KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NCAA said it wanted to send a clear message by slapping Bruce Pearl with a three-year show-cause penalty: Coaches are responsible for their programs.
The sanctions mean it will be harder for the former Tennessee men’s basketball coach to get another college job anytime soon. Before hiring Pearl, a school must tell the NCAA why it wants him and be prepared to face its own penalties for giving him a job.
“As these allegations are becoming more and more regular, it’s very clear that a head coach is being held responsible for his program,” said Britton Banowsky, Conference USA commissioner and vice-chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
The NCAA punished Pearl for lying to investigators about improperly hosting recruits at his home and urging others to do the same. Former Pearl assistants Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes face the same sanctions, except they were only given one-year show-cause penalties for their own roles in misleading the NCAA.
Tennessee will not face any sanctions beyond those self-imposed in response to the two-year investigation into recruiting by Pearl’s program and the football program under then-coach Lane Kiffin.
University officials had self-imposed a two-year probationary period, which begins Wednesday, and have placed additional recruiting restrictions on current basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and football coach Derek Dooley, neither of whom have been accused of any wrongdoing. Tennessee had previously docked the basketball staff’s pay, and the Southeastern Conference suspended Pearl from eight league games during the 2010-11 season.
The NCAA was far more pleased with Tennessee’s cooperation during the investigation than it was with Pearl and his staff.
“Those who are actually not forthcoming and not cooperative and unethical in their responses, the committee takes that very seriously and they will be punished appropriately,” said Dennis Thomas, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference commissioner and chair of the Committee on Infractions.
The NCAA concluded that 12 recruiting violations committed by Kiffin, who left Tennessee in January 2010 to coach Southern California, and his staff were minor in nature and did not warrant punishment. Those violations included 16 improper recruiting phone calls and impermissible contact between football staff interns and recruits.
“However, the committee was troubled by the number and nature of the secondary infractions by the football coaching staff during its one-year tenure at the institution,” the report says. “Some of the violations received nationwide publicity and brought the football program into public controversy. This is not a record of which to be proud.”
Pearl misleadingly told NCAA enforcement staff during a June 14, 2010, interview that he did not know where a photo of him and then-high school junior Aaron Craft was taken. The photo had been sent anonymously to the NCAA.
Pearl later confirmed in a follow-up interview two months later that the photo was taken at a cookout at his home, where he was hosting several recruits on unofficial visits, an NCAA violation. A Volunteers basketball player transported the recruits to Pearl’s home, where free food and drink were provided to the recruits, which constituted two more violations.
“I brought them all together. I told them that, you know, we were thrilled obviously that they were there and that they were coming to Tennessee but that this part of their visit was not appropriate, not right, and not allowed,” Pearl said, according to a transcript of his interview with NCAA investigators. “And two things: one, you’re going to have to leave shortly, and I’m sorry, and two, please don’t repeat this.”
The NCAA enforcement staff interviewed Craft’s father, John Craft, on July 9, 2010, about the photo, and John Craft told investigators that Pearl had phoned him after his own interview with the NCAA to see what the Crafts’ story would be about the photo and the cookout.
Those actions led to the NCAA’s charge of unethical conduct against Pearl. Jones, Shay and Forbes were charged with failing to cooperate with the NCAA for neglecting to reveal information about the cookout at Pearl’s house.
Pearl and the assistants were also charged with making 94 improper phone calls to recruits, which resulted in a charge of failure to monitor against Tennessee.