HOOVER, Ala. -- A fairly simple, straightforward investigation has turned into a full-on scandal at Ole Miss.

One notice of allegations turned into two. There was a NFL Draft night fiasco featuring a gas mask. Coach Hugh Freeze has been charged with violating the NCAA's coaching responsibility bylaw.

Ask Rick Pitino how that feels. I'll tell you what it means: It doesn't matter if you knew there were strippers entertaining recruits. It means you should have known.

In a roundabout way, that brings us back to what the Ole Miss case has become. When this nasty business about extra benefits hit the fan, the school's self-imposed bowl ban and docking a few scholarships seemed to strike the right note.

If some of the major cases this decade taught us anything, it's that a well-resourced Power Five program can survive pretty much anything the NCAA can hand down.

(See: Penn State, Ohio State and USC, all deserving of preseason top 10 rankings this season in the same decade their programs were supposedly burned to the ground by Big Brother.)

Ole Miss seemed to have done its NCAA homework.

But now it's just sloppy -- on the school's part, on the administration's part, certainly on Freeze's part.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by a high-powered Arkansas attorney alleges Freeze orchestrated a media campaign to spread falsehoods about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.

That presents a couple of potentially big problems for Ole Miss. When Freeze and other school administrators allegedly made calls to nine (!) journalists, the school's first notice of allegations had yet to be released in January 2016.

As Nutt's attorney Thomas Mars pointed out, there are only two entities that could have released information on it: Ole Miss or the NCAA.

" … the second possibility doesn't seem very realistic," Mars wrote to an Ole Miss attorney in a letter obtained by CBS Sports.

That indicates a possible violation of the NCAA's cooperative principle, which you can read here. It is in place to prevent "media leaks and discussion of confidential case matters."

To summarize: Freeze is alleged to have overseen a program that paid out prospects $20,000 in cash and extra benefits. He and Ole Miss are charged with lack of institutional control. Because he should have known any or all of this was going on, Freeze could be suspended up to a full season.

And now, before the details of the case were even public in January 2016, the lawsuit says Ole Miss was allegedly spinning their case to the media to help save its recruiting class.

"Integrity," Freeze said at one point Thursday during the SEC Media Days, "is not always doing the right thing, but it is when something is done that is right, you own it."

Hugh Freeze delivered a nearly 3,000-word filibuster to open his press conference. USATSI

Ole Miss has yet to own much of anything in the major violation category, especially when it even threatens to touch Freeze.

The lawsuit complicates things significantly. Mars does not mess around. For 11 years, he served as Wal-Mart's general counsel. He once was director of the Arkansas State Police. His bio says Mars has won verdicts or settlements worth approximately $50 million.

One source described him as one of the most powerful attorneys in Arkansas.

"Houston Nutt is the best client I've had in 30 years [practicing law]," Mars told CBS Sports.

The NCAA suddenly shouldn't be Ole Miss' biggest worry. Unless the lawsuit is somehow dropped, it can end one of two ways: Ole Miss settling or the case going to trial.

I can guarantee you Ole Miss doesn't want depositions under oath made public that would lay out everything.  For better or worse, the NCAA process is secret.

See what I mean by Ole Miss being sloppy? The NCAA case is expected to be decided during the season, likely in November. A trial open to the public would be later -- and messier.

The suit says Ole Miss contended the investigation had "little, if anything, to do" with the current staff and instead was focused on Nutt.

Nutt's name does not appear in either notice of allegations. However, four of the original 13 allegations were supposed to have taken place during Nutt's time at Ole Miss (2008-11).

Freeze is mentioned in several allegations of major violations. The nine journalists all wrote essentially the same thing: The initial notice of allegations was mostly on Nutt.

While saying he couldn't comment on the case Thursday, Freeze then did in an offhand way seemingly throwing Nutt under the bus.

" … it's the lot we have inherited and that we have caused, in some cases," he said.


The doubling down on Freeze convinced me long ago that he is safe as far as his bosses are concerned. His credibility -- integrity, you might call it -- stems from being one of three humans walking the earth who have beaten Nick Saban twice in a row. (Steve Spurrier and Les Miles are the others. Neither is coaching.)

Ole Miss isn't going to throw that away. Freeze remains the program's second-winningest coach since 1911, the best since the legendary Johnny Vaught stepped down in 1973.

You should begin to see what's at stake here -- the lifeblood of everything in this league -- recruiting.

Without it, Freeze wouldn't have landed a top 10 class in 2013 that immediately came under suspicion. Without it, how that class was landed wouldn't have been questioned by coaches inside and outside the SEC.

Do not miss the timing of the lawsuit filing. It came the day before Ole Miss' appearance at the SEC Media Days where Freeze and his players would be exposed to questions.

CBS Sports' Barrett Sallee was the only writer, to my knowledge, to get Freeze alone here on Thursday.

Meanwhile, back in January 2016, prominent media members (allegedly) took calls from Freeze and/or other Ole Miss officials trying to spin their way prior to National Signing Day.

Recruiting is why Freeze and the Ole Miss administration would allegedly go to such lengths.

It's why coaches put on their best suits and trek here every year to show off their players and programs.

Except for one notable exception, all of them looked anything but sloppy this week.