In an interview with sports website Winning Cures Everything, attorney Tom Mars offered details behind the University of Mississippi’s decision to lift restrictions on football players looking to transfer to other schools.
Mars, who represented former UM head coach Houston Nutt in a lawsuit against the university and now represents several Rebel players, shared what he says are emails he exchanged with Ole Miss General Counsel Lee Tyner earlier this month.
Tyner yesterday announced he was resigning his position as the university’s lead attorney at the end of the year.
The emails relate to Mars’ clients who requested permission to contact other schools about possible transfers. They appear to show the university lifted restrictions on players’ “permission-to-contact” requests after Mars pointed out that his clients had not been informed of their right to a hearing when their requests were initially rejected and hinted at the possibility of lawsuits.
In a Dec. 4 letter to wide receiver Van Jefferson, the university granted him permission to contact other schools about the possibility of transferring as long as the schools were “outside of the Southeastern Conference and … not on the University’s football schedule for 2018 and 2019.” The letter was signed by Matt Ball, Ole Miss’ senior associate athletics director for compliance.
Mars, who represents Jefferson, emailed Tyner that same evening, writing, “The players and parents I represent take the position that conditions placed on student-athletes who requested permission to contact any Division 1 school constitute a denial of the requests under NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1 and that the university is therefore required to explain in writing their right to a hearing. No such notice was provided in the responses sent by Matt Ball.”
In the same email, Mars went on to say that “whoever is calling the shots on these transfer requests and the communications with players and parents is making a big mistake. Because of the approach the AD is taking, at least two sets of parents I represent are now hellbent on filing lawsuits in their home states based on unilateral contacts Coach Freeze and others had with them in their respective states of residence.”
He said he hoped to see Ole Miss administrators take “a different approach,” adding, “From everything I know about how this is being perceived by the numerous affected players and parents, and based on the almost 20 first-hand witnesses who’ve recounted blatant misrepresentations that are strikingly similar, restricting the contact rights of these student-athletes after deliberately misleading them and their parents (they call it being ‘lied to’) is going to backfire on the AD in ways that even make me cringe.”
According to the email record Mars shared, Tyner responded the next afternoon, Dec. 5, and said the university would lift all restrictions on permission to contact.
“As for the limitations initially placed on the permission to contact, the restrictions are common,” Tyner’s email reads. “None of the student-athletes have objected to those restrictions to anyone in our Athletics Department. Frankly, if they had any objections and a legitimate reason to seek transfer to one of the limited schools, we would ordinarily work through those issues with the student-athlete and his family in the ordinary course.”
But Tyner goes on to say, “The student-athlete’s best interest is always the priority. Coach Luke and Ross Bjork have discussed the matter. To be consistent, they are removing any restrictions on the permission to contact. Matt Ball has reached out to the student-athletes to let them know.”
In the interview with Winning Cures Everything, Mars suggested that the university had been less than transparent in its public statements about lifting the restrictions.
“In an effort to correct their failure to give the student-athletes the required notice of their right to a hearing when they imposed the restrictions on Monday,” Mars said, “the university sent the student-athletes letters around noon on Tuesday with the restrictions removed and included an illogical, backward-looking statement informing the student-athletes of their right to appeal the imposition of the restrictions the university had just rescinded. Go figure.”
Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com. Email him at email@example.com.