NCAA pegs Pearl, Kiffin, Tennessee with violations

Posted Feb. 23, 2011, at 4:01 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 23, 2011, at 8:04 p.m.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The NCAA says both Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former football coach Lane Kiffin committed recruiting violations and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance of NCAA rules within their programs.

Following its 22-month investigation of the athletic program, the NCAA notified Tennessee of a dozen rules violations by the coaches, their assistants and the university itself in a letter released by the school on Wednesday. Kiffin, who is now at Southern California, received a separate notice of the allegations against him.

Tennessee’s baseball program was included in the investigation, but was not accused of any violations.

The university has until May 21 to respond to the NCAA’s allegations and is expected to appear at a June 10-11 meeting of the Committee on Infractions. A final decision by the NCAA and any sanctions likely would come several weeks after that.

“Receipt of the NCAA’s notice of allegations by the University of Tennessee is another step in bringing this matter to conclusion,” Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton said in a statement. “Our institution has operated in complete cooperation with the NCAA since April 2009 as they have pursued their investigations. We take these allegations seriously and most items noted in this document have already been reported broadly.”

Pearl has been charged with unethical conduct after misleading NCAA investigators in a June 14 interview about hosting high school juniors at a cookout at his house on Sept. 20, 2008, and phoning John Craft, father of recruit Aaron Craft, during the probe in an effort to influence Craft’s statement to investigators about the cookout. Craft is now a freshman at Ohio State.

“Throughout this process we have recognized that we made significant mistakes, and we look forward to concluding this matter with the NCAA,” Pearl said in a statement. “The penalties imposed on our program to date have been severe, but I want to commend our student-athletes and staff for staying focused and working through these potential distractions.”

Tennessee reduced Pearl’s his salary by $1.5 million over four seasons in September and banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year. The Southeastern Conference also weighed in, suspending him for eight conference games, which he has already sat out.

The NCAA alleged that Pearl’s assistants, Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay “violated the NCAA’s principles of honesty” by not providing complete information to investigators about the cookout. Tennessee lowered each assistant’s salary and banned them from off-campus recruiting for various lengths of time for their role in the scandal.

Pearl, Jones and Forbes are also accused of making a total of 96 impermissible phone calls to 12 recruits or relatives of recruits between Aug. 1, 2007, and July 29, 2009. Tennessee has been charged with failure to monitor the coaching staff’s telephone contacts during that time.

“Any allegation from the NCAA is a serious matter for us, and we will address these issues in a timely manner,” said Jimmy Cheek, chancellor of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus. “As an institution we have been proactive in dealing with these allegations, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA.”

Kiffin and his assistants are also accused of making improper phone calls to recruits even after Tennessee officials had warned them against making such phone calls. Kiffin made impermissible phone calls to recruits from Jan. 3-9, 2010, just days before ending his 14-month tenure at Tennessee and leaving for USC. Among the recipients of the calls was Seantrel Henderson, who signed with USC after Kiffin was hired but was later released form his commitment.

“On the advice of my legal counsel, we cannot comment other than to say we look forward to working through the process with the NCAA,” Kiffin said in a statement.

Kiffin and recruiting intern Steve Rubio also visited a Florida high school on Oct. 12, 2009, after Tennessee officials warned the coach that Rubio was not permitted to make on-campus visits.

Kiffin’s failure to monitor charge also stems from trips taken by members of the school’s athletics hostess program to visit recruits.

“The NCAA enforcement process provides for Tennessee and Lane to address those charges. Until that process is completed, it would be unfair and premature for me or USC to comment on this matter,” Southern California athletics director Pat Haden said in a statement. “However, I will say this: Since his return to USC last year as our head football coach, Lane has been vigilant in making sure he and the football program follow the NCAA’s rules and compete the right way. Lane has my support as our head football coach.”

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