KNOXVILLE - With the University of Tennessee's two most important men's athletic programs set to face the NCAA later this week, the timing of athletic director Mike Hamilton's resignation Tuesday seemed unusual.
For Hamilton, it made sense to step down before the school has its hearing in front of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Saturday in Indianapolis.
"This is something I've been contemplating over the last several months as a possibility," Hamilton said at his news conference late Tuesday morning, "and as I reflected on it and visited with folks who I respect and seek counsel from, I talked to them about the possibility of it being this week so that we could go into the Committee on Infractions with a clean slate, so to speak.
"That's really now, and the timing was something that I prayed about and thought about for a period of weeks. The details of the Committee on Infractions appointment are not out there after you go through it. If I decided to do this down the road, I did not want it to give any appearance that it was related to what may happen in Indianapolis this coming Saturday."
The NCAA charged UT's football and men's basketball programs with 12 major violations in the Notice of Allegations the school received in February. Only one of those infractions - a failure-to-monitor charge for men's basketball - was charged against the school. The rest were levied against former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his staff of Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay for lying to investigators. Former football coach Lane Kiffin, who left the Volunteers for Southern Cal after one year, also was charged with impermissible recruiting activities and a failure-to-monitor charge.
According to his separation agreement with UT, Hamilton won't relinquish his duties as athletic director until Monday, though he'll remain on administrative leave until June 30. He will join his former coaching hires in Indianapolis as UT states its case to the NCAA.
Hamilton said his resignation "doesn't change my role. I'm there representing Tennessee's interest as the athletic director during the time of the alleged infractions. I'll be there and I'll represent Tennessee in the best way I know how. We've been prepped, and there is a host of folks who will represent Tennessee in that hearing."
Hamilton fired Pearl in March in hopes of mitigating any severe penalties the NCAA could levy against UT's basketball program, but it remains unclear if Hamilton's resignation will have a similar effect.
"I don't have any firm knowledge of this," Hamilton said, "but it's my belief and the belief of those that I've talked to that going into the Committee on Infractions now with a new head basketball coach and a new head football coach and the prospect of a new athletic director is not bad for the University of Tennessee. I can't say that it's good, necessarily, but it's not bad."
The NCAA's investigation at UT certainly weighed on Hamilton from the negative headlines his two biggest programs received and the public criticism of him it created. He spoke frankly about the length of the process, which won't be near an end even after this weekend.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has publicly discussed improving the association's investigation process with tangible changes such as increasing enforcement staff numbers and making the process more transparent. UT, however, has been under the cloud of the investigation for more than two years.
"I talked about this at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings this past week: The length of these investigations is problematic in college athletics," Hamilton said. "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.
"Certainly the NCAA should take their time to make sure everything is investigated thoroughly, but I also think that folks are hurt along the way because of the length of time. I think it's certainly one of the biggest punishments, because we have been in this cycle ... and that's damaging to an institution. I'm going to have the opportunity to speak Saturday, and that's one of the things I want to mention in my time there as well."
The COI usually takes six to eight weeks following hearings to announce its findings and penalties, but it took four months to deliver a verdict on the violations committed by the Connecticut men's basketball program.
While UT waits for the NCAA to release its findings after this weekend, the school will be in a process of its own to find a new athletic director. UT hired new basketball coach Cuonzo Martin amid questions about the investigation, and though the school may have a better idea of where it stands after this weekend's hearing, there still could be questions about possible sanctions from prospective candidates.
"I think once we go to the NCAA Committee on Infractions this weekend ... we're not sure what that time frame's going to be," chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. "Every time frame we've been given has been longer than we've anticipated, so I don't think we can wait on the NCAA to come forth. We need to hire an athletic director as soon as we can, but we've got to have the right person to hire."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.