The NCAA has to make the call. Just like Ole Miss must now take that call.
This is the new obligation between the two entities, in the wake of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil’s vague Thursday admission of accepting money from a Rebels coach — just moments after the Miami Dolphins snagged the enigmatic prospect at No. 13 overall (high-upside, high-risk).
(Three weeks ago, when the Tennessee Titans owned the No. 1 pick, Tunsil was deemed the consensus favorite to be the top selection.)
Remember when news broke of Tunsil’s stepfather suing the Ole Miss lineman for an alleged assault two days ago?
Remember when the Internet went haywire after a gas-mask-type bong photo of Tunsil smoking pot was released on Tunsil’s own social-media account, roughly 13 minutes before the draft launched?
And remember when Ole Miss produced a school-record three first-round picks (Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche), compared to Alabama’s lone Round 1 talent (center Ryan Kelly — 18th overall to the Colts)?
On any other night, this would have been a major cause for celebration throughout the Oxford, Miss. campus.
Well, those three crucial storylines have been temporarily shoved aside as we deal with more serious issues in tone:
I’m neither a police detective nor criminologist, but Tunsil was apparently a victim of sabotage, with the unknown perpetrator following through on threats of posting Tunsil’s gas-mask-bong image (via Twitter), along with an unconfirmed text chain between Tunsil and a member of the Rebels athletic department apparently requesting money via Instagram.
Unless we’re talking about some crazy notion of Tunsil posting this information on his own (highly unlikely), this could be a textbook case of attempting to extort money or future favors from a famous athlete.
If that’s the case, we’re talking about a federal crime being committed.
ALLEGEDLY ACCEPTING IMPROPER BENEFITS
I’ve watched Tunsil’s post-draft press conference roughly 10 times now; and he absolutely understood the contextual question of whether he had ever taken money from an Ole Miss coach. (His ‘Yes’ answer was similarly succinct.)
As such, there wasn’t any confusion on Tunsil’s part when providing rapid-fire responses to various media questions.
The above video clip wasn’t very long, but it was damning enough to send shockwaves throughout the SEC, as the conference must again handle public concerns of improper recruiting practices or questionable measures for dealing with in-house athletes.
It was certainly enough for the Ole Miss athletic department to fire off an official statement from late Thursday/early Friday.
“The University is aware of the reports from the NFL Draft regarding Laremy Tunsil and potential violations during his time at Ole Miss,” the statement reads. “Like we do whenever an allegation is brought to our attention or a potential violation is self-discovered, we will aggressively investigate and fully cooperate with the NCAA and the SEC.”
IS OLE MISS CLEAN?
Head coach Hugh Freeze has maintained an image of virtue in his four-plus years with Ole Miss.
Freeze is a solitary man, a respectful man, a family man, a humble man and a principled man. So, how could he ever possess any direct knowledge of wrongdoing with the Rebels, even though coaches are ultimately responsible for every facet of their program?
Obviously, it’s way too early to forge any snap judgments or rash accusations here, solely based on the emotion of Tunsil’s surreal press conference.
At the same time, Ole Miss might have lost the right to conduct its own in-house investigation without worrying about the NCAA organizing a subsequent investigation into the Tunsil ordeal.
It’s like the NFL punter who recently posted a complex drug reference via social media, on April 20 (4/20 is a well-known day for “getting high”) … and then received a request for a random drug sample the following day.
The athlete essentially forced the NFL’s hand on that issue. The same obligation applies here with the Tunsil matter: The often-criticized NCAA has no choice but to confront the whispers of a scandal at Ole Miss … simply because of Tunsil’s dysfunctional life away from the football field.
Which brings us to this. …
Compared to a prospective NCAA investigation of alleged financial misconduct, suddenly that whole ‘satellite camp ban’ thing seems like an enjoyable topic to tackle. Or, how the NCAA has now rescinded the seemingly harmless recruiting tactic.
In fact, perhaps Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, previously known as Public Enemy No. 1 in SEC circles, could do the SEC a B-I-G favor next week and announce plans for a six-city satellite camp tour in southern haunts like Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, Orlando, Hilton Head, S.C. and Birmingham, Ala.
Now, that would be a welcome distraction, full of temporary fury … but ultimately signifying nothing.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.