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Ole Miss AD on Patterson: waiver request not 'legitimate'

Associated Press • Apr 11, 2018 at 12:39 AM

Thomas Mars, the attorney representing Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who is petitioning the NCAA for immediate eligibility after transferring from Ole Miss, offered a firm response Tuesday to comments from Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork.

Bjork, in a written statement to The Detroit News, said Ole Miss had "no choice" but to file an objection to Patterson's request for immediate eligibility.

Michigan's compliance department handled the initial request to the NCAA on Patterson's behalf. It was sent to Ole Miss, according to protocol. Ole Miss had the option not to respond but chose to file its objection to the NCAA on March 28.

Patterson, who transferred to Michigan last December – several of his teammates also transferred – contends he was lied to by former head coach Hugh Freeze, members of the football staff and athletic department personnel. Patterson believed he was misled during the recruiting process in 2016 regarding the breadth of NCAA violations that eventually included a two-year bowl ban, the first of which was self-imposed.

Bjork said Ole Miss had "no choice" but to object to Patterson's waiver appeal.

"We would not oppose a waiver of the year in residence requirement based on a legitimate reason for any student-athlete who wants to transfer from Ole Miss," Bjork said in the statement. "With the waiver in question, the way it was written, we had no choice but to respond the way we did. With anyone who leaves our program, we wish them the best academically and athletically. At this point, it's not really our matter; it's an NCAA and Michigan matter."

Ole Miss gave the same statement from Bjork to USA Today columnist Dan Wolken, who was the first to report on it Tuesday.

Mars represented former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in a defamation suit that was settled last year by the university. Ole Miss also formally apologized last October for spreading lies about NCAA violations taking place under his watch as head coach. Mars not only represents Patterson but also several of his former Ole Miss teammates.

Mars disputes Bjork's take on the situation.

"Contrary to what Ole Miss's AD said earlier today, Ole Miss did have a choice," Mars said Tuesday. "They could have chosen to affirmatively support Shea getting a waiver or they could have chosen to remain silent. Instead, they chose to take the low road.

"Still, it's never too late to do the right thing. Ole Miss can withdraw its objections to Shea being eligible this fall, and everyone can move on with their lives. That would be the happiest possible ending to this ordeal for everyone involved."

On Monday, Mars singed Ole Miss for its objection.

"If I didn't know better, I would have thought Ole Miss hired Pinocchio to write its response to Michigan's waiver request," Mars told The Detroit News.

In Mars' work as counsel for Nutt and, later, the transfers, he revealed Freeze's misinformation campaign was initiated when Ole Miss received a notice of allegations from the NCAA two years ago. Mars uncovered through text messages, phone logs and interviews, how Freeze and the athletic department launched a plan to mislead media and football recruits – including Patterson – telling them the bulk of the violations involved women's basketball and track, and that Nutt was responsible for issues regarding the football program.

Mars surgically gutted the Ole Miss response Monday night.

"It appears that whoever wrote Ole Miss's response to Michigan's waiver request wasn't aware that Ole Miss publicly apologized to Houston Nutt last October for making misleading statements to the sports media about the NCAA case," Mars said. "There was no mention of the public apology in Ole Miss' response. What's more, the misleading statements to the sports media that Ole Miss publicly apologized for six months ago were the same misleading statements that Shea and a dozen other players and their parents say Ole Miss was telling them at the same time – both in person and over the phone.

"Along the same lines, while asserting it never misled anyone about the NCAA case, Ole Miss made no effort to explain why so many sports journalists openly said that Ole Miss had lied to them once Ole Miss finally let the media see the Notice of Allegations five months after National Signing Day. Nor did Ole Miss offer an explanation for why it unlawfully kept the Notice of Allegations under wraps for five months if everything it was saying to Shea, the other recruits and their parents in late January 2016 was fully consistent with what was alleged in the official charges they withheld from the public."

Mars cites the recruiting weekend of Jan. 29-31, 2016 as a pivotal moment in the misrepresentation of Ole Miss' troubles with the NCAA. The crux of Patterson's waiver appeal is what he alleges Ole Miss said and didn't say between Jan. 21, when Ole Miss received the Notice of Allegations, and Feb. 3, National Signing Day. Patterson, the top-rated quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, enrolled at Ole Miss on Jan. 25.

"What senior Ole Miss officials were telling everyone the weekend before NSD (National Signing Day) bore no resemblance to what the NCAA had alleged in the NOA just a week earlier," Mars said. "And it's clear that Ole Miss' purpose in misleading Shea and his former teammates was to make sure the truth about the NCAA case didn't keep him and the other top-rated prospects who were in Oxford for the biggest recruiting event of the 2016 cycle from signing with other schools."

Mars clearly was not entirely surprised by Ole Miss' response.

"After dealing with Ole Miss for over a year," he said, "I've learned to expect their leadership to do and say things that the leadership at other Division I schools would never consider doing and to justify their actions by reminding themselves that 'We're Ole Miss.'"

Patterson has since supplied answers to questions from the NCAA case manager regarding issues raised by Ole Miss in its objection. It is unclear when the NCAA will make a decision regarding Patterson's eligibility.

If the waiver is granted, Patterson, who is participating in spring practice will be eligible to play this fall. If not, he will have to sit a season, per the NCAA transfer rule. Patterson is expected to participate in Saturday's spring game at Michigan Stadium.

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