September 10, 2010
Hoping to appear proactive and soften the blow of potential sanctions for providing false and misleading information to the NCAA, Tennessee hit its basketball coaching staff hard on Friday both in recruiting and in the wallet.
Coach Bruce Pearl will not be permitted to recruit off-campus from Sept. 24, 2010 to Sept. 23, 2011 and will receive a $1.5 million pay cut during the remaining five years on his contract. Each of his three assistants also had their salaries docked and will be forbidden from recruiting off campus for anywhere from three months to a year.
Tennessee's response comes less than 24 hours after news first broke that the NCAA was investigating the basketball program for excessive phone calls to recruits. Details of the violations were not divulged, but the severity of the self-imposed penalties suggest that school officials must believe the NCAA turned up some very damning evidence against the program during its 17-month investigation.
Athletic director Mike Hamilton told reporters at a Friday afternoon news conference that Pearl provided incorrect information to NCAA investigators while being interviewed in June. Three weeks later, Pearl said his conscience got the best of him, so he notified officials that what he told them was not accurate.
"I made some serious mistakes and for that I'm truly sorry," Pearl said, fighting back tears. "I provided incorrect and misleading information to the NCAA. ... I learned some invaluable lessons. I learned it's not OK to tell the truth most of the time. It's OK to tell the truth all the time."
[Revenge rewind: Pearl's ex-wife opens nail salon called Alimony's]
It's difficult to overstate the significance of these penalties to a long-dormant Vols program that had come alive in the past five years thanks to the charisma and leadership of Pearl. The Vols advanced to their first-ever Elite Eight last March and are expected to contend for an NCAA tournament berth again next season, but severe recruiting restrictions and the threat of further sanctions will make it difficult to continue that upward trend.
Since arriving at Tennessee, Pearl has charmed fans, recruits and reporters with his boisterous personality and chest-painting antics. Even in his news conference Friday afternoon, Pearl joked that one of his players must be trying to save him after a fire alarm unexpectedly interrupted.
The comment drew a chuckle from those in the room. Unfortunately for him, he'll likely find that NCAA investigators aren't so easily won over.