NCAA hits Bruce Pearl with 3-year penalty

August 24, 2011 - 3:15 PM
NCAA Tennessee Basketball

FILE - This March 18, 2011 file photo shows Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl during a college basketball game against Michigan, in Charlotte, N.C. People familiar with the situation say the NCAA is hitting former coach Pearl with a multiyear show-cause penalty, but the Volunteers program will not face additional sanctions beyond what it self-imposed in response to charges of 12 major violations. The show-cause penalty means any school wanting to hire him must go before the NCAA to explain why and could face penalties. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Hiring Bruce Pearl to coach a basketball team just got harder and messier for a school.

The NCAA announced Wednesday it had hit the former Tennessee men's basketball coach with a three-year show-cause penalty, punishing him for lying to investigators about improperly hosting recruits at his home and urging others to do the same.

What the ruling means is that before Pearl can be hired, a school must tell the NCAA why it wants him and be prepared to face its own penalties for giving him a job. 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.

"The most serious allegations in this case involved the former men's basketball coaching staff and their conduct in the commission of violations, the provision of false and misleading information about them, and the inducement of others to do the same," the NCAA's report says.

The sanctions do not include further penalties against Tennessee 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.

Volunteers 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 concluded that 12 recruiting violations committed by former coach Lane 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.