KNOXVILLE -- One of the most important developments in the University of Tennessee's lengthy case with the NCAA was former coach Lane Kiffin receiving a failure-to-monitor charge instead of the Volunteers' football program.
The university's response to the NCAA, which UT released to the Times Free Press on Monday, explained the details of why Kiffin, who left UT for Southern Cal after one season, was given the charge. After receiving the NCAA's Notice of Allegations in February, UT formally responded in May and went before the Committee on Infractions in June.
Contained in the 190-page document is UT's reply to each of the alleged 10 major infractions against the men's basketball and football programs, the school's self-imposed two-year probation and the other punitive actions the school imposed on former and current football and basketball coaching staffs.
While the document vividly describes the downfall of UT's former basketball staff with transcripts of the conversations former head coach Bruce Pearl and assistants Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay had with NCAA investigators in which they admitted to the lies and attempted cover-up that ultimately led to their firings in March, the football portion of the case is still shrouded with some mystery.
The NCAA lumped four separate recruiting infractions of a secondary nature into one major infraction, though two of those violations involving former assistant David Reaves are heavily redacted to protect the identity of former or current UT students.
Now the offensive coordinator at New Mexico, Reaves allegedly had UT students contact football recruits illegally, which UT disputed in its response, and his involvement in two members of UT's now-defunct Orange Pride hostess group attending a high school game in South Carolina is the biggest mystery in this case.
"The university does not believe it is appropriate to cite Kiffin for failing to monitor Reaves in that instance," the response states. "Rather, the weight of the evidence is that Reaves acted on his own and without notice to Kiffin. However, as the head coach, Kiffin was ultimately responsible for all employees of the football program."
As for the 16 impermissible phone calls during a Jan. 3-9, 2010, contact period and the impermissible in-person off-campus contact of then UT recruiting intern Steve Rubio with administrators at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., UT said it provided Kiffin with enough information that he should have prevented the violations.
From December 2008 to January 2010, UT's compliance staff "provided no fewer than 135 rules-education items" to football coaches and administrators.
"When the university began hiring the former football staff ... the compliance staff immediately began a campaign to fully educate the staff on all aspects of NCAA rules," the response states. "The compliance staff was particularly focused on rules education for the football staff at that time because several of the football coaching staff members were returning to college football from careers in the National Football League."
Brad Bertani, UT's associate athletic director for compliance, said he "vividly" remembered having conversations with the staff "about the impermissibility of certain contacts" just a month before the illegal calls were made.
During the 2009 contact and evaluation period, UT's senior associate athletic director David Blackburn said Bertani and coordinator of football operations Kyle Strongin "were in frequent communication about the permissibility of the coaches' activities," according to the response. Though Strongin also confirmed he relayed Bertani's messages to the coaches, Kiffin said he "did not recall" the compliance staff providing any specific information on illegal calls.
On their recruiting trip to Florida, Kiffin brought Rubio because he attended St. Thomas Aquinas and his familiarity with the area would help Kiffin more easily navigate the area. Rubio had no contact with any prospects while in the school, speaking only with his former coaches and teachers, according to the response.
Blackburn said he specifically told Kiffin on the eve of the trip and Rubio during the trip that Rubio wasn't allowed to enter any schools. Kiffin said it was a "rare circumstance," so he allowed Rubio to enter "to see his old buddies."
"In both instances," the response said, "Kiffin was in a position to have prevented the violations before they occurred."
UT's ability to pin the failure-to-monitor charge and the illegal recruiting on former coaches, along with corrective actions and cooperation with the NCAA, should alleviate the NCAA's pending penalties, which could come sometime next month.
"The university is deeply disappointed that these violations have occurred," the response states. "The depth of the disappointment is matched only by its commitment to doing whatever is necessary to restore the reputations of its men's basketball and football programs. That commitment is perhaps most visibly evidenced by the hiring of Derek Dooley as head football coach and Cuonzo Martin as head men's basketball coach. Both men have impeccable reputations for integrity and compliance with governing rules and regulations."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.