OXFORD, Mississippi -- Attorneys representing Ole Miss and its former coaches and administrators who have been accused of violating NCAA rules have asked that two Mississippi State football players be required to attend the Rebels' infractions hearing later this summer, multiple sources familiar with the case told ESPN.
NCAA officials have told lawyers representing Ole Miss that Bulldogs players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones might be asked to appear at the infractions hearing to answer questions from committee members. It's unclear whether the players have received a notice to appear at the hearing, which will probably take place sometime in late August or early September.
The NCAA previously denied Ole Miss lawyers' requests to interview Jones and Lewis about allegations they made during the NCAA's investigation of the Rebels. In fact, Lewis' attorneys stopped the second of three interviews with NCAA investigators after Ole Miss' lawyers attempted to cross-examine him. Ole Miss wasn't allowed to have an attorney at his third interview.
Jones and Lewis were provided partial immunity by NCAA investigators before they were interviewed.
"Whatever he told the NCAA investigator is 100 percent accurate," Jones' attorney, Christopher Shapley told the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger earlier this month. "There is no way that any person can conclude, number one, he was telling a lie, and, number two, he intended to do harm to anybody."
It's the latest strange twist in an NCAA case that has added fuel to an already bitter instate rivalry. Earlier this week, ESPN reported that Steve Robertson, a Mississippi State recruiting writer, discovered the phone call to an escort service that led to the abrupt resignation of former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze last week.
Lewis, a linebacker from Brookhaven, Mississippi, who was the Bulldogs' second leading tackler last season, made some of the more serious allegations against the Rebels, including that an unnamed booster provided him with $13,000 to $15,000 in cash payments to sign with Ole Miss.
Lewis also accused Rebels boosters and former coaches of arranging for him to receive free transportation, lodging, food and meals and memorabilia and clothing from Rebel Rags, a retail store in Oxford.
Charles Merkel, an attorney who represents Rebel Rags, sued Jones, Lewis and Lindsey Miller, the ex-stepfather of former Rebels offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who told the NCAA that he also received free merchandise from the store. Merkel sued the trio for making false statements and said he has hundreds of pages of sales records and credit card receipts that prove they're lying. Merkel has requested to depose them under oath to prove it.
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork told reporters earlier this week that the school received the NCAA's latest response late last week. Bjork said the school planned to release the NCAA's response on its Web site in the coming days.
"We received it, and our plan is to proactively release that once we go through and redact the personal information that we have before, similar to other documents," Bjork said. "We'll have that on our website at the right time, and hopefully within a week or so, we can put that out there."
The Rebels are accused of 21 rules violations, including 15 Level I violations, the most serious under NCAA rules. Ole Miss is accused of lack of institutional control, and Freeze is accused of failing to monitor his staff. The Rebels have already self-imposed a postseason ban for this coming season and the loss of several scholarships, and the school has forfeited its share of postseason revenue from the SEC, which could be as much as $7.8 million.
Bjork wasn't sure how Freeze's resignation would affect the NCAA case.
"It's hard to say," Bjork said. "I believe that the facts speak for themselves. We believe that we have well documented in our response how we collectively ran our program along with Hugh Freeze, and you can't take that away from us. Those are documented facts, and so we're going to stick to that and stick to our response."
In a legal filing last week, Merkel accused Jones, Lewis and Miller of conspiring with Mississippi State staff members and an NCAA official to bring harm to Rebel Rags.
"There is ample evidence linking the defendants to one overarching conspiracy involving the three named defendants, MSU staff, an NCAA staff person, and a fan-based MSU site," the response stated.