If you missed the penalties that the NCAA handed to the University of Louisville, they’re worth checking out. The story itself is sensational, involving strippers, sex and star basketball recruits, but that’s not why it should be important to fans of the University of Mississippi.
The significance becomes clear once you look at the last three decisions that the NCAA Committee on Infractions has made. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino joins Southern Methodist University head coach Larry Brown and Syracuse University Jim Boeheim in receiving a suspension.
In all three cases, the NCAA used bylaw 126.96.36.199, which places the responsibility to monitor a program squarely on the shoulders of the head coach. Brown and Boeheim each received nine-game suspensions, and Pitino got a five-game suspension, that will be appealed.
Pitino and Boeheim played the “I didn’t know; it was a rogue athletic-department employee” card, which didn’t work for the COI. That is the card the Rebels are trying to play in regards to former Assistant Athletic Director Barney Farrar.
The university is trying to cast Farrar as someone who acted alone in providing money, free merchandise and other NCAA violations, without the knowledge of head coach Hugh Freeze. It is a bold strategy after the NCAA came down on Boeheim with that bylaw and dropped the same hammer on Pitino.
Depending on how the COI rules against the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, there might be a third coach to get a suspension over the same bylaw. However, for Louisville and North Carolina, the real pain might be losing national championships in basketball.
It would seem like UM can’t save Freeze from a suspension if Boeheim, Brown, Pitino and UNC head coach Roy Williams all end up with the same verdict. Those are successful coaches with at least one national championship each.
If the NCAA will go after Hall of Fame basketball coaches, there is nothing that will stop them from coming down on Freeze. UM is using UNC’s tactic of digging in against the NCAA. It will be interesting to see how it affects the two basketball programs.
All of these cases are different and feature different violations, though. That means that the COI might not give Freeze the same suspension for UM’s infractions.
But it is becoming clear that head coaches will be held to a higher standard for the
actions of others in their program. No longer will head coaches be able to play dumb or say that they don’t know what is going on in their programs.
The NCAA will have ruled on four cases by the time that the Rebels stand before the COI. It’s likely that Freeze will get a suspension even if he truly didn’t know what Farrar was doing.
It is a new world in NCAA punishments, and Freeze might need a miracle to walk away unscathed.