Decision Reached in University of Tennessee’s Major Infractions Case
Fans of the University of Tennessee Volunteers have endured a year of speculation about NCAA penalties for their football and men’s basketball programs. They were outraged that Lane Kiffin rode into town in the offseason two years ago, made brash promises of returning to elite status in the world of college football, and then bolted for the USC job a year later – leaving a trail of NCAA infractions in his dust. Subsequently, they learned that their beloved men’s basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, who had taken the men’s program to previously unrealized heights, also drew the attention of NCAA investigators last summer. Pearl lied to those investigators in June 2010. He claimed he did not recognize the location in which he was pictured with recruits when it was in fact his own kitchen. The school administration originally stood by Pearl, but eventually terminated his contract in March 2011. Last week, the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) handed down their decision regarding the infractions committed by the University of Tennessee.
The best aspect of the COI’s decision, from Tennessee’s perspective, is that the infractions committed by Kiffin and his staff were all found to be secondary violations. Another satisfying element of the decision is that no postseason ban is placed on the men’s basketball program. Furthermore, the COI did not tack on any additional recruiting restrictions that will affect the new coaching staffs in the football and men’s basketball programs.
Tennessee did not get off scot-free, though. The COI simply accepted many of the recruiting restrictions that the institution self-imposed on Pearl and his staff during the past academic year. The institution also placed several restrictions on the new men’s basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin, and his staff that will end after November 2011. New penalties for the university, handed down by the COI, include a public reprimand and censure, and a two year probationary period for the athletics department. The athletic department’s media guides must contain a statement explaining what infractions have been committed. Furthermore, as part of the probation, the University of Tennessee must prepare comprehensive, annual reports of their increased compliance efforts – specifically detailing the new NCAA rules’ education system that the compliance department must implement. This punishment is standard for universities that are on probation for committing major infractions.
The COI issued harsher penalties for Pearl and three assistant basketball coaches. Pearl has been given a three year “show-cause” penalty. A “show-cause” tag means that a coach is prohibited from all recruiting activities. Any university that seeks to employ such an individual must provide substantive reasons documenting why the coach in question should be allowed to recruit. A university could also theoretically hire a coach with a “show-cause” tag attached to his name and not challenge the recruiting restrictions, but recruiting is obviously an integral part of coaching. The three assistant coaches have each been given a one year “show-cause” penalty. Therefore, the assistants could potentially get new coaching jobs for the 2012-2013 academic year, but Pearl probably can’t coach again until the 2014-2015 academic year. Yesterday, Pearl announced that he has spurned a coaching offer from the NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks. Instead, he will take a position as the Vice President of Marketing for H.T. Hackney Co., in Knoxville, so he can stay close to several of his older children who live in the area.
In effect, the University of Tennessee has come away from this ordeal without suffering huge penalties going forward. The university has lost several successful coaches, their athletic director, and perhaps their reputation has been somewhat tarnished. If the compliance department does a good job over the next few years, though, and their sports teams avoid future trouble, this case may be forgotten relatively quickly. As individual parties to this case, however, Pearl has suffered irreparable damage to his coaching reputation, and the three assistants carry a scarlet letter on their résumés as well. Kiffin, on the other hand, retains a poor reputation in some circles, but he has not been directly associated with a major violation. Everyone involved can move forward from a nightmarish two years.