Former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had a lot of phone conversations with an Ole Miss booster alleged to have given unauthorized recruiting benefits.
According to phone records obtained by USA Today, Freeze and restaurant owner Lee Harris communicated via Freeze’s school-issued phone “at least” 200 times, though the report notes that the content of their conversations is unknown.
Harris is named in the NCAA’s notice of allegations against the school for allegedly giving Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis cash payments and free food and drink during Lewis’ recruitment.
Harris’ cell phone number first shows up in Freeze’s phone records in January 2015, but the logs show no more calls between them until July and only sporadic communication through the rest of 2015.
The following year, however, they called each other 158 times, including stretches from March through July 2016 in which they communicated almost every day, and often several times per day.
The frequency of the calls, however, slowed precipitously late last year when the NCAA began to zero in on Harris.
Based on the NCAA allegation detailed in Ole Miss’ response to the NOA, Harris is accused of providing illicit benefits to Lewis from March 2014 to January 2015.
The NCAA has reportedly asked Lewis to testify in the hearing about Ole Miss’ alleged violations.
It is alleged that between March 28, 2014, and January 25, 2015, Lee Harris (L. Harris), a representative of the institution’s athletics interests,52 provided between $200 and $600 in impermissible recruiting inducements in the form of cash payments and free food and drinks to then football prospective student-athlete [Student-Athlete 39] and [Student-Athlete 39’s] friends and family. Specifically, on two or three occasions in conjunction with recruiting visits to the institution, L. Harris provided [Student-Athlete 39] with cash payments of between $100 and $200, as well as provided free food and drinks to [Student-Athlete 39], his friends and family.
Ole Miss said in its response that there is “significant doubt” in Lewis’ assertions about the benefits allegedly given to him by Harris. The school had also said in its response that Harris was not a “high profile” booster and that while he had been a donor to the athletic department, he didn’t buy season tickets until 2016.
None of these boosters had any sort of regular presence around the athletics complex. These boosters do not regularly watch games from sidelines or meet prospective student-athletes in lounges or facilities bearing their name. Irrespective of their business relationships or giving history, these are typical boosters without any unusual interest in connecting with student-athletes.
No booster fits the “high profile” mold that would have required enhanced monitoring from the University. Regardless, each booster – whether anonymous or well-known – acted contrary to the University’s multi-pronged rules education program. Those facts, individually and collectively, do not support and refute a finding of lack of institutional control.
Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in July after a phone record search due to a lawsuit from former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt vs. the school turned up a one-minute call on Freeze’s phone to a number linked with an escort service. After Freeze’s resignation, school officials said they found a “pattern of conduct.
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