Ole Miss transfers building appeal cases proving they were misled by Hugh Freeze
Text and direct messages will be a large part of the files being sent to the NCAA
Six Ole Miss players seeking immediate transfer waivers have assembled what are being portrayed as previously unknown smartphone and electronic interactions showing they were allegedly misled as to the extent of potential NCAA violations and punishments for the Rebels in statements made by former coach Hugh Freeze, CBS Sports has learned.
The documents will go into packages the players will submit seeking an appeal for immediate eligibility at their new schools. Without that waiver, they would have to adhere to NCAA rules that require transferring athletes to sit one year in academic residence.
In a series of texts that will be forwarded as part of these materials, there is evidence that shows players and their parents believed Freeze as he allegedly minimized the scope of the NCAA investigation concluded last year.
The players are essentially contending, because they were allegedly misled about the broader scope of the Ole Miss investigation, they should be eligible right away at their new schools.
Quarterback Shea Patterson is the most high-profile athlete appealing. His immediate eligibility would presumably have significant impact on Michigan's 2018 season and perhaps the Big Ten race as a whole.
"It's an open and shut case is what happened," said Tom Mars, an Arkansas attorney who is assisting the Ole Miss players with their appeals.
In one January 2016 screenshot obtained by CBS Sports, Freeze appears to mistakenly text a recruit a link to a positive story regarding an NCAA investigation that had just begun.
"Good PR response … get this in the recruits hands."
The story, one of many published after Ole Miss seemingly reached out to local journalists, stated the Ole Miss violations were "secondary" and "minimal."
Ole Miss was hit with major sanctions last year that now include an ongoing two-year bowl ban. The NCAA concluded six football coaches and 12 boosters were involved in the violations. The association admonished the school for its third case involving major violations by boosters and coaches in the last 30 years.
Ole Miss is appealing the penalties. Freeze resigned in July after.
The school did not have any comment for this story.
Freeze's assertions as included in the players' appeals could be a mitigating factor in the NCAA's decision to waive the traditional year-in-residence rule.
Only one of the six transfers was not a member of the 2016 Ole Miss recruiting class. The NCAA's original notice of allegations broke shortly before that National Signing Day, which was Feb. 3, 2016.
In a key exchange provided to CBS Sports, Patterson tells future Ole Miss teammate Tre Nixon in a direct message on Jan. 29, 2016, "… don't listen to any of that crap. [The violations] happened before freeze was even here. The worst thing that can happen will be we lose one or two scholarships for next year. Nothing serious …"
Two hours before to that text exchange, a screenshot shows -- what the appeal will say is -- Nixon questioning Freeze: "If this is mainly about basketball and the other sport and the football is already dealing with the penalties then way hasn't Ole Miss or the AD come out and said [it's] not the football team[?] I would think that would help."
Patterson's message to Nixon was sent based on specific information Freeze had given the quarterback that afternoon about the notice of allegations, Mars said.
"Here, you have a recruit who has lots of other options," Mars said of Nixon. "He's questioning, in a very intelligent way, why doesn't the school say more, reveal more. Here's a player who's doing due diligence.
"Then he reaches out to Shea Patterson, who not having any reason at all to distrust [Freeze], … repeats verbatim what Hugh Freeze had told him in his office."
Mars said players and parents have retrieved information from the players' smartphones to make their case. Software designed to recover deleted messages covering the dates Jan. 22, 2016, to Feb. 3, 2016, was also used.
CBS Sports did not obtain all the information going into the waiver appeals. The parties involved would not share with CBS Sports the statements written by the players to make their cases for immediate eligibility.
Mars said 12 to 15 persons producing statements were "remarkably consistent" with what they were told about the scope of the case.
"I had no idea when I first got involved how emotional it was, almost heart-wrenching to read some of these [players'] statements," Mars said. "I think it's because statements are written in their own words. Each in their own way is very impressive. Shea Patterson is one of the most impressive young men I've known."
Mars said he is receiving inquiries from as far away as Africa and Europe from curious Michigan fans as to Patterson's 2018 availability.
In 10 career games, Patterson, a native of Toledo, Ohio, has thrown for more than 3,100 yards. He has two years eligibility remaining.
In addition to Patterson, Mars is assisting Nixon, a receiver now at UCF; Deontay Anderson, a safety now at Houston; Jarrion Street, a linebacker now at UAB; Jack DeFoor, an offensive tackle at Georgia Tech; and Van Jefferson, a wide receiver now at Florida.
The entire waiver process is expected to take until late March or early April, Mars estimated.
In December 2017, penalties handed down by the NCAA included a lack of institutional control at Ole Miss. The infractions committee added a second year of a postseason ban for 2018.
Ole Miss was accused of 15 Level I violations under Freeze's watch. The coach was slapped with a two-game conference suspension as a head coach by the NCAA should he return to the sport by Nov. 30, 2018. Four assistant coaches were hit with show-cause orders. Boosters were disassociated. Wins were vacated for all regular-season games in which ineligible athletes competed.
"This case strikes at the heart of what college sports stands for," Greg Christopher, the NCAA's chief hearing office in the case, said at the time.
After the sanctions, rising Ole Miss seniors were allowed to transfer without restriction, but underclassmen were not.
Already in favor of the players' appeals: a contentious lawsuit between Ole Miss and former coach Houston Nutt settled in October. Nutt sought an apology for what he contended were disparaging comments about him in its characterization of the NCAA investigation.
Nutt coached Ole Miss from 2008-11.
The school eventually admitted in the settlement statement that the NCAA's January 2016 notice of allegations, "did not name or implicate Coach Nutt in any misconduct."
That result will be included in the appeals.
In his first public appearance since July, Freeze spoke last week at Liberty University about a "private sin."
"The most impressive thing Hugh Freeze could do to win back respect from people in college football is to say these players shouldn't be penalized," Mars said. "It's become, I think, virtually undeniable these players were intentionally misled."
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