report…
“The NCAA accepted everything that we self-imposed with one exception of this new penalty which is the 2018 postseason bowl ban. We would have been disappointed about findings of institutional control or other aspects of their findings, but we could’ve lived with the consequences. The bowl ban is just not acceptable.”

Ross Bjork - Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics

Opening Statement…
“This is obviously a very tough day for the university and our football program. Based on the decision from the Committee on Infractions earlier today, the young men in our football program, who have already suffered so much, will continue to feel the effects of this case. As was mentioned by the chief hearing officer earlier today, our corrective action showed how serious we took this case. We self-imposed very meaningful penalties and took appropriate action to take responsibility for the actions that resulted in violations. The committee accepted all of our self-imposed penalties and determined that our case was a Level One standard case. However, we are in strong disagreement over the addition of the 2018 postseason ban and plan to launch the appeal right away. We believe that today’s decision from the committee is an excessive application of the penalty structure, and the citing of previous University of Mississippi infractions cases from more than 30 years ago is not applicable to our current case. Considering that we are one of only three SEC institutions that went more than 20 years without a major infractions matter, this is a gross misapplication of the charge of lack of institutional control. The question is, when does a university get a clean slate in the infractions process? There are many factors that call into question the procedures of this case and the credibility of evidence that was presented at the hearing. We plan to restate those facts in our appeal materials. There are other aspects of the case that we will also appeal, and we will determine the specifics of those matters in the next few days. From the very beginning, our approach to the investigation has been consistent. We focused upon two things. First, when we uncovered facts that were violations, we took appropriate and decisive action based upon those facts. Second, when facts did not support allegations or we felt the process was unfair, we challenged the NCAA. We indicated our disagreement in very forceful and strategic aspects as evidenced by our numerous filings, letters and pushback over the past few years. Something changed in the spring and summer of 2016, and we strongly disagree with the tactics used by the enforcement staff to keep us isolated in the final months of the investigation. This will also be a basis for our appeal. Our responsibility to compliance has been, and always will be, the cornerstone of Ole Miss Athletics, as evidenced by our consistent, proactive approach to compliance, rules education and monitoring. I’m grateful for Chancellor Vitter’s unwavering leadership and support through this entire process. He exemplifies a steadfast commitment to integrity that permeates every aspect of our university. We are here for our student-athletes in our 18 sports, and that mission will not change. Since we are digesting the full report, there are many things that we may not have answers for today. We wish that this were over, but there is more work to be done, and that work has already started.”

On what wins will be vacated…
“That is still being determined. Again, we are just digesting the full report. We are not exactly sure until we go through each of the findings, if you will, and determine the seasons. We know some, but until we go through the final report we are not sure the vacations of wins yet.”

On the university exemplifying cooperation…
“Well, I think to their credit, they acknowledged the resources that were spent on this case, the time that it has taken to get information on the table, and I think a lot of it again, was self-discovered by our institution, by our compliance program. They did not sight exemplary cooperation, so I don’t understand how people feel we did cooperate because we pushed back. We made sure that everything we did was based on fact and if there were violations we took fact, and if there were disagreements than we did push back. Extemporary cooperation is only one strategy in the tone and tenure of this process, but we do have an obligation as a NCAA institution to cooperate. We would rather be a part of the process than isolated because we know what happens when we are isolated and I think we felt the effects of that after Spring/Summer 2016.”

On a specific issue with the NCAA where Ole Miss rejected to a matter…
“We are putting a lot of documents onto our website, There are a lot of those filings, a lot of letters that were sent, either directly to the enforcement staff or once we got our notice of allegations and a committee hearing date were sent directly to the chief hearing officer, so all of that is in there. It is not really one individual, it is the process. It’s the manner, again, in which we were isolated from that process in which we pushed back on, and we wanted access to the facts. We felt that we were shut out of those facts.”

On if it angered him that it was Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis’ word against Ole Miss as a source of information…
“Again, a lot of this will go into our appeal, but we are shocked that they found him credible. That was listed in the report today. We are shocked by that based on the mountain of evidence that was presented, but a lot of that basis will be a part of our appeal. Are we sad? Are we angry for this institution and our young men? Absolutely. We think they have suffered long enough; the institution has suffered long enough. When you cite cases from 30 years ago, that is not part of the process. We think that is unprecedented to be part of this, so yes there is anger, there is frustration and there is sadness, but now we have to go to work to make sure we get back on track.”

On the appeal…
“We have 15 days to state that we are appealing, so we will file that as soon as possible. Hopefully here early next week we are appealing. A lot of our materials are already written, back to the question earlier. We will submit those materials. It is probably a three to six month process. We don’t exactly know because it depends on the turnaround time on some aspects of it. We hope sometime in 2018 to have a final outcome. We are appealing the postseason ban. We are appealing the lack of institutional control and then the other things are to be determined.”

On the transferring process…
“We know the poaching from other schools has already happened. Here is how it works. Anyone with one year of eligibility remaining, rising seniors, have to notify us of their desire to transfer and then the receiving institution may file for them to be immediately eligible. That is that process with kids with one year remaining. Anyone with multi-years remaining has to go through the normal transfer process. They have to arrive at their institution, that institution would have to file a waiver through the NCAA and then it would be evaluated through there. We don’t make that decision, that is the NCAA that makes that decision on multiple years remaining of eligibility.”

On leaks…
“It is hard to really address the leaks. The chief hearing officer addressed that on the teleconference today, so obviously the committee was frustrated by that as well. We can’t control leaks. We know they we were not part of any strategy to leak or deceive or anything like that. We want the truth. We want the facts. If leaks are out there on any side, we can’t control it. Based on what we know, we tried to take action head on and take responsibility necessary. The leak part, it is hard to say. Who would ever investigate that, I think that’s a question for the NCAA that they will have to answer at some point in time.”

On immunity given by Leo Lewis…
“All of that is going to be part of our appeal. It has been filed in some of our earlier filings and letters that we sent, but again, that will come up in the appeal.”

On the interaction had with the SEC throughout the process…
“We consulted with the conference on a regular basis. Commissioner (Greg) Sankey, with his experience on the committee on infractions, was a helpful resource for us throughout the process. The unlimited immunity, he was not a part of, but he could help us with the steps in our case, prepare for the hearing and now he will help us prepare for the appeal as well.”

On if the same governing body will oversee the appeal…
“It is a different panel. There is an appeal panel committee that would hear the appeal.”

On today’s ruling affecting Rebel Rags ability to sell licensed goods…
“That is one of the things we are assessing right now. We need to go through the whole report. We are disassociated with a lot of boosters that were in the case. They (Rebel Rags) are not one of them at this point. We need to assess that and see how he can be a part of the program moving forward. We haven’t had time to do that yet.”

On the response of the team…
“We had a team meeting this morning at 10 a.m. I figured through social media they had heard about it, but Matt (Luke) wanted to address them face-to-face. The chancellor, myself and Coach Luke met with the team, those who could make it. Obviously, they have been through a lot. I think a lot of them are resilient now and the message was, look we just went through the same thing last year and we have to do the same thing next year. We are going to appeal, we are going to fight for them, because they are not the ones who should be punished in this situation. I think the mood was a little sad, a little unknown. Coach Luke has done a great job of either meeting with groups of the team or with individuals. I know they will have position meetings as well. I think right now, we need to stay around the team and be in communication with them so we can answer any questions that they have.”

On other schools recruiting Ole Miss football players…
“They can contact the rising seniors and the rising senior has to notify us, so there needs to be communication. Anyone that is contacting underclassmen with more than one year of eligibility would be breaking NCAA rules.”

On if appealing the bowl ban delays the players ability to transfer…
“We are not sure yet. The process for them will continue. They can put forward whatever mechanisms. How an appeal would affect that, we don’t know that answer yet.”

On if any rising senior had indicated transferring…
“Not to my knowledge, no.”

On if Ole Miss would have handled the process the same way could they have done it over…
“Obviously there will be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking related to this case. We, throughout the entire process, believe we are better being part of the process, not on the outside. The pushback was very forceful, was very strategic. It was never behind a podium. People can criticize that, people can argue with that, but there is a process you go through to push back. If people knew the number of conference calls, the angst that we shared though out this, especially after the Spring/Summer 2016, I think people would understand that we pushed back. Again, if you look at some of our filings, that will become public. If you look at our supplemental response after the hearing, I think people would understand the position that we took to defend the university.”

On scholarship reduction…
“We have already served 10, and we have reduced our scholarships by a total of 13 over a four-year period. It was a 15 percent reduction off 85 (total scholarships). This year, we were down six scholarships. Last year, we were down two scholarships and the year before we were down one scholarship. Next year, we’re down four scholarships. So, we’ll be at 81. That gets you to 13. The 10 initials are part of the signing class, so you’re capped out at 25. You can only sign 25 student-athletes in your signing class. Some you can count backwards, and some you can move forward. We’re restricted by a total of 10 signees, and that is spread out over a three-year period. None of that changed. They accepted all of our self-imposed penalties with really the exception of one, and that’s the 2018 (bowl ban).”

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