Friday, June 10, 2011
Tennessee to answer to NCAA charges
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Outgoing athletic director Mike Hamilton, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former football coach Lane Kiffin are part of a Tennessee contingent that will meet with NCAA officials this weekend.
The group will meet with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Saturday in Indianapolis to defend themselves and the university against 12 charges of major violations after two years of being scrutinized by investigators.
"The length of these investigations is problematic in college athletics," Hamilton said. "If you think about the fact that our investigation began in April of 2009 and here we are in June of 2011, 26 months later -- there's collateral damage along the way because of that."
Pearl was fired in March and Hamilton announced Tuesday he would resign by the end of the month. Kiffin left Tennessee after news of a possible investigation into the football program was made public and is now coaching at USC.
The process won't be over anytime soon, either. Tennessee likely won't receive the committee's final ruling or know of any sanctions until the 2011 football season has already begun.
"Once we go to the NCAA Committee on Infractions this weekend, we're not sure what that time frame's going to be," UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. "Every time frame we have been given has been longer than we have anticipated, so I don't think we can wait on the NCAA to come forth."
Pompano Beach, Fla., attorney Michael L. Buckner, who has represented a number of schools during NCAA infractions hearings, said the length of the NCAA's investigations is usually in the best interest for everyone involved.
"It's been my experience in the last few years that with their emphasis to try to get things done more quickly they're not as detail-oriented as they should be," Buckner said. "In this case you're dealing with several coaches and their future careers in collegiate athletics, I would want to make sure that they're doing everything to make sure they have all the information."
The Vols could be slapped with recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions or postseason bans. Pearl may be prohibited from coaching collegiate teams for several years for an unethical conduct charge.
Kiffin faces a charge of neglecting to monitor his staff properly, and any punishments he may receive could follow him to USC, a program already dealing with its own heavy sanctions from rules violations committed during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Kiffin left Tennessee in January 2010 to take the Trojans job, just after rumors of a possible investigation into a possible improper use of student hostesses during recruiting leaked to the public.
Hamilton punished Pearl after the basketball coach acknowledged lying to NCAA investigators in September but pledged to stick with him. He ultimately fired Pearl in March after learning the coach had possibly committed another recruiting violation just days after his teary admission of lying.
Hamilton resigned after growing pressure from fans, who were unhappy with him for hiring Kiffin, for how he handled Pearl and for the NCAA investigation in general.
Tennessee announced Thursday it would merge its men's and women's athletics departments and that longtime women's AD Joan Cronan would serve as the interim director of all Tennessee athletics. Cronan, whose programs have never faced major NCAA infractions, said her goal was to bring some stability to the university.
Hamilton hoped to lessen the eventual punishment from the NCAA by proactively punishing Pearl and his staff in September after the university was formally notified of the NCAA's investigation. He docked the basketball staff's salaries and limited the amount of time they could spend on the road recruiting.
Buckner said Tennessee might benefit from no longer employing Kiffin, Pearl and Hamilton.
"If you have an AD under that hot seat then having a clean slate is very helpful because the institution can say, 'We made the necessary moves,' " he said. "The issue about Tennessee's situation is when they did it. If a school is going to make that move then normally they make it weeks before the hearing or weeks after the hearing, not the week before the hearing."
No matter what happens, all eyes in Division I athletics will be on Tennessee and the NCAA when the final ruling is issued. Like Pearl, former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is facing an unethical conduct charge after covering up his knowledge of his players taking improper benefits from a tattoo-parlor owner.
And Tennessee's punishment can help educate other universities in determining where to focus their compliance efforts.
"The entire Division I membership -- especially the schools in the power six conferences -- make sure they stay abreast of what the enforcement staff is alleging and what the infractions committee rules," Buckner said. "The Tennessees, Ohio States, USCs and Michigans of the world impact what they do with compliance."