Thursday sure was interesting for the Ole Miss football program, eh?
Hugh Freeze's program has received a lot of buzz and attention in his time in Oxford for both positives and negatives, but last night was the culmination of everything they have been heading towards since 2013.
That should be a positive, but in this case it isn't. And some light has been shed on what many had suspected was going on at Ole Miss.
Let's back things up to Thursday morning, first. The NCAA reversed its ban on satellite camps, which means coaches can now in fact set up shop in another school's backyard. The SEC was firmly against the camps, so when the initial ban was put in place it was seen as a huge win for them and the ACC.
Coach Freeze was one of the more vocal people at the front of the anti-satellite camp movement. Earlier this month, this is what he told the Clarion Ledger when it was revealed that the ban was in place:
"I’m selfish with my time. I’m away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go. I was ready to. We would’ve jumped in with the rest of them and gone to work. But I’m glad we can have a camp and I can sleep at home."
We have to be honest with ourselves here in regards to the uproar. It was never a problem until Jim Harbaugh, perhaps the biggest name in college football right now, did it. Overreaction has ensued.
The satellite camps have enormous benefits for student-athletes, but they certainly are a recruiting tool, as well. Harbaugh, who has been busting his rear-end to get talent to Michigan and generate buzz, did not take kindly to Freeze's thoughts on his free time.
Harbaugh had this to say to Sports Illustrated in response to Freeze's statements:
"You’ve got a guy sitting in a big house, making $5 million a year, saying he does not want to sacrifice his time.That’s not a kindred spirit to me. What most of these coaches are saying is they don’t want to work harder."
It seems the biggest detractors of the camps were the ones not willing to put in the extra work. Regardless, the camps are legal again for now.
Thursday 1, Freeze 0.
Fast forward to Thursday night, which was to be a landmark moment for Freeze's football program. Three of its prized recruits from the 2013 class, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche, all former five-star recruits, were set to have their names called in the 2016 NFL Draft.
It was seen as a surprise that Ole Miss, a program that had was coming off of a 7-6 season in Freeze's first year, was able to land three of the nation's most prized recruits. Tunsil was previously committed to Georgia, Nkemdiche was committed to Clemson at one point and many believed Treadwell would end up at Michigan. They would all end up signing with the Rebels.
Many believe the only logical explanation was recruits were getting paid. Treadwell himself even famously posted and subsequently removed a photo of him with his hand on a pile of money while he was still a recruit. This is hardly enough evidence to incriminate, but it has been out there nonetheless.
Nkemdiche and Tunsil's careers at Ole Miss were strange ones, to say the least. Nkemdiche fell off of a balcony in December and was later plead guilty to marijuana possession. Tunsil was suspended for impermissible benefits for a portion of 2015 and was sued earlier this week by his stepfather for defamation.
All three saw their draft stock take a hit for various reasons, but would end up likely being first round picks.
Then, on draft night, things got weirder.
Tunsil was the top player on many team's boards coming into Thursday night's NFL Draft. About ten minutes before things kicked off, a tweet was sent out from his official account of him smoking marijuana in a gas mask. Teams caught wind of this quickly and it caused the draft's top talent to slide all the way to the Miami Dolphins with the 13th pick, costing him millions of dollars in the process.
It did not end there for Tunsil. After he was picked, pictures then were posted to his Instagram account of screenshots showing alleged conversations between Tunsil and a member of Ole Miss' coaching staff showing that he had taken money as a college player.
With today's technology, it would be easy for anyone to doctor images. That may have not been the case here, though. Tunsil essentially admitted those were real, then took it back, and then basically reaffirmed his admission before being escorted off-stage by someone.
Coach Freeze was at the draft on Thursday night and had a front row seat for all of this. All three of his 2013 megastars went in the first round, but that is not the story we're all talking about today.
Thursday 2, Freeze 0.
Freeze and the Rebels have a huge problem on their hands if this is true, as the program seems to already been in hot water having received a Notice of Allegations in January for football violations, among other sports.
"Anthony, you've typed a lot of words here. How does it all tie in?"
I'm glad you asked, hypothetical voice in my head.
When someone does not want to work hard, yet still wants to feel successful, they take shortcuts. Paying players qualifies as that. The student-athletes are not to blame here, no matter how bad it may look on them.
Schools like Ole Miss and others in the SEC, and make no mistake about it, there are probably others, don't need satellite camps or other recruiting benefits because they can (allegedly) throw bags of money at players. Yet, the NCAA turns a blind eye to that and instead rushes to judgement on something else because the SEC and ACC point the finger elsewhere.
Thursday night's events will be remembered in Oxford for a long time, but not for the reasons they should have been. It will be interesting to see where things go from here and how Freeze and Ole Miss are affected by this.
But today, it does not look pretty.