The NCAA wants Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis to attend Ole Miss’ Committee on Infractions hearing, and he may not have a choice in the matter.
SB Nation obtained a May letter from the NCAA to Ole Miss officials that says the Committee on Infractions “will request” Lewis’ attendance while granting him immunity in the case and send him an “appearance letter.” However, the letter says his immunity (from any eligibility issues) “is predicated on his full cooperation in the infractions process” and notes a bylaw that “establishes a responsibility to cooperate.”
Lewis, who was heavily recruited by (and once verbally committed to) Ole Miss, is all over the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations to Ole Miss. He is referred to as “Student-Athlete 39” in the NOA. In NCAA interviews, Lewis alleges that an unnamed Ole Miss booster gave him $13,000 to $15,000 in cash payments to sign to play for the Rebels. He, along with MSU teammate Kobe Jones, also said boosters and former Ole Miss assistant coaches arranged for them to receive approximately $2,800 of free memorabilia and other benefits courtesy of Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based apparel store. Terry Warren, Rebel Rags’ founder who was reported by Yahoo Sports to be “Booster 9” in the NOA, is suing both Lewis and Jones for “defamation, slander, conspiracy and commercial disparagement” for statements they made to the NCAA.
Ole Miss contends that the most serious NCAA charges against it, including lack of institutional control and violating head coach responsibility (against Hugh Freeze, who resigned last week), “rely almost exclusively” on Lewis’ testimony, which the school described as “at best incomplete and inconsistent.” Ole Miss says an alleged $10,000 payment to Lewis is the allegation “that is the most refuted or undermined by objective evidence.”
Per SB Nation, Lewis was granted “limited immunity” for three previous meetings with the NCAA. That means Lewis was protected from “certain consequences for violating NCAA legislation,” allowing him to speak openly. Lewis’ presence — he could jeopardize his eligibility by not attending — at the Committee on Infractions hearing could impact the Rebel Rags suit in addition to the obvious role in the Ole Miss case. Attorneys for both Lewis and Jones filed responses to the Rebel Rags suit last week, denying the claims.
In the NCAA case, ESPN.com is reporting that Ole Miss attorneys have asked for Jones to appear at the hearing in addition to Lewis. Ole Miss lawyers have tried to question the two in the past.
The NCAA previously denied Ole Miss lawyers’ requests to interview Jones and Lewis about allegations they made during the NCAA’s investigation of the Rebels. In fact, Lewis’ attorneys stopped the second of three interviews with NCAA investigators after Ole Miss’ lawyers attempted to cross-examine him. Ole Miss wasn’t allowed to have an attorney at his third interview.
Jones and Lewis were provided partial immunity by NCAA investigators before they were interviewed.
“Whatever he told the NCAA investigator is 100 percent accurate,” Jones’ attorney, Christopher Shapley told the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger earlier this month. “There is no way that any person can conclude, number one, he was telling a lie, and, number two, he intended to do harm to anybody.”
Lewis, a linebacker, was second on Mississippi State with 79 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Jones, a defensive lineman, redshirted and will be a redshirt freshman this upcoming season. At SEC Media Days earlier this month, MSU coach Dan Mullen said he “absolutely” anticipates both will be eligible in 2017.
Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said this week that the school is in possession of the NCAA’s latest response to Ole Miss’ NOA retort. It is expected to be publicly released soon.
Overall, Ole Miss is accused of 21 NCAA rules violations, including 15 Level I violations — the most serious designation. The Committee on Infractions hearing is expected to take place later this year. ESPN.com reported it will “probably take place sometime in late August or early September” while SB Nation reported a “mid-September or mid-October” date is “likely.”
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