CBSSports.com is reporting that Tennessee finally received yesterday the NCAA's Notice of Allegations it has been expecting for some time now. The Notice details all of the rules violations that the NCAA was able to uncover in its recent investigation of Tennessee athletics and thereby makes official the reports of violations that have been reported by the media for months
I suppose we should recap what we expect those violations to be despite the fact that most Vol fans have had The Timeline permanently burned onto their retinas from the majority of television broadcasts of basketball games this season. Because it's basketball season, most of the conversation has been about Bruce Pearl and the men's hoops program, so we'll start there.
Pearl, in violation of NCAA rules, had a few junior commits (including Aaron Craft, currently a freshman point guard for Ohio State, an almost-certain #1 seed to this year's NCAA Tournament) over to his house for a BBQ on September 20, 2008. When NCAA investigators asked him about it on June 14, 2010, he lied and said he knew nothing about it despite being shown a picture of Craft at his house. He later came clean, and on September 10, 2010, Tennessee imposed sanctions, including voiding Pearl's contract and significantly decreasing his compensation. On November 18, the SEC got into the action and suspended Pearl for eight SEC games. From that point on, there has been no new news.
Until yesterday, when the school apparently received the official Notice of Allegations that sets forth the official list of violations and allegations. The school's expected to release it and a statement sometime today. Most expect that the Notice will include a charge against Pearl of "unethical conduct," primarily for providing false information to investigators.
The main question is whether the school and the SEC have done enough or whether the NCAA will impose additional sanctions. Most believe the latter. According to CBSSports.com's Gary Parish, NCAA President Mark Emmert is on record as saying in December that he "believes coaches who lie to the NCAA should be subject to the same type of punishment given to student-athletes who lie to the NCAA." That's an obvious reference to Dez Bryant, the former Oklahoma State football player who was suspended for a year for lying to the NCAA.
Nobody knows, of course, what's going to happen until it happens, and the NCAA hasn't exactly been a model of consistency, so trying to draw conclusions from precedents is a more difficult challenge than it should be. But let's take a stab, just looking at the Dez Bryant case and the news of the NCAA's treatment of Jim Calhoun yesterday.
The first thing I would do if I were representing Tennessee is to distinguish Pearl from Bryant. The biggest difference to me is that the only thing a player gets from the NCAA is eligibility, so that's really the only thing the NCAA can take away from a player who's done something wrong. That's not the case with coaches and schools, who, unlike players, have a huge financial stake in being affiliated with the NCAA. So the NCAA can punish a coach or an institution not only through "eligibility" (the opportunity to participate) but also through financial disincentives. So the NCAA doesn't have to suspend Pearl for a year just because Bryant was ruled ineligible for a year. It could impose some combination of ineligibility and fine. And Pearl has already been subjected to both of those things by the institution and by the SEC. He's out money, and he's out time. It may or may not be enough, but attempting to conclude that it's not enough because of the way the NCAA handled Dez Bryant isn't actually very helpful. The situations are different.
And what about UConn and Jim Calhoun? Their alleged violations concern a former team manager, Josh Nochimson, who wanted to be an NBA agent. Nochimson allegedly gave recruit Nate Miles lodging, transportation, meals, and representation in an attempt to persuade him to come to UConn, which he eventually did before getting dismissed. The basketball staff also allegedly exchanged more than 1,400 calls and 1,100 texts between June, 2005 and December, 2008, and allegedly provided 32 impermissible comp tickets to "individuals responsible for teaching or directing activities with prospective student-athletes."
The school sanctioned itself, reducing scholarships from 13 to 12 for two years and put itself on two-year probation. Two members of the basketball staff "lost their jobs" (not sure who pulled the trigger, probably the school) for . . . lying to the NCAA.
The NCAA concluded that UConn's self-imposed sanctions were insufficient and suspended Calhoun for three Big East games next season, increased probation from two years to three and increased scholarship reductions, imposed recruiting restrictions, and permanently disassociated a booster. Calhoun is not going gently into that good night, saying he is "very disappointed with the NCAA's decision in this case" and huddling with his lawyer to craft a response. The initial response to the media indicates that they believe the allegations are "based at least partially on factually incorrect and misleading statements."
So how are UConn's/Calhoun's and Tennessee's/Pearl's situations alike and different? Well, the allegations relating to impermissible benefits seems to be much more dramatic for UConn than for Tennessee except that it was done by a team manager rather than the main guys on the coaching staff. The impermissible phone calls and texts appear to be of a grander scale than Tenessee's, but Calhoun didn't lie about those. The two guys who did lie to the NCAA are gone, but the school likely did that, and it's unclear what the NCAA would have done had they still been on staff. The NCAA Committee did give one of the guys a two-year show-cause penalty, meaning he can't be hired by an NCAA school without penalty unless the school makes a compelling case why it should be allowed to do so.
So what's all of this mean for Tennessee? When I started writing this, I thought I was headed toward a conclusion that the NCAA may impose additional sanctions but that they wouldn't be that much greater than what we expected, which was "a little bit more" than what's already been done, but the more I look at it, the more concerned I am. The kicker is that UConn's rules violations seem to be worse than Tennessee's -- impermissible benefits and thousands of impermissible calls and texts compared to a BBQ for a guy who wasn't the right age and fewer impermissible phone calls and texts -- except for Pearl's initial lying about it. Yeah, UConn had two guys lie, too, but they weren't the head coach, and they were fired. What will the NCAA say about Tennessee wanting to keep Pearl in spite of it?
The real wild card here is that the NCAA investigation doesn't begin and end with the basketball program. We haven't even talked about the investigation of the football program under Lane Kiffin and the baseball program. Standing alone, I'd feel good about making a case that the problem in the football program left with Kiffin, but that case is harder to make with the problems also extending to basketball and baseball.
My fear at this point is that the NCAA will give Pearl a show-cause penalty. Under normal circumstances, I'd feel good about making the case to retain him without penalty. He's contrite (unlike Calhoun, by the way, who continues to assert his "innocence"), and if the NCAA is in the message-sending business, it should consider the dilemma of punishing the confession of wrongs more harshly than disputing them to the bitter end, and he's done more good than bad on and off the court. But these aren't normal circumstances, and I fear that the Tennessee athletic administration's problems with other programs will overly hinder its ability to make a case that it should be allowed to retain Pearl without penalty.