CLEVELAND | The intimate setting of the Sanders Soundstage inside the GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, does not offer much protection for the exposed participant.
The quarters are tight inside the 130-seat theater, and when Ole Miss Ross Bjork's sporting director first entered one of the seven town hall meetings scattered between Mississippi and Memphis, he vocalfully approved the area and asked that the lights be as bright as possible.
If the goal is to be visible to the Ole Miss community, you can also go all the way.
Bjork has fielded questions for most of the 90-minute events on Monday, while a crowd of about 50 fans alternated between a mixture of emotions that included annoyance, frustration, appreciation and, yes, even hope. So as not to be confused with a rally or social event, there was no food or drink. It was a business meeting.
"The plan is that they let everything out and they ask for it," Bjork said as he took his jacket from the school's Ford Explorer at the museum. "I can not guarantee that they like my answers, but I'll be honest and I'll try to explain what happened and why."
The collective scar tissue of a fan base continues to shine for years of bad publicity and continuous blows to the gut were evident, even with the small sample size in the Mississippi delta. The NCAA questions included half of the arguments in Bjork and fragments of revelations came from the answers. It was the partial ventilation session, the partial information session and potentially an important step on the road to closure.
[Related: Ole Miss vacates 33 wins over six seasons]
Bjork admitted that Ole Miss should have made the entire notification of the accusations public in January 201
The largest disconnection remains the public and private nature of Ole Miss's struggle during the investigation. Bjork led the participants to the NCAA timeline provided on "placemats" that also contained financial information, milestones and an area to annotate notes. In December 2014, Ole Miss met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis and won an important decision to reduce the charges. The following spring the NCAA told Ole Miss that the case was close to completion. That summer Laremy Tunsil and Lindsey Miller had their altercation and broke loose hell.
And while the information – on any given topic – was the reason for the gathering, the tone of the crowd moved due to the intent and attempt. No one has moderated the questions or moved the attention. Hands up, past microphones, questions asked and Bjork did his best to answer. Most of the participants stopped to shake hands later, and the theme was an appreciation for coming and being accessible. The barehand operation provided some catharsis due to its lack of smoke and mirrors.
During the hour & 45 minute journey from Oxford, Bjork passed the expected questions one last time, asking Ole Miss officials Michael Thompson and Kyle Campbell if they had missed the obvious possibilities or off-the-wall. But instead of studying with the coach in mind, he was checking for more information that could be provided, practicing to organize the details he wanted to include at the right time.
At least for most of the crowd in Cleveland, it was an important moment to continue. After 45 minutes of questions on the involvement of NCAA and MSU, there was a significant shift to requests from basketball, campus, baseball and soccer coordinators. It was as if the room had cleaned up all the first emotions – even if some answers had ended in an impasse – and the fans were free to look forward.
"Many times you do not have a chance to talk about problems and evaluate where you are, but something happened tonight," Bjork said. "We have to do it as many times and try to reach people."
Bjork broke the news of 33 football victories vacant in six seasons during the meeting. There were some audible jolts as he punctuated the seasons of total removal and then some laughter and exclamations, as he stressed the 2015 season, including the Sugar Bowl trophy, was spared. The vacant victories would always be the final wound of the NCAA knife when things were complete. Ole Miss has claimed more clemency, but the regulation does not make sense and are designed for the maximum harm of a stupid punishment. Bjork called it a "broken system".
Ole Miss did not escape the financial discussions. In 2017, there was a "rainy fund" of $ 27.7 million (compared to $ 5.9 million in 2012), but as Ole Miss lost a total of $ 16 million in the last two seasons from the punishment of the revenue, the reserve fell to $ 8.1 million to keep the budget at full capacity. In one of the few pep-rally moments of the night, Bjork called the fans to action, demanding the support they can provide while hoping that an ascending climb has finally begun.
Among all the concerns, there were glimpses of what Ole Miss could bring back in the national brand that was the recent 2015. Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre take a noticeable increase in energy in the room when discussed, and fans they are clinging to the relative success of basketball under the first year coach Kermit Davis and the expected national success of baseball when it starts in a few days.
Regardless of the feelings about how and what has happened in the last five years, it is officially concluded. The money and winnings were stripped and all payments were made. If Ole Miss stays out of the NCAA's trouble until 2022-2023, he gets $ 8 million of those lost revenue.
Wins, normality and all-round expertise are the only ways to get back to work where Ole Miss was before the NCAA barns. Town halls and conversations are not definitive answers, but on Monday evening in Cleveland they showed that they could only be one step in that direction. Instead of the disconnected fans having felt with the Ole Miss administration for a while, it was easy to see a step towards unity.
There are another six stops in the town hall, and then 11 places on Rebel Road Trip across the region to move from the past to the future. Oxygen is not all behind in the program, but for most of the crowd in Cleveland, Monday night marked their first full breath in an instant.