Three-year show-cause for Bruce Pearl
The NCAA has long been criticized for punishing programs instead of individuals. But a new era emerged Wednesday when its committee on infractions ruled that new Tennessee men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and his current players won't have to pay for the improprieties of predecessor Bruce Pearl and the three assistants who worked for him.
Pearl received a three-year show-cause penalty, and Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay all received one-year show-cause penalties, according to the full report released by the COI. A failure to monitor the program charge was levied as well, but it amounts to nothing more than a two-year probationary period that runs through Aug. 23, 2013.
"As these allegations are becoming more and more regular, it's very clear that a head coach is being held responsible for his program," said Britton Banowsky, Conference USA commissioner and vice-chair of the COI.
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Pearl's son Steven blasted the committee's ruling via Twitter, where he said, "Define hypocrisy.... NCAA. Biggest joke of a committee I have ever seen. Punishing a man who came back and told the truth."
Pearl's show-cause will expire Aug. 23, 2014; the show-causes for Jones, Forbes and Shay expire Aug. 23, 2012.
The committee on infractions said, though, that it was troubled by the number of secondary violations (12) committed in the one-year employment of Kiffin and his staff members.
Kiffin and USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a joint statement that they are relieved the process is complete.
"As I have said before, we always have been committed to following NCAA rules and bylaws both at Tennessee and now at USC, and we always will be," Kiffin said. "Now that this has reached its conclusion, I am looking forward to continuing to prepare our team for the upcoming season."
The language in the show-cause penalty is unique but clear: A school could face its own penalties just for giving Pearl a job.
Pearl and the assistants under him are banned from participating in any and all recruiting activities defined by bylaw 13.02.13, which prohibits them from contacting recruits.
However, it does allow any of the four, if they were to be hired during their show-cause periods, to evaluate talent.
Jones, Forbes and Shay, for example, could be hired in spring 2012 and have their recruiting abilities -- but not evaluating privileges -- restricted until Aug. 23. The same is true of Pearl, until the expiration of his show cause in 2014.
"The infractions process is difficult. Although we do not agree with every aspect of the Committee On Infractions' decision, we appreciate the efforts of the enforcement staff and the committee to resolve this case in a timely and reasonable manner," Stu Brown, attorney for the three, said in a statement Wednesday.
The NCAA cannot hire or fire coaches. Under a show-cause, a school can hire Pearl and that school does not have to appear in front of the committee on infractions to do so. Pearl and a potential employer would have to write a letter to the committee stating they agree to abide by the restrictions and then report back every six months. The only time the hiring school would have to appear in front of the COI is if it wants to challenge the committee's restrictions.
Pearl and his assistants were fired by Tennessee on March 21. Pearl was suspended for eight SEC games by conference commissioner Mike Slive; the four were also under off-campus recruiting bans and Pearl had his salary docked -- all self-imposed violations instituted by then-Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton.
"The NCAA commented very positively about our cooperation," Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. "We have worked hard to make things right and that has been accepted by the committee. We have great coaches and great student-athletes, and now it's time to go out there and compete."
Soon after a September news conference, but before the off-campus ban took effect, Pearl was cited for an illicit recruiting bump at Oak Hill Academy. The contact was in the notice of allegations, but it wasn't mentioned in the final report Wednesday.
Tennessee went in front of the COI on June 11 in Indianapolis.
"Jason, Steve and Tony have acknowledged their compliance mistakes at the University of Tennessee," Brown said. "Importantly, neither the enforcement staff nor the committee cited Jason, Steve or Tony for lying to the NCAA or violating NCAA ethical conduct rules, and the committee found no violation at all regarding the supposed recruiting bump which received so much attention."
Pearl is currently weighing an offer to coach the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks' D-League team. Forbes is now the coach at Northwest Florida State College and Shay his assistant. Jones is a high school coach in Tennessee.
Craft was on an unofficial visit and was not allowed to be at Pearl's home. The COI noted that Pearl said that attendance at the cookout was an NCAA violation and encouraged those who were there not to disclose it to others. Pearl then lied about the incident and called Craft's father to ask him to do so as well before finally telling the truth to NCAA investigators.
The committee also said that Pearl's former assistants weren't truthful either and shared information with each other. The staff also made 94 impermissible phone calls to 12 prospects.
Senior writer Andy Katz covers men's college basketball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.