The latest development in the Ole Miss NCAA case is a bit of a curve ball.
According to The Clarion-Ledger, Rebel Rags, an apparel store in Oxford identified by Yahoo Sports as one of the unnamed boosters in Ole Miss’ NCAA Notice of Allegations, is suing two Mississippi State players for “false statements made to the NCAA.”
The two players are linebacker Leo Lewis (“Student-Athlete 39” in the NOA) and defensive lineman Kobe Jones. On top of that, the store — whose founder, Terry Warren, was reported by Yahoo Sports to be “Booster 9” in the NOA — is also suing Lindsey Miller, the estranged stepfather of former Ole Miss star Laremy Tunsil. Miller has made many claims involving the school in recent years.
The suit, which was filed Friday, alleges the three made false statements to the NCAA “and have since been published in the (university’s response to the) notice of allegations.” The three are being sued for “defamation, slander, conspiracy and commercial disparagement,” one of the store’s attorneys, Charlie Merkel, told the Ledger.
Rebel Rags’ specific involvement in Ole Miss’ NCAA violations stems from the store allegedly providing approximately $2,800 worth of free merchandise to the players, as arranged by two former Ole Miss staffers — defensive line coach Chris Kiffin and Barney Farrar, the assistant athletic director for junior college and high school relations. Farrar was named throughout Ole Miss’ response; his attorney says Ole Miss has made him a “scapegoat.”
While agreeing with many of the violations levied by the NCAA, the particular violation involving Rebel Rags — deemed by the NCAA a Level I offense — was thoroughly denied in the school’s latest NCAA response released last week. The violation was based on testimony from the two student-athletes, who were recruited heavily by Ole Miss (Lewis was once verbally committed to the Rebels) before opting to sign with the rival Bulldogs. Miller also claimed he received merchandise.
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: SEC spring practice summaries]
Ole Miss says there is “no proof that corroborates the claims … that each of them received free merchandise.”
“The enforcement staff finds support for this allegation in the fact that three independent individuals claim that (Rebel Rags) provided inducements to University recruits,” the school wrote in its response. “That interpretation of the factual record is misguided. … Each (alleged recipient of the impermissible benefits) tell a substantially different story about what allegedly happened, and each story suffers obvious and substantiated factual inconsistencies and errors. Each claim is directly contradicted by (Rebel Rags), by their own friends or family, and, most importantly, by objective documentary evidence.”
In its response, Ole Miss also said it had purchase reports debunking the claims made by the student-athletes. Kiffin and Farrar denied the allegations in their NCAA responses.
Lewis, who also claimed to receive a $10,000 payment from an Ole Miss booster (the school also denies that claim), could potentially have to testify if the case proceeds to court.
Much of Rebel Rags’s lawsuit centers on how the NCAA obtained information from Lewis. More specifically, the lawsuit contends that Lewis embellished and that the NCAA facilitated that embellishment in order to burnish the case against Ole Miss. Along those lines, it is expected that Rebel Rags will argue that neither Ole Miss nor any third party implicated by Lewis’s allegations had a credible opportunity to cross-examine him. Merkel tells SI that Lewis “couldn’t tell a straight story” when implicating Ole Miss and Rebel Rags. By suing Lewis for defamation, Rebel Rags may gain the opportunity to force Lewis to testify under oath, answer hostile questions and turn over evidence and documentation that might undermine Lewis’s narrative.
Ole Miss said two of the most serious violations it faces — lack of institutional control and head coach responsibility (against Hugh Freeze) — “rely almost exclusively” on testimony from Lewis. The school said his testimony was “at best incomplete and inconsistent” and that some of his statements were “either contradicted or not corroborated” by those close to him.
For more Ole Miss news, visit RebelGrove.com.
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