KNOXVILLE — Roughly five years before he was hired as Tennessee's men's basketball coach, Donnie Tyndall was involved in an NCAA investigaton while at Morehead State.
Much as he was when the NCAA slapped probation and sanctions on Tyndall's program in August of 2010, the Volunteers' new coach was open about the situation when asked about it at his introduction Tuesday afternoon.
"I certainly learned from it. I did," Tyndall said. "It was a growing experience. My athletic director and president and I worked hand in hand with the NCAA. I'm one of those guys that I don't shy away from responsibility.
"I learned from it, I grew from it and I certainly never expect to go through it again."
The NCAA charged Tyndall with failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and failure to monitor his staff's interactions with a booster, put Morehead State on probation for two years and levied penalties that included the loss of one scholarship for one season and the reduction of permissible recruiting days, phone calls and official visits.
At the center of the NCAA case was a Morehead State graduate characterized as a "retired New Jersey businessman" and known only as "the representative" in the NCAA's public infractions report.
The booster's impermissible activity with 30 prospects included illegal contact with recruits, arranging workouts for prospects, assisting in the coordination of campus visits and offering "improper recruiting inducements."
Over the course of three years, the booster was in continuous contact with Tyndall and one assistant coach regarding prospects via email and institution phones, and he provided evaluations to the staff.
Most severely, the booster offered to pay one prospect's first year of tuition at the Kentucky university and told another he would make sure he was "comfortable" at Morehead State and offered that prospect $6,000. He also paid for one prospect's mother to attend the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in 2009 and offered to pay for another prospect's unofficial visit.
When Morehead State learned the booster arranged flights and provided a loan to cover the airfare for two family members of one player to attend a game, it formally disassociated itself from the man.
According to the NCAA infractions report, Tyndall and his staff "had knowledge of and at times directed or encouraged the impermissible recruiting activities by the booster." Although the NCAA conceded it's not uncommon for fans and alumni to contact coaches about prospects, it acknowledged this booster went beyond just the sharing of information.
The report said Tyndall "mistakenly thought that as long as the representative interacted with prospects and Morehead State's coaching staff as a talent evaluator, then his activities and his interaction with the coaching staff were permissible" and "never recognized" that the booster's activity "were contrary to NCAA legislation."
The case ended in a summary disposition, which meant Morehead State didn't have to go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions for a formal hearing.
"It was isolated to one booster situation," Tyndall said Tuesday. "A gentleman who meant no ill harm or ill will, but because he was a graduate of Morehead State University and was contacting some players without our knowledge, he became quote-unquote an extra coach. It wasn't the case that we asked him to do any of these things.
"He was just a guy that loved basketball that wanted to try to get young people into school."
Tennessee was in hot water of its own with the NCAA in a well-documented joint case involving former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former football coach Lane Kiffin, but athletic director Dave Hart said Tennessee did its due diligence looking into Tyndall's past NCAA trouble.
"We looked into that as you would expect we would," he said. "We looked into that very thoroughly and were absolutely satisfied at the end of that examination. We have no concerns moving forward.
"People that know me and people that work in this department know that compliance is our No. 1 priority, and our staff will tell you we very rarely meet where we don't talk about compliance. We've invested in it. We have nine people in compliance, and one dedicated to basketball and one dedicated to football.
"Many schools at the lower levels, they don't have those resources, and some maybe are lucky to have one person who oversees that and does the education. We were absolutely satisfied moving after we had researched that situation."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...