INDIANAPOLIS — One by one they went, dressed in suits and flanked by lawyers with briefcases, filing quietly into a second-floor ballroom at a downtown Indianapolis hotel for a set of secret Saturday meetings.
With a cast of characters that included a hated former football coach, a loved former basketball coach, a maligned lame-duck athletic director and many more, the University of Tennessee spent all day Saturday stating its case to the NCAA Committee on Infractions for violations committed by the school’s football and men’s basketball programs.
“We are glad we had the opportunity to present our case,” chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a university statement after the hearing ended almost 11 hours after it started. “We feel it was a fair hearing, and we look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
The resolution won’t come for another eight to 12 weeks, according to Stacey Osburn, the NCAA’s associate director of media and public relations. Connecticut, which had its hearing last October for men’s basketball violations, waited four months to learn its NCAA fate.
UT’s case presents a challenge to the 10-member COI because all but one of the 12 major violations alleged in the 26-month investigation were pinned on former football coach Lane Kiffin, former men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and Pearl’s former staff of Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay. Athletic director Mike Hamilton’s resignation last week also may affect the disposition of the case.
Kiffin spurned the Volunteers after just one season to become head coach at Southern Cal, and the popular Pearl was fired in March amid NCAA controversy after he lied to NCAA investigators last June. Hamilton was serving one of his final days as AD before officially entering his administrative leave that begins Monday.
Interim athletic director Joan Cronan, senior associate athletic director for administration David Blackburn, associate athletic director for compliance Brad Bertani and legal representatives also attended the hearing. Football coach Derek Dooley and basketball coach Cuonzo Martin sat in as required by the NCAA.
The current UT employees and former basketball assistants declined to comment directly to a handful of media that waited all day for the closed hearing to end. Pearl and Kiffin, however, spoke with reporters upon leaving the hearing room.
“You know I can’t comment on it,” said the solemn Pearl, who alongside his two attorneys was the last to leave. “It’s not over — we’ve got to wait 45 to 60 days to get a response. It was a good opportunity to visit with the committee. They asked questions, and I think they’ve got a very accurate view of the case, and now we’ll wait for their decision.”
Kiffin, accompanied by one lawyer and USC athletic director Pat Haden, departed in the afternoon. After the hearing began at 8:30 a.m. with opening statements from all involved parties, the COI started addressing the football portion of UT’s case: two violations against Kiffin and current New Mexico offensive coordinator David Reaves, who was UT’s quarterbacks coach under brother-in-law Kiffin.
The NCAA pinned Kiffin, who admitted the reunion with the representatives from his former school was “a little bit different,” with a failure-to-monitor charge stemming from illegal recruiting activity that included impermissible phone calls and off-campus in-person recruiting by two members of Orange Pride, UT’s now-defunct hostess group.
Reaves was questioned because of his alleged involvement in the hostesses’ trip to Byrnes, S.C., where current UT defensive lineman Corey Miller and current North Carolina defensive lineman Brandon Willis were playing.
“It was a very fair process,” said Kiffin, adding that he was “very” comfortable with what he said to the COI. “I’m glad that it’s over so I can get back to [Los Angeles] and get back to our camps. It was a lot shorter than the last one [when] I sat through three days of USC’s [February 2010 hearing], so I’m just happy that it’s over. I’m happy that we got to get the truth presented.”
The basketball portion of the hearing lasted a little longer than four hours. In addition to 96 impermissible phone calls, UT’s former staff also lied to NCAA investigators about illegal recruiting contact. Pearl hosted three juniors for a barbecue at his home during the recruits’ unofficial visit, which is a violation, in September of 2008.
When the NCAA questioned him about a photo taken at the scene, Pearl denied knowledge of the location and attempted to cover for himself by calling a recruit’s father. His assistants also misled investigators, and Jones and Pearl made impermissible in-person off-campus contact with a recruit last September.
The NCAA charged Pearl with unethical conduct, an infraction that usually carries a show-cause penalty, which is essentially a temporary ban from coaching. UT docked his pay and banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year, and Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, who also attended the hearing, suspended him for eight league games.
Asked if the hearing provided a sense of relief, Pearl said, “Not really, because obviously we paid a very heavy price, all of us — the university, my coaching staff and our Tennessee family. There’s not much relief. The hardest part is just being there. It was not something that I was ever expecting or looking forward to — being in front of the 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 ...