Rebel Rags, an Ole Miss apparel store in Oxford, owned by booster Terry Warren, has filed a civil complaint alleging defamation and civil conspiracy against Leo Lewis (LB at Miss St), Kobe Jones (DE at Miss St), and Lindsey Miller (the estranged stepfather of former Rebel star Laremy Tunsil).

Terry Warren, for reference, is Booster 9 in the NOA.

He is one of the few boosters who has NOT been disassociated by Ole Miss.  Yet.

Yes, this all stems from interviews the NCAA conducted during the Ole Miss investigation.

We have seriously reached a point where an apparel store is suing football players from a rival school.  Are we back in the mid-90s?  Is Roy Kramer the SEC Commissioner again?

Could you ever imagine this happening under Mike Slive?

Mike Slive was the SEC Commissioner from 2002 through 2015, and, before that, was the first commissioner of Conference USA (when they had Memphis, Louisville, Cinci, Marquette, etc) from 1995 through 2001.  In 1990, he became senior partner and founder of the Mike Slive-Mike Glazier Sports Group, a legal practice specializing in representing colleges and universities in athletics-related matters.

Last season, it was the Florida / LSU pissing contest over the canceled game due to Hurricane Matthew. Now, it’s Ole Miss and Miss St throwing each other to the wolves (aka the NCAA).  The SEC is starting to remind me of the league under Roy Kramer. Phil Fulmer turning in Alabama, and the league was known as the “Wild Wild West” because EVERYBODY was absolutely filthy. Slive fixed that, initially, because he handled almost everything in-house. He had good rapport with the NCAA and did not let most issues ever get that far.  His goal was to get the SEC to a point where no schools were on probation during his tenure.  But Sankey took over in 2015 and has already struggled.

Greg Sankey is in a weird spot here.  He cannot get involved with this particular situation, because he is the chairman of the COI.  If Slive were still here, my guess is that he would have stepped down from that seat with the COI.  Then he’d have sat down with both Ole Miss and Mississippi State and figured this out before it ever resulted in something like Rebel Rags filing a lawsuit against student-athletes from a rival school.  You wouldn’t have actual universities going at each other in official documents to the NCAA.  This is supposed to be done by fans.  Not the schools.

Remember how Slive handled the Cam Newton situation with Auburn back in 2010.  He threw his weight around, and Auburn never had to sit Cam during that national championship run.  Thanks to his background as an investigator, he was able to give advice to schools based on the facts of the case.  Schools can’t get that from Sankey due to his role with the COI.

Get caught up with our other stories on the Ole Miss vs NCAA mess:

Ole Miss vs NCAA: All Your Questions Answered

Hugh Freeze: Why is the NCAA going after him?

Hugh Freeze: Why is Ole Miss standing with him against the NCAA?

Ole Miss vs NCAA: The Story Behind Barney Farrar

Ole Miss: Football Enthusiasm is in serious trouble

Barney Farrar’s Attorney Responds to Ole Miss

Barney Farrar Response to the NCAA’s NOA

Remember how this started…

This whole case (NCAA vs Ole Miss, not the Rebel Rags case) started because the initial meeting between Hugh Freeze, his staff, and the NCAA got EXTREMELY personal.

Neal McCready was on with 104.5 ESPN’s Matt Moscona in Baton Rouge on Thursday, Feb 23rd, and he stated this about it:

When the NCAA first came to Oxford and talked to Hugh Freeze, that meeting did not go well.  I’ve heard different accounts of what happened.  It wasn’t anything physical, or anything like that.  It got personal.  I think it stayed personal.  There were times in the process where I think it, maybe, would have been the more prudent thing for Freeze to make some changes on his staff that might have taken some of the steam away from the NCAA, and instead, he doubled down with those staffers.  I think that increased the rhetoric.  

I know there are people out there that think I hate Ole Miss.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I agree that this, absolutely, turned into a witch hunt. That doesn’t mean Ole Miss is going to get away with the violations. Remember, there are MAJOR violoations that the school has admitted to. Right now, they’re just trying to save their head coach. This whole thing could have been done and settled a long time ago, but egos from both the NCAA and Ole Miss made this take so long.

Now, let’s get into some questions…

What does this all mean?

Well, possibly nothing. The only way Rebel Rags’ case helps Ole Miss is if those defendants recant the statements they gave to the NCAA.

If they don’t recant the statements, and they say the exact same things under oath, with no proof that they lied, then a big portion of the Ole Miss defense against the NCAA, along with Barney Farrar’s entire defense, is out the door. They’ve got nothing left to stand on after this.

The punishment from the COI should come well before this case ever goes to trial (if it ever does – remember, people can always settle out of court).  That means the lawsuit could mean nothing towards the NCAA punishment to Ole Miss.

Why is this lawsuit a big enough deal for the national media to pay attention?

Because, on the chance that Rebel Rags’s attorneys bring out new evidence and discredits the NCAA’s findings, then it becomes a whole new ballgame. If the NCAA gets named as a defendant in the case, it could actually bring some light to the NCAA investigative process. That would make the interviews taken by the NCAA public record, which could open up a whole new can of worms.

Todd McNair filed suit against the NCAA in June 2011, saying he wrongfully lost his job, as running backs coach at USC (which he held for 6 years), due to a 1-year show cause because of the punishment handed down in the 2010 Reggie Bush case.  That suit seeks damages for libel, slander, breach of contract and 4 other offenses.  It also takes issue with the one-sided examination policy established by the NCAA, which doesn’t allow those targeted by investigations to cross-examine witnesses used.

To be fair, that case STILL does not have a resolution.

Did Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones lie about Rebel Rags?

The kids may not have the details exactly right, but that doesn’t mean that they flat out lied to the NCAA about receiving things from Rebel Rags.

Everybody is pinpointing Leo Lewis here, due to his contrasting testimony, but, remember, the kid is 19 years old.  This stuff happened 2 years ago, and, at the time, was not something that he thought he would EVER have to remember.  That does not excuse it, but it’s a different perspective.

Look at it this way… Lewis and Jones had immunity to tell the truth about their dealings with Ole Miss.  However, that immunity does not stretch out if they lie to the NCAA.  Remember, Dez Bryant lied about one dinner with Deion Sanders and lost an entire year of eligibility.  If the NCAA finds out that Lewis and Jones lied to get another institution in trouble, they lose all of their eligibility.

If you, personally, were a football player, would lying about your biggest rival be worth you losing all of your eligibility?

I’m not saying there’s no chance that Lewis lied.  Just think about the circumstances before completely disregarding his statements.

Can anything can be proven in this case?

Honestly, Rebel Rags may not be able to prove anything. Steve Robertson, Miss St writer and podcaster, brought up a good point… a person can prove where they were, with receipts, pictures, etc, but let’s say somebody claims that person ran them off the road on the way to that store… and nobody else was on the road, so there are no witnesses… then what happens? This looks like it will be a he-said she-said matter, in which nothing could end up being resolved.

This is a civil suit, which you’ll remember from the OJ Simpson case, and the Jameis Winston rape case, etc.  It’s based on whether or not it “likely” happened.  It’s gotta be 50.001% one way or the other.  In the OJ Simpson case, it was more likely than not that he did commit murder.  With Jameis Winston, it literally hit 50/50, which is just insane to think about.  But we won’t get into that here.  I’ve got no idea how this could end up going.

Rebel Rags attorney is Charles Merkel, Jr.  He’s not exactly known for representing clients in defamation / slander suits.  Take a look at his areas of practice.

Finally, here are some simple questions…

Can Miss St provide legal services for their athletes in this case?

Miss St will not have to.  In instances like this, lawyers will work for the athletes pro bono, which – let’s be honest here – usually means they will be paid under the table by a booster.

There are no NCAA rules against pro bono legal help, from what I can find.

Can Ole Miss ask for a continuance to delay their day with the COI?

Of course they can, but the COI will probably say no, the same way they told North Carolina no. UNC, however, found a way to delay it by self reporting some more violations before having to respond to the NOA… which delayed a response and basically kickstarted another NOA and pushed the process back even longer. Ole Miss has already responded to the NOA. Now they’ve got less than 60 days before the response from NCAA enforcement.

Could Ole Miss appeal any punishment handed down?

Sure. They can. But it usually amounts to nothing. Penn St had their 4 year bowl ban stopped at 2, but those were completely different circumstances.

In the Penn St case, that was a federal issue, not an NCAA issue.  It had nothing to do with student athletes.

With Ole Miss, this is to do with recruiting and gaining unfair advantages.  Which is exactly why the NCAA rules are in place.

The only hope for an appeal is if this lawsuit opens up different things that completely negate what was stated in the NCAA investigation.  Smart money is that it won’t.

What’s the bottom line?

Bottom line is, yes, this is a witch hunt.  But dating back to the first NOA, there are things that this program has done incorrectly that will, ultimately, cost them.  Whether there will be additional penalties handed down… that remains to be seen.  This lawsuit may or not may have anything to do with any of it.

Look back to one of our orginal articles (Hugh Freeze: Why is the NCAA going after him?) and pay attention to all of the different reasons as to why the NCAA wants to take down this program.  It’s any number of reasons: along with the blatant disregard for the rules, there’s also the “misleading” of the media – or just flat out lies – that enabled Ole Miss to convince kids to sign with them on signing day in 2016 (see SBNation’s Jan 29, 2016 article: Only a few of NCAA’s Ole Miss allegations believed to concern football, sources say), the fact that Ole Miss admitted to violations that occurred DURING the investigation (350437921-2017-University-of-Mississippi-Response-to-NOA-Redacted), or any other number of reasons.

By the way, isn’t it amazing how much a person can change their tune when allegations ultimately end up stretching to him?  (May 31, 2016: Hugh Freeze on NCAA troubles surrounding Ole Miss: ‘I own it’).

Anyway, back to the idea of this being a witch hunt.  It is.  There’s no doubt there.  The initial meeting with the NCAA made things personal between the NCAA and Ole Miss, and both sides doubled down, so now it’s turned into a full on war.

If Ole Miss really thought they could fight against this, they should have never self imposed penalties.  They did not have a Mike Slive to help guide them through it, though.  Ole Miss, even in their response to the NCAA, admitted guilt on a majority of the allegations.  They still went about things the wrong way.  My gut tells me that Ole Miss will have more penalties handed to them.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.