Tom Mars has found more information on the Ole Miss burner phone situation. Why didn’t Ole Miss just settle the Nutt lawsuit?
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Andrew Beaton, sports reporter for the Wall St Journal, released a story on Tuesday, September 19th, entitled “‘Burner Phone’ Accusation Marks New Chapter in Ole Miss Scandal.“
I reached out and was lucky enough to have Andrew join the Winning Cures Everything podcast for Wednesday (Podcast 133).
The story gives insight into more information that Houston Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, has uncovered. That information includes “Freeze and at least three other staff members used burner phones “on a regular basis” to hide communications with recruits that would violate NCAA rules.“
That’s some pretty striking stuff, and a huge possible NCAA violation. Remember, Kelvin Sampson resigned from Indiana due to improper recruiting calls, before being handed a 5-year show cause. No, this is not the exact same as Sampson’s case, because he was already on probation due to violations committed at Oklahoma before he came to Indiana, but this is still incredibly serious accusations.
The article states:
In August, University of Mississippi athletic director Ross Bjork assembled the football team’s coaching staff in a meeting room. He handed out a form that asked the coaches to disclose whether they had used personal phones, including “prepaid phones, pay as you go, burner, etc.” for recruiting or any other work-related purpose.
If the coaches had done so, the form said, those phones could be subject to records requests or “required to be furnished upon request of the University or NCAA to ensure compliance with University, SEC and NCAA rules.”
The unusual demand was in response to an accusation that coaches at Ole Miss—already under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations—had improperly used burner phones to contact football recruits, according to records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Bjork got these forms signed last month – August 2017 – but there’s something missing.
Let’s go a little further into the article.
Then on July 25, five days after Freeze’s dismissal, Mars wrote a text message to the school’s lead lawyer alleging that Freeze and at least three other staff members used burner phones “on a regular basis” to hide communications with recruits that would violate NCAA rules. A later letter from Mars said he had a sworn affidavit testifying to Freeze’s use of burner phones, in violation of NCAA rules. The use of unreported burner phones would make it more difficult to monitor recruiting practices, which are strictly regulated by the NCAA.
Mars’s letter prompted Ole Miss to self-report the information to the NCAA and distribute the phone declaration form to the football staff. Of the 29 people who filled it out, the school says, none reported using a burner, prepaid or pay-as-you-go phone during their time at Ole Miss.
Ok, let’s dive into this.
Mars has a sworn affidavit testifying to it. You can bet Freeze, and others that might be involved in this, are curious who in the world might have given up that information.
I’m interested in the 29 number. It says Ole Miss “distributed the phone declaration form to the football staff,” that 29 people filled it out, and that all said they never used another phone.
First off – this is like a professor asking the class if anyone cheated on the test. If you say yes, you fail. That’s ridiculous to ask the current staff if they are using burner phones because if they answer “yes” then they’re likely to be fired right then and there.
There are only 10 coaches that can contract recruits from a school. But Ole Miss felt the need to get 29 members of the football staff to fill this out.
The glaring issue here is the 29 names does not include former staff members, from what I read in the story. That means it does not include people like Hugh Freeze, Barney Farrar, Chris Kiffin, and others that were named in the alleged NCAA violations. I asked Andrew on the podcast about the 29 number, and about the form.
“I believe the 29 figure is people who are currently on staff at Ole Miss. I’m sure that they would love to have information from former staff members, but it’s more difficult to compell someone to sign a form like that when they’re no longer employed at the University. To my knowledge, this was a form given to current staff members.
What’s interesting about the form is that college coaches, anyone involved with recruiting, they frequently have to fill out certain boiler plate forms that talk about their contact with recruits and how they’re doing that.
This was a next level one that was specifically in response to the allegations coming from Houston Nutt’s lawyer. That information in this form didn’t just ask, say “write down your phone number.” It specifically called out burner phones.”
I asked him why Ole Miss would only ask the current staff, and not those other coaches, because Mars’s accused violations appear to have already happened. He added this:
“These 3 other coaches – some could still be on staff – there’s some names you mentioned, but those names aren’t necessarily the ones. What’s also interesting, a lot of these people, even the ones who are still on staff, they came from the Hugh Freeze coaching staff. They’re part of his coaching tree. When you’re trying to uncover everything that’s gone on, you’re wondering if they’re carrying on the same practices that their former coach may have. So I think, when those accusations are leveled, they had to ask the current staff.”
That’s completely understandable. You have to add some more precautions, due to the new accusations, in order to try and prevent them in the future. Athletic Director Ross Bjork was quoted in the story regarding that:
““Our coaching staff understands the scrutiny that we’ve been under,” Bjork said in an interview. “We wanted to be proactive and organized.” He adds that the school and its internal monitoring systems haven’t uncovered any evidence to support the claims about burner-phone usage. ”There’s no indication of any other violations like that,” he said.”
Proactive. Organized. Like this entire process has been, right? The school’s internal monitoring system didn’t uncover any evidence? The same monitoring system that didn’t find all of the violations that the NCAA was able to dig up? That’s not a good sign.
None of this really gives any information regarding what Mars has found and alleged, which is recruiting violations by Freeze and former members of the staff.
Thomas Mars gave more information to the Wall Street Journal:
The new accusations began when Mars notified the school in July that he had evidence about alleged misuse of burner phones in recruiting. He alleged that coaches purchased phones with cash, sometimes at out of state locations or using fictitious names, that they used to conceal “communications with prospects that were prohibited by the NCAA’s rules.”
In some instances, Mars wrote, third parties bought the burners and then gave them to coaches. It also alleges the coaches instructed recruits not to put their names with these numbers in the contacts sections of their phone.
Ok. More to dissect. That’s a lot of information to have just made it up. We can assume from this section that Mars either got the information from a student-athlete, or from a former coach. Otherwise, how would he know the burner phones were sometimes bought by third parties? Or that the coaches instructed recruits to not put their names with the numbers? It would be impossible without having somebody on your side that was involved. But he notified the school that he has actual evidence regarding this happening.
Remember the “Nick Yang” burner phone that was bought in Yuma, AZ that we’ve discussed for months? Seems like that might be tied in here.
Which leads to this:
Mars offered to settle the Nutt litigation before making public-records requests to collect additional phone records of Freeze and three other coaches. “I’m running out of patience, so don’t expect me to sit on this information for more than a few hours,” he wrote.
Ole Miss did not accept the settlement proposal, which among other things involved an apology to Nutt. In an August 9 letter to the school’s outside counsel, Mars wrote: “While my silence isn’t for sale, our offer was intentionally framed to spare Ole Miss from any more public embarrassment. As I assume you know, this isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to give the university an opportunity to deal with its dirty laundry before it becomes a public spectacle.”
The next day, Enrique Gimenez, an outside counsel representing Ole Miss in its NCAA investigation, wrote a letter to Jon Duncan, the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, informing him of the accusations. The letter says the university asked Nutt’s legal team to share their information suggesting violations but was denied. Mars says the two sides could not agree on terms for disclosing the affidavit to the university.
I do not understand why Ole Miss, after seeing all of this information, would not just settle this case rather than continue to go through this PR nightmare.
It just does not make sense to me.
I also asked Andrew, on the podcast, about why they refuse to settle.
“I mean, you can think of a lot of reasons. I don’t wanna speak on behalf of Ross Bjork or the lawyers at the University of Mississippi, but I think anybody who has followed this news could come up with a few good reasons.
The first one, maybe they think they’re in the right and they don’t believe they bad-mouthed Houston Nutt and they’re not gonna just settle something for the sake of getting someone away. That’s entirely possible, and they’ve denied the allegations. So it’s possible it’s as simple as that.
It’s also possible it gets them into hot water if they do settle, because if they settled and they admit they did another thing wrong, which means they were spreading misinformation, and that could get them into other types of hot water.
Depending on how you look at it, any of those explanations could make sense, and there’s always realities that are between the two.”
I’m going to assume the latter is the most likely here. Ole Miss doesn’t want to settle this lawsuit because it would be admitting to spread misinformation, which could be frowned upon by the NCAA.
But this Burner Phone issue looks like it could stir up a whole lot more than admitting they spread misinformation, which is something everybody already believes happened anyway.
Get caught up with our other stories on the Ole Miss vs NCAA mess: