KNOXVILLE — A climactic chapter in the University of Tennessee’s saga with the NCAA is less than a week away, but that doesn’t mean the conclusion is imminent.
UT’s hearing in front of the 10-member NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. The university will state its case concerning multiple violations in the football and men’s basketball programs.
“This is something that’s lingered on for a long time,” athletic director Mike Hamilton told the Knoxville News Sentinel this week at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings at Sandestin, Fla.
“One of the things we’ve talked about with the NCAA folks is the lengths of these kinds of things. During the course of that, you take public hits and questions about things that maybe people speculate on, so we’re ready to get to a conclusion. We’re ready to go. Nobody looks forward to this by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll go to Indianapolis ... and try to present our case.”
Hamilton, chancellor Jimmy Cheek, compliance personnel and legal representatives will be among the university’s contingent in Indianapolis. Football coach Derek Dooley and basketball coach Cuonzo Martin also will attend, though neither is directly implicated in any of UT’s violations.
All but one of the 12 major infractions outlined in the NCAA Notice of Allegations the school received in February directly charge coaches no longer employed by the university. The exception is a failure-to-monitor charge against men’s basketball. UT fired basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his staff after the season, which could lessen NCAA penalties.
The NCAA hit Pearl with unethical conduct for lying to investigators, and that charge usually brings with it a show-cause penalty for the coach, which means any school that might want to hire Pearl during the duration of the penalty would have to justify to the NCAA why it shouldn’t face sanctions. Former assistants Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay were also charged with misleading NCAA investigators and also could receive show-cause penalties.
According to the NCAA’s legislative database, there have been 20 cases that involved an unethical conduct charge In the last two years, and only one of those didn’t result in at least a two-year show-cause penalty. Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who lied to the NCAA about violations while at California in 1996 and received an eight-year show-cause, is the only Division I coach to get another job after being hit with such a penalty.
While most of the NCAA’s wrath likely will be directed at Pearl and his former staff, UT could still face probation, a small scholarship reduction and recruiting limitations. Martin particularly hopes there will be no postseason ban, which would be a major hindrance to his recruiting.
“I think once we find out what the sanctions are, we can move forward,” Martin told the Times Free Press in an April interview. “I think that is the biggest plus. I think if we’re able to play in the postseason, I think we’ll be fine. Outside of that, as long as it’s minor things ... maybe a scholarship here and there, if that happens, I think you can be OK. But I think you’re still able to recruit if you’re able to have postseason opportunities.”
In addition to Pearl and his former staff, UT will be reunited Friday with former football coach Lane Kiffin, who left Knoxville for Southern Cal after one eventful season. Instead of UT, the NCAA cited Kiffin for impermissible recruiting activities and charged him with failure to monitor.
The COI cited USC for lack of institutional control last summer, levied heavy sanctions (a two-year postseason ban and the reduction of 30 scholarships over three years) against the Trojans and denied the school’s appeal less than two weeks ago.
Much like the basketball program, UT’s football program likely will dodge the heaviest penalties, which could be charged to Kiffin. In a similar recent case, current UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel wasn’t allowed to recruit off-campus for eight months while he was at Washington for violations he committed at Colorado.
“The committee decides penalties case-by-case,” the NCAA enforcement website states. “Each case is unique, and applying case precedent is difficult [if not impossible] because all cases are different. Each case has its own aggravating and mitigating factors, and the committee considers both sides in assessing penalties.”
Dennis E. Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is the chairman of the COI, which meets six times a year. According to the NCAA’s enforcement website, the COI asks questions to the school and other parties about each individual allegation until it is fully discussed.
After the hearing is complete, the COI generally will take six to eight weeks to release its report with the findings and sanctions, although it took four months to announce the penalties it levied against the Connecticut men’s basketball program in February. Schools and individuals can appeal findings and penalties to a separate committee.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...