Andy Staples suggests a unique defense Ole Miss could resort to if the Tunsil situation gets sticky:
No one from Ole Miss is talking beyond a generic statement released early Friday morning. Athletic director Ross Bjork has not responded to text messages from SI.com. But if Ole Miss officials were thinking ahead, they could have used a federal court ruling from the previous year to justify giving Tunsil money above tuition, room and board. On Aug. 8, 2014, Judge Claudia Wilken ruled against the NCAA in a case brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. One of the stipulations in Wilken’s ruling was that schools were no longer allowed to make rules that capped scholarships below the actual cost-of-attendance figure the schools reported to the federal government. This meant that schools could offer the difference between tuition, room and board and the actual cost of attendance as a cash stipend. In the case of Ole Miss, that amount is $4,500. But here’s the catch. Schools didn’t start offering those stipends until the 2015–16 school year. Yet because they had to comply with the federal court ruling, they could provide up to that amount for an athlete using the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund. This is a pool of cash—which also has its roots in a federal lawsuit—available to schools to use when players face a sudden need. The usual example here is the cost of traveling home to a family member’s funeral. Recently, schools have also used this fund to purchase disability and/or loss-of-value insurance policies for their best football and basketball players.
In the 2014–15 academic year, when those texts were allegedly sent, a school could have used money from the SAF to pay a player up to the difference between his scholarship and the actual cost of attendance. In that case, Ole Miss could have given Tunsil up to $4,500. This window closed when the Rebels began to offer cost-of-attendance stipends, but it was open during the dates in question, according to people with knowledge of the NCAA’s compliance interpretations at the time.
This explanation would only be accepted if Ole Miss documented all payments to Tunsil as such when they happened. SEC schools are required to log all their SAF disbursements with the conference office. If there’s a record of those payments to Tunsil, voila. The Rebels were simply complying with the court’s ruling. This wouldn’t satisfy rival fans and coaches who thirst for NCAA-related blood to be spilled in Oxford, but it would keep the wolves at bay in this particular instance. [Emphasis added.]
Admittedly, the odds on that are slight, at best. But, damn, would that raise more than a few eyebrows if Freeze were really thinking that far ahead? I suspect even Jim Harbaugh would tip his cap to that kind of envelope pushing.