Speaking on an 18-minute teleconference call earlier today, Committee on Infractions vice-chair Britton Banowsky said attempts to mislead NCAA investigators - more so than Pearl and staff's actual recruiting violations - prompted the show-cause penalties.
"The serious issues in the case were those that were outlined in findings 3 through 7, which relate to conduct," Banowsky said "I'm not even sure we would be here but for those allegations and those findings."
Dennis Thomas, who chaired the Committee on Infractions, echoed those sentiments, noting: "It's important to understand that those who are not forthcoming, who are not cooperative and are unethical in their responses ... the committee takes that very seriously, and the penalty will be levied appropriately."
Ultimately, the NCAA rewarded Tennessee for acting swiftly and forcefully by self-imposing penalties once the violations came to light. This probably saved the Vols from major sanctions such as loss of scholarships and/or a postseason ban.
"We were really impressed by the way the institution responded in this case," Banowsky said. "It's not a case involving lack of institutional control ... failure to monitor. On the contrary, the university did a commendable job of addressing the issues once it discovered them and self-imposed a substantial number of penalties. The Committee (on Infractions) simply adopted the penalties that the institution had self-imposed and basically concluded that the bulk of the additional and more serious penalties should be directed to the coaches."
Tennessee's dark cloud formed when then-athletics director Mike Hamilton announced at a hastily-called news conference last Sept. 10 that Pearl was being docked $1.5 million in pay and suspended from off-campus recruiting for deceiving NCAA investigators regarding excessive phone calls he and his staffers made to prospects.
The cloud grew darker when Big Orange fans subsequently learned of two more NCAA violations involving Pearl. The Vols' head man had hosted three junior prospects at his home two years earlier, a charge that was impossible to refute since the NCAA had a photo of Pearl and one of the prospects, Aaron Craft, taken at the coach's residence. Equally disturbing was news of an impermissable "bump" involving Pearl and Jones with a prospect at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia on Sept. 14, just four days after Pearl made a tearful public apology to Tennessee's administration and fans at the Sept. 10 news conference. Ironically, the bump - classified as a major violation in the NCAA's Letter of Allegations - was not mentioned in the Committee on Infractions' findings. Banowsky explained that the bump was "disputed" and that there was "insufficient evidence" that the contact represented a willful violation of the rules.
Believing the salary cuts and off-campus recruiting bans to be insufficient penalties, SEC commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for the Vols' first eight conference games of the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, the NCAA continued investigating Pearl and football recruiting violations that occurred during the 14-month tenure of former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin from December of 2008 through January of 2010.
"The suspension was noted and it was actually presented," Banowsky said, "but it wasn't a fundamental piece of our analysis in assessing our penalties."
Three days after Tennessee suffered a 30-point loss to Michigan in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament, Pearl and his staffers were fired. The action followed a minor but highly publicized NCAA infraction: A Vol basketball player received more complimentary tickets to the home finale against Kentucky than NCAA rules permit. Eleven weeks after firing Pearl, Hamilton resigned as athletics director.
Pearl and his former aides, along with Kiffin, now the head man at Southern Cal, met with the NCAA in June to discuss the charges against them. There seemed to be no reason to expect a favorable ruling, so the dark cloud hovering above the Tennessee campus grew even more ominous.
In the end, though, the NCAA determined that the school need not suffer further punishment for violations that occurred under the watch of three men no longer employed by the university - Hamilton, Pearl and Kiffin. Still, Banowsky said the three departures "didn't play into our thinking very much at all."
What follows is the statement released by the NCAA regarding its ruling:
INDIANAPOLIS --- The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, failed to monitor its men's basketball program, according to findings announced today by the Division I Committee on Infractions. As part of the findings, the former head men's basketball coach was cited for failure to monitor and unethical conduct for providing "false and misleading information" and asking others to do the same. In addition, three former assistant men's basketball coaches were cited for a failure to cooperate with the investigation.
Penalties include a show-cause order for the former head men's basketball coach, which prohibits him from engaging in recruiting activity for three years at any NCAA member school. Each of the three former assistant men's basketball coaches received a one-year show-cause order, which also prohibits recruiting activity. In addition to the 20 penalties self-imposed by the university and conference and agreed to by the infractions committee, Tennessee must also serve two years of probation. The public report provides greater detail on these penalties.
While the investigation included allegations of major violations in the football program, the committee concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support findings of major violations.
However, the committee stated it 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 football staff committed 12 secondary violations over 10 months, all of which were related to recruiting.
While the basketball violations stemmed from impermissible recruiting contact and phone calls, the committee stated the most serious allegations included the former coaching staff's provision of false and misleading information and their encouragement of others to do the same, including recruits and a parent.
"Head coaches bear primary responsibility for monitoring all aspects of their programs and promoting an atmosphere for compliance," stated the committee report. "It is also presumed that head coaches know or should know of violations in their programs, particularly when the violations occur over an extended period of time."
The men's basketball violations began when three prospects and their families attended a dinner at the home of the former head coach in conjunction with their unofficial visits to the school. After they spent some time at the dinner, the former head coach ushered the prospects and their families to an outdoor veranda. According to the committee, he informed them that their attendance was a violation of NCAA rules and encouraged them to not disclose their presence to others.
The former head coach did not report the violations and denied knowledge of them when later questioned during the investigation. Further, he placed a series of phone calls to a prospect's father in an effort to influence him to make false and misleading statements during the investigation. The former head coach later provided truthful information to investigators during a subsequent interview.
The three former assistant coaches did not cooperate with the investigation when they failed to provide full and complete information to the university and NCAA enforcement staff. Two of the assistant coaches compromised the integrity of the investigation when they shared information among themselves regarding their interviews, according to committee findings.
The investigation also revealed the men's basketball coaching staff placed 94 impermissible phone calls to 12 prospects over two years. The committee found these violations were not discovered in a timely fashion, which led to the failure to monitor by the university and the former head coach.
The public report details each of the penalties self-imposed by the university or conference and adopted by the committee. The additional penalties imposed by the committee include:
Public reprimand and censure.
Two years of probation from August 24, 2011, through August 23, 2013. The public report further details these conditions.
Three-year show-cause order for the former head men's basketball coach from August 24, 2011, through August 23, 2014. The public report further details these conditions.
One-year show-cause order for each of the former assistant men's basketball coaches from August 24, 2011, through August 23, 2012. The public report further details these conditions.
The Division I Committee on Infractions is an independent group comprised of representatives across NCAA membership and the public. The committee members who reviewed this case include Dennis Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and chair of the Committee on Infractions. Other members are Britton Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA and vice-chair of committee; John Black, attorney; Melissa Conboy, deputy director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame; Brian Halloran, attorney; Eleanor Myers, faculty athletics representative and law professor at Temple University; and James O'Fallon, law professor and faculty athletics representative for the University of Oregon.