WALLY HALL: Attorney in Nutt case ascends NCAA ladder

In a way, it all started when Rex Horne baptized Thomas “Tom” Mars in 2001.

Mars and Horne became close friends, and 16 years later Horne asked Mars if he would help out another former Immanuel Baptist member, Houston Nutt.

Fast forward to this month, and Mars is being named to the NCAA’s Complex Case Unit.

That new arm of the NCAA was part of the recommended changes by the Commission on College Basketball led by Condoleezza Rice.

How does a man who once sued Walmart and won, who was head of the Arkansas State Police, who was working at the Friday Firm when Horne asked him to help Nutt, end up with what will be one of the most powerful positions in college athletics governing body?

To say the least, it has been a bullet train for Mars.

It started with certain Ole Miss officials claiming much of their problems with the NCAA were on Nutt’s watch.

Mars politely asked them to cease and desist, then started doing what all good attorneys do — research.

When the dust settled on Oxford, Ole Miss issued an apology to Nutt as then-coach Hugh Freeze was fired amid a sex scandal, ironically discovered on phone records. When Nutt was at the University of Arkansas, his own phone records were heavily scrutinized.

Anyway, the Nutt case led to Mars representing Shea Patterson, a quarterback for Ole Miss who not only wanted to transfer to Michigan but also declared for immediately eligible rather than sit out the customary one year.

When Mars got Patterson declared eligible, the world of perspiring arts noticed in a big way. Five more Ole Miss athletes hired him.

Mars is a Michigan graduate and got his law degree from the UA.

Mars left the Friday Firm and set up shop in Atlanta while maintaining an office in Northwest Arkansas.

His phone started to light up and stayed lit up.

One call was from an ex-cop — Mars admits he has a soft spot for the police — who was the father of Georgia’s Justin Fields, a five-star recruit who wanted to transfer to Ohio State and play immediately.

Fields is a dual-threat quarterback who had offers from every major football program in the country.

Once again, Mars went to work. He used a well-publicized incident in which a Georgia baseball player hurled racially derogatory comments toward Fields to help Fields get declared eligible immediately at Michigan.

Mars name blew up nationwide.

Calls came from everywhere seeking his help, and no one was blinking an eye at his $400-an-hour rate because they wanted him so much.

In a May interview with Chip Towers for DawgNation.com, Mars estimated he had taken on more than 50 athletes as clients.

He also said something very wise that did not go unnoticed by the NCAA. He pointed out that he does not go “against the NCAA,” but uses its rules and facts to present his cases.

Most likely, the Complex Case Unit will study the new transfer portal and all that has transpired with it, which has made a huge change in college athletics.

Transfer rules will be examined and most likely changed, maybe drastically.

Who knows those rules better than Mars? No one.

Everywhere Mars has gone, he has been successful. Now he takes on a challenge in a world he knew very little about two years ago.

He told Towers he was not a huge college football fan when he took on Nutt’s case, but he has learned a lot in a hurry.

Thinking fast and acting almost as quickly is apparently second nature for Mars. His next step, in time, very well could be president of the NCAA.

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